A few dozen protesters gathered peacefully Wednesday morning at North Charleston City Hall in South Carolina, less than 24 hours after authorities announced murder charges against a white police officer over the shooting death of an unarmed black man after a traffic stop.
Protesters handed out signs reading "Back turned, don't shoot," ''Black lives matter" and "Stop racist police terror." One display included a wood cutout of a man in a hooded sweatshirt with angel wings.
It was originally left at the site of the shooting of Walter Lamer Scott Jr., 50. Prosecutors charge that North Charleston police officer Michael Thomas Slager, 33, murdered Scott. Slager contended that he felt threatened and that Scott to grab his stun gun.
But a video of the fatal encounter, recorded on a cellphone, shows Scott running away from Slager when the officer opens fire, shooting eight times. Five of the bullets hit Scott, with one piercing the heart.
Scott was the father of four, family members told The New York Times.
Lance Braye, 23, helped arrange the protest for the group Black Lives Matter. "We have to take a stand on stuff like this," he said. "We can't just shake our heads at our computer screens."
Protesters say North Charleston police have a habit of harassing black people for small offenses, such as the broken brake light that led to the traffic stop preceding Scott's death.
Braye said he hopes the video of the incident, taken by a witness whose name hasn't been released, changes the way police act.
"This needs to be the last case," he said.
Later in the morning, Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon said he went to the demonstration Wednesday to meet with community members and keep an eye on what was a peaceful protest. His jurisdiction includes North Charleston.
He said his department started reviewing its policies dealing with minorities after a white officer fatally shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last August. A grand jury did not bring any charges in that case.
Cannon said he understands that heavy-handed police tactics of the past few decades have fostered mistrust of law enforcement. He said he thinks investigators would have seen through Slager's story without the video but the video made their job easier.
"Once that video came out, things moved quickly," Cannon said.
The FBI and the Justice Department's civil rights division are investigating the shooting.
The Justice Department issued a detailed report last month condemning the Ferguson municipal government for poor police training, practices it said contributed to Brown's death. The city’s police chief and other top officials stepped down in the wake of the report.
The death of Brown and the lack of an indictment against the officer involved sparked months of protests in the St. Louis suburb. Demonstrations there last year saw street clashes with law enforcement, tear gassings, mass arrests and the looting of businesses in the city.
Republican Sen. Tim Scott, who is not related to Walter Scott, issued a statement Wednesday morning condemning the shooting death. Tim Scott is the state's first black senator since 1881.
"The horrific video that came to light yesterday is deeply troubling," he said. "It is clear the killing of Walter Scott was unnecessary and avoidable, and my prayers are with the Scott family as they go through this ordeal."
He said the swift reaction from South Carolina law enforcement underscores "the severity of this terrible event."
Today North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey and Police Chief Eddie Driggers visited Walter Scott’s parents, Judy Scott and Walter Lamer Scott Sr.
This morning Judy Scott told ABC's "Good Morning America" that she almost couldn't look at the video showing the shooting. She said it tore her heart to pieces.
After seeing the video, Walter Scott Sr. said Slager "looked like he was trying to kill a deer running through the woods."
Walter Scott Sr. said he doesn't know if the shooting was racially motivated.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press