WASHINGTON – President Obama’s senior adviser and several South Carolina lawmakers Wednesday denounced the shooting death of an unarmed black man by a white North Charleston, S.C., police officer as “devastating” and “deeply troubling,” according to a news report filed by McClatchy News Service.
Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, speaking on “The Joe Madison Show,” said the FBI has launched an investigation into the shooting that occurred Saturday during a traffic stop. North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, a five-year veteran of the force, was charged with first-degree murder Tuesday evening.
“I have to tell you, as a mom, it was just devastating to think of having to watch my child being just shot down like that,” Jarrett said.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., added, “it is clear” that the killing of 50-year-old Walter Scott was “unnecessary and avoidable.”
The shooting of the fleeing victim, captured in a graphic video, follows high-profile police killings of unarmed black men in cities across America – especially in Cleveland, New York and Ferguson, Mo. – and has rekindled the debate over use of force by law enforcement.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a potential 2016 presidential candidate, said the video “is very difficult to watch and deeply troubling on many fronts.”
Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn, D-S.C., the highest-ranking African-American in the House of Representatives, said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports that he was “saddened” but “not surprised at the shooting.”
“This whole issue of police misconduct is an issue that all of us know is here and must be dealt with, and we ought to stop making excuses and ought to start holding people accountable for them,” Clyburn said. “That’s all that’s going to be required for us to make this thing right.”
Clyburn said he advises young people to keep their cell phone batteries charged and their camera/video recording devices at the ready.
“And don’t hesitate to turn them on when you see things happening that’s unbecoming or you think may cross the line, because I think we are going to do more of this because I think that’s what it’s going to take for police officers to really think twice before pulling their weapons,” he said.
Sen. Tim Scott – who is not related to the victim – called for calm in North Charleston Wednesday.
“With several protests planned today, I join community leaders in North Charleston in calling for peace,” the senator said. “I understand the hurt and the anger many are feeling today. But violence solves nothing.”
The stark video of the police shooting, meanwhile, is now being dissected frame by frame by authorities and media outlets to reconstruct what happened between Slager and Scott.
According to police reports, Slager pulled Scott over at 9:33 a.m. Saturday for a broken taillight, sparking a foot chase on roadway bordered partly by a chain-link fence. The video was shot over and through the fence.
Police said Scott did not comply with the officer’s demands and, instead – after a short confrontation involving a Taser – ran away before being shot in the back.
Scott’s brother, Anthony, said the videotape shows his brother was “running for his life” away from the officer to escape more of the Taser.
“I think my brother was thinking he was not going to be shot. No one would have thought that,” Anthony Scott said.
As Walter Scott ran away, the officer pulled his service pistol and fired eight times, the video shows. As the shots were being fired, Scott kept running away from the officer, the video shows. Scott then fell to the ground.
According to WCIV-TV in Charleston, Slager initially said through his attorney, David Aylor, that he followed the appropriate policies and procedures. However, Aylor later told reporters that he was no longer representing the officer.
Meanwhile, North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers, who said Slager has been terminated from the police force, said: “I watched the video, and I was sickened by what I saw and I have not watched it since.”
Slager was denied bail at a bond hearing Tuesday night, WCIV reported. If found guilty of murder, Slager could be sentenced to death or to life in prison.
North Charleston police are not involved in the investigation into the shooting and have turned the matter over to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said Wednesday.
Both Slager and Scott had once served in the U.S. Coast Guard. Scott was a father of four, and Slager is a father to two stepchildren, and his wife is eight months’ pregnant. The city will continue to pay medical benefits for Slager’s wife and unborn child, Summey said.
Family members, meanwhile, are considering filing a lawsuit against the city.