A South Carolina police officer, Michael Slager, has been terminated and officially charged with homicide in the shooting death of Walter Scott. The video of this incident serves as the primary evidentiary catalyst for the charges, and depicts what I consider to be a textbook “bad shoot,” if not outright coldblooded murder. Officer Slager essentially used Scott for target practice as the man attempted to flee the scene.
Though I cannot prove it, I am certain the vast majority of police officers are not bad people, and go entire careers without exercising such monumentally poor judgment. But when such terrible events do occur, it is imperative to the public trust and confidence, ethics, justice, and institutional credibility that the individual(s) in question be punished in accordance with the law of the land as any other American. In this context, it is nice to see an officer facing justice as any other American likely would in such circumstances.
Many will and have pointed out that Scott fled from the officer following a traffic stop, and was party to what appeared to be a brief scuffle with the officer, so he must have been “bad.” Others will suggest that he would be alive today had he not been pulled over by, ran from, and/or scuffled with the cop in the first place. The former point is complete supposition, unsupported by the facts available at the time the officer made the decision to shoot, and in any event no way warranted being shot in the back. The latter is true to an extent, but is entirely circumstantial in nature. This latter reasoning is tantamount to blaming a battered wife for “lipping off” to her husband when she knew he’d likely beat her. Analogously, she could have certainly chosen to avoid the violence by remaining quiet, but this does not make the wife beater righteous in his behavior. In either case, a police officer – like a normal citizen – is not legally empowered to mete out capital punishment without due process, and is only righteous in wielding lethal force when defending one’s self and/or others from harm. This video clearly dispels any reasonable notion of warranted self-defense.
UPDATE (8 December 2017): After initially seeing a hung jury in his state-level murder trial (for shame), Slager was subsequently charged with federal civil rights violations and ultimately pleaded guilty to those charges. A federal judge handed Slager a 20-year sentence yesterday. Justice is served, if in a roundabout way. (Seriously, shame on you original jury members.)