The Charleston chapter of the NAACP has urged South Carolina lawmakers to "stop dragging their feet" on legislation mandating that police wear body cameras — a requirement activists say could help prevent incidents such as the death of Walter Scott Jr., a black driver stopped and killed by a white patrolman over the weekend.
"As Mr. Scott's case shows, videos don't lie," NAACP Charleston Branch President Dot Scott said Thursday in reference to a bystander's cellphone recording that appeared to show Scott running away while police officer Michael Slager opened fire, shooting at Scott eight times, hitting him five times. "Body cameras will make it easy for many good law enforcement officers to do their job and lessen the chance that any other black men will be used for target practice, as Mr. Scott was."
The NAACP branch called on South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to support the proposed legislation and for federal officials to review policies of not only the North Charleston Police Department but also the Charleston Police Department and Charleston County Sheriff's Department as it relates to officer-involved shootings and what the NAACP called "racial profiling."
Members of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus also addressed the topic of body camera legislation, which the lawmakers said now has bipartisan support. Two South Carolina state senators put forward body camera legislation in January, but it has been met with objections regarding the cost of the equipment and privacy concerns, among others, local newspaper The Morning News reported.
Separately, state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, whose district includes North Charleston, previously sponsored legislation aimed at getting body cameras for police officers statewide, but it has yet to get a committee hearing, The Washington Post reported. He said on Thursday that Scott's shooting highlighted problems in interactions between the police and black Americans well beyond the city where it occurred.
“This is not a problem only in Charleston,” he said. “This is a national problem in the greatest country in the world. What we do know is that we have a problem of young black men, unarmed, being gunned down for no reason at all. We will not be satisfied until we can resolve this issue, not only in the state of Carolina but in this whole country.”
The comments come a day after North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey announced that about 250 body cameras have been ordered to ensure "every officer that's on the street in uniform will have a body camera." He cautioned that the cameras would not be used until the police department received training and developed a policy on their use.
Scott died on Saturday after being shot by Slager, who reportedly pulled Scott over for a broken taillight. The bystander's video shows the aftermath of an incident in which Slager reportedly used a stun gun on Scott. Slager, the New York Times reported, said he feared for his life and can be heard saying, “He grabbed my Taser,” when talking to the police dispatcher after the shooting.
As another officer arrives at the scene of the shooting in the video, Slager appears to toss an object near Scott’s body. It’s unclear if the object is a stun gun. Slager has since been fired and charged with murder. He has yet to formally enter a plea. If convicted, he could face the death penalty or a prison term of 30 years to life.
In an interview with NBC News, Feidin Santana, 23, who recorded the shooting scene, said he feared that his life “might be in danger” because he possessed the video. "I thought about erasing the video and just getting out of the community, you know, Charleston, and living some place else," he said. "I knew the cop didn't do the right thing."
Gilliard applauded Santana, and the NAACP's Charleston branch said the video is the reason Slager has been charged so quickly and the case received a "speedy investigation."
“The lingering question in this case is 'What would have happened if there was no video?'” the NAACP Charleston Branch said in a press release. “Would there have been an indictment, or would there have been a cursory investigation where Mr. Scott was painted as a criminal?”