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6 years after filming Walter Scott shooting, Santana joins Charleston Democratic politics

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Feidin Santana.jpg

Feidin Santana is pictured March 29, 2021, inside a barbershop business he is opening in North Charleston. Santana, who captured video of North Charleston police officer Michael Slager fatally shooting Walter Scott six years ago, is now an officer in the Charleston County Democratic Party. Lauren Petracca/Staff

NORTH CHARLESTON — Feidin Santana wasn't the first man with a cellphone to capture police doing something wrong.

But his explosive snippet of what would become the most famous phone video in South Carolina history did have a big impact on society.

Now he hopes to expand on that: He's stepping into the realm of local Charleston politics.

Last month, Santana, a native of the Dominican Republic, was elected second vice chair of the Charleston County Democratic Party.

It's a title that, on the surface, doesn't pack much wallop.

But local leaders hope Santana's message of social justice, inclusion and diversity can be used as outreach to the underserved voices around Charleston. 

"He's an incredible individual and has an amazing story," newly elected county Democratic Chair Greg Perry said.

Santana's role will be "whatever he wants to do," he added.

It was six years ago this weekend, on April 4, 2015, that Santana was late for his job at a barbershop (he'd overslept) but was about to become a national figure.

He walked past an open field, took out his cellphone and, from 60 yards away, would capture North Charleston police officer Michael Slager fatally shooting fleeing motorist Walter Scott in the back following a traffic stop, foot chase and struggle over a Taser.

Slager, who is White, fired eight times; five bullets struck Scott, who was Black.

The video became key in the prosecution by contradicting Slager's version of events. He's currently serving 20 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to a civil rights violation.

"It makes you wonder: How many cases happen, maybe on a daily basis, and just because there is not a video camera around, nobody knows about them," Santana told Palmetto Politics in a March 29 interview.

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Santana, 29, otherwise has said little publicly about the case since it ended. When his testimony and involvement in the Slager prosecution was over, he went home to his native Dominican Republic for a short while, partially out of fear for his safety.

He later returned to North Charleston, and in 2018, became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

His community involvement — he refers to himself as Afro-Latino — made his decision to be recruited and join with local Democrats a natural evolution, he said, describing it a chance to get at the "roots of problems and finding solutions."

He's already done much for the cause of social justice. His video marks one of the rare captured occasions that led to serious consequences for a member of law enforcement, according to a 2020 report by the Brookings Institution.

The study surmised "even when there’s video, indictments of police are not easy."

Today, Santana said the events of 2015 are not an ever-present thought in his daily life but that memories do come back when other cases of police/minority conflicts surface, such as the ongoing trial over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Like in Minnesota, Santana said he cued his phone for filming that day because he wanted to be a witness for Scott if something went wrong.

"I think he realized I was there after he shot," Santana said of Slager, adding he does not carry any ill will toward the former officer.

"I have always had sympathy for his family," Santana said. "I had nothing against him personally. It was his actions."

Outside of politics, Santana is on a course to grab his piece of the American Dream. He's opening up a barbershop and salon called Change Up Cuts at the North Charleston Center, a strip mall at 5900 Rivers Ave. The men's side will have 14 chairs, and he'll have spots for women as well.

He envisions it as a sort of gathering place for locals to come and talk about the issues and concerns of the day, though the opening is still weeks away.

"We're trying to change the community with more than haircuts," he said.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said he was pleased to see Santana launch a business in the city.

"I wish him well. I wish him all the success," Summey said. 

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551. Follow him on Twitter at @skropf47.

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