Anger sim­mers at S.C. fu­neral

Pas­tor tells mourn­ers that Wal­ter Scott’s death at the hands of a white po­lice of­fi­cer was an ‘act of racism.’

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By David Zucchino david.zucchino@la­times.com

SUM­MERVILLE, S.C. — Wal­ter La­mar Scott, a black man shot in the back by a white po­lice pa­trol­man, was borne to his grave Satur­day in­side a flag-draped cof­fin es­corted by mo­tor­cy­cle po­lice from that same of­fi­cer’s North Charleston Po­lice Depart­ment.

In an emo­tional me­mo­rial ser­vice at a church crammed with 500 mourn­ers, no one men­tioned the name of Pa­trol­man 1st Class Michael T. Slager, charged with mur­der in Scott’s killing a week ear­lier. But the pas­tor who led the im­pas­sioned ser­vice con­demned “the act of racism and ha­tred in that of­fi­cer’s heart.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that Wal­ter’s death was mo­ti­vated by racial prej­u­dice,” the Rev. Dr. Ge­orge D. Hamil­ton told mourn­ers. “You have got to hate some­body to shoot them in the back. This hate came be­cause Wal­ter was an African Amer­i­can.”

The pas­tor’s words brought some mourn­ers to their feet. There were cries of “Right! Right!” and “Amen!”

The ser­vice crys­tal­lized re­sent­ment that had been sim­mer­ing among African Amer­i­cans in Nor th Charleston, S.C., which is 47% black, since Scott was shot April 4 as he ran from Slager af­ter a traf­fic stop. Res­i­dents said the type of petty of­fense for which Scott was stopped — a bro­ken brake light — sym­bol­ized per­sis­tent racial pro­fil­ing of blacks pulled over for years for mi­nor or nonex­is­tent vi­o­la­tions.

Slager, 33, whose wife is eight months preg­nant, on Satur­day was at a county pri­son, a few miles from the church. The eight shots he fired at Scott’s back fig­ured promi­nently in the ser­vice.

Hamil­ton called the shoot­ing “a hideous crime” com­pounded, he said, when Slager hand­cuffed the dy­ing man in­stead of try­ing to save his life.

“Why would a cop hand­cuff a dead man any­how?” he asked, drawing shouts of ap­proval from the mourn­ers.

“This of­fi­cer is a dis­grace to the North Charleston Po­lice Depart­ment,” the pas­tor went on.

But Hamil­ton warned against con­demn­ing all po­lice, adding, “He is a dis­grace to all the out­stand­ing po­lice of­fi­cers who put their lives on the line to pro­tect cit­i­zens of this area. We will not in­dict the en­tire law en­force­ment com­mu­nity for the act of a sin­gle racist.”

Of good of­fi­cers, he added: “We thank God for them.”

Of­fi­cers from the Charleston County Sher­iff ’s Depart­ment and the Sum­merville Po­lice Depart­ment helped pro­vide se­cu­rity at the ser­vice. They were greeted cor­dially by mourn­ers, even af­ter help­ing church of­fi­cials deny en­trance to more than 100 peo­ple be­cause the church was filled be­yond ca­pac­ity.

Hamil­ton told mourn­ers that Scott’s death was not in vain be­cause it had prompted what he called “a new con­scious­ness” about po­lice pro­fil­ing and ex­ces­sive force against blacks in North Charleston and across the coun­try.

The vi­o­lent death of Scott, 50, might bring a new day when “ev­ery African Amer­i­can doesn’t need to be afraid when they are stopped by the po­lice,” the pas­tor said.

Few mourn­ers had not seen the video, taken by a by­stander, that showed Slager fir­ing at Scott as he ran across a grassy lot. Slager was ar­rested and charged Tues­day, af­ter the video was turned over to state law en­force­ment of­fi­cials. He was fired from the depart­ment.

Like many res­i­dents and civil rights lead­ers here, Hamil­ton said the shoot­ing would have gone un­pun­ished if not for the video taken by Fei­din San­tana, a passerby. Hamil­ton said God had brought San­tana to the shoot­ing scene to ex­pose to the world the truth about Scott’s killing. The video sparked anger and prompted calls for jus­tice, but there has been no vi­o­lence and only a few demon­stra­tions.

The fu­neral ser­vice was held at W.O.R.D. Min­istries Chris­tian Cen­ter, where Scott was the first mem­ber of his fam­ily to at­tend, singing in the choir. The Scott fam­ily sat at the front of the church, where Scott’s body lay in a cof­fin draped with an Amer­i­can flag.

Af­ter the ser­vice and view­ing, mourn­ers gath­ered out­side to dis­cuss the shoot­ing, which has dom­i­nated con­ver­sa­tion here. Scott, a fa­ther of four, was driv­ing a used Mercedes-Benz to buy auto parts when Slager pulled him over in the park­ing lot of an Ad­vance Auto Store in North Charleston.

The store is less than a mile from the of­fi­cer’s rented home in the neigh­bor­ing com­mu­nity of Hana­han, and only five miles from the Charleston home where Scott grew up. The two men were a gen­er­a­tion apart, but both had served in the Coast Guard and lived in or near North Charleston.

Min­utes af­ter Slager took Scott’s driver’s li­cense back to his pa­trol car, Scott bolted from the Mercedes and ran to­ward the va­cant lot. The scene was cap­tured by the of­fi­cer’s dash­board cam­era.

Af­ter a scuf­fle in the grassy lot a few hun­dred yards away, Scott broke free. Slager aimed his ser­vice pis­tol and fired, strik­ing Scott four times in the back, ac­cord­ing to an au­topsy re­port cited by lawyers for the Scott fam­ily. They say they in­tend to sue the city.

The video shows the of­fi­cer hur­ry­ing from Scott’s fallen body to re­trieve some­thing, ap­par­ently his Taser stun gun. Slager is then seen drop­ping the ob­ject next to Scott’s body.

Slager re­ported that Scott had ac­costed him and taken his Taser. Civil rights ac­tivists say Slager was plant­ing ev­i­dence to but­tress his false ver­sion of events.

Scott had been jailed three times since 2008, and mem­bers of his fam­ily say he prob­a­bly fled be­cause he owed $18,000 in child sup­port.

Scott lost a $35,000-ayear job while serv­ing time in jail in 2003, ac­cord­ing to U.S. Rep. Jim Cly­burn, an African Amer­i­can Demo­crat from South Carolina who at­tended the ser­vice.

“He felt he had lost ev­ery­thing, and that sent him into a down­ward spi­ral,” Cly­burn said. Scott was work­ing as a ware­house fork­lift op­er­a­tor at the time of his death.

Cly­burn said it was im­por­tant to lo­cal res­i­dents that Hamil­ton, dur­ing the fu­neral, ad­dressed racial pro­fil­ing in con­nec­tion with Scott’s traf­fic stop and shoot­ing death.

“He would have been hyp­o­crit­i­cal not to speak to the is­sue head-on,” Cly­burn said.

Af­ter the ser­vice, eight of­fi­cers from North Charleston, Charleston and the Sher­iff’s Depart­ment cranked up their mo­tor­cy­cles. They es­corted the fu­neral pro­ces­sion to Live Oak Me­mo­rial Gar­dens in Charleston, where the spring grass was a deep green and the aza­lea shrubs in full vi­o­let bloom.

Scott was laid to rest in a blue cas­ket adorned with images of the Bi­ble. Each mem­ber of his fam­ily held a sin­gle yel­low rose. There was no talk of the shoot­ing or of racial pro­fil­ing. There were only prayers, read­ings from Scrip­ture, and the soft sobs of the mourn­ers.

Joe Raedle Getty Images

JUDY SCOTT, the mother of Wal­ter Scott, lays a rose on her son’s cas­ket. He was killed last week af­ter a traf­fic stop by a po­lice of­fi­cer in North Charleston, S.C. The shoot­ing was filmed by a by­stander, and the of­fi­cer, Michael T. Slager, has been charged with mur­der.

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