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A Hero With a Cell Phone Instead of a Gun

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Cops, Cameras and Justice

by: 

John Grant

 
        This is “deeply troubling on many fronts.”
        - South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham
 
I’m a photographer, and the police shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina, feels like a major watershed in the on-going struggle between cops and cameras. Like no other story, this one starkly shows the power of a camera in the hands of a courageous citizen at the right place and the right time. And the technology is getting more sophisticated, cheaper and smaller by the day.

Due to an official prejudice for police narratives, the case was headed to become another murky police shooting of a black man masticated in the media and criminal justice system into a free pass for police violence. A brave citizen with a cell phone camera changed that instantly. At that point the local police chief and the mayor of North Charleston agonized in public, as South Carolina politicians rushed to the cameras to show their disgust. A video image of the shamed officer wearing striped prison garb and handcuffs was publicly released to exhibit his fate.

.

[Clockwise from top left: Walter Scott; Officer Michael Slager; distressed Police Chief Eddie Driggers and North Charleston Mayor R. Keith Summey; Walter Scott's mother, Judy, and cellphone cameraman Feidin Santana being thanked by the Scott family.]

Walter Scott was shot to death over a broken taillight on his neighbor’s used Mercedes he was reportedly about to purchase. We’re learning from places like Ferguson, Missouri, and a report from Los Angeles, California, how minor traffic stops for African Americans too often lead to further, deepening arrest and jailing complications. It’s the application of Rudy Giuliani’s beloved “broken windows” policy to minor vehicular infractions. It’s also called police harassment.

In such a petty, oppressive climate, Scott’s ultimately fatal decision to flee a white officer who had stopped him for a busted taillight was understandable. As the procedure is constructed to play out, Officer Slager had likely stopped Scott for the taillight as a pretext to go through his computer to look for more serious and outstanding infractions. It’s a “gotcha” moment. In the dash-cam video, as Officer Slager walks to the driver’s side window of the Mercedes, he gives the taillight a gentle, loving tap. Whether Scott owed child support or whatever, it seems he felt further complications like jail were a likelihood. Like anyone, Scott had a life that meant other commitments that day. As you watch the dash-cam video of Scott waiting in his car, you can imagine a host of things going through his mind. He apparently called his mother during those seconds before he decided to bolt from the car, leaving his driver’s license in the hands of Officer Slager.

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