We have an inherent faith in our justice system. We believe that the founders, and their subsequent successors have developed a court of law that redeems the innocently accused, and brings just punishment on the guilty.
To many across the nation, however, this is not the case. The justice system does not serve all, but rather the interests of few. A jury of their peers is not in fact made up of their peers.
Yesterday in South Carolina, a now-former police officer, Michael Slager had his trial ruled a mistrial on the basis that the jury was hung and unable to reach a verdict. For those of you who missed it, or don’t pay attention to officer-involved shootings against unarmed men, here’s what happened:
A police officer executing a man by shooting him five times in the back as a 50-year-old man slowly runs away from him.
That this was murder is not even a question. The degree of the charges were the only amount of uncertainty, and indeed, just three days after the shooting, Slager was charged with murder. Additionally, a grand jury indicted Slager on murder two months later.
This case is one of the swiftest to date after a litany of officer involved shootings to receive massive press coverage.
As most are aware, Officer Darren Wilson who shot and killed Michael Brown faced no charges. Officer Daniel Pantaleo in New York faced no charges for choking Eric Garner to death while on duty. Here, closer to home in Fairfax, after more than two years of delays and obstructions, Officer Adam Torres was charged with murder and pled guilty to manslaughter in the shooting death of John Greer. Encouragingly, the officer who shot and killed Philando Castile (which this author wrote in disgust about immediately after ) was arrested and charged with manslaughter last month.
We’re seeing an increase in accountability for unwarranted police action through the courts and the rule of law, but more work is left to be done, as proven in the Slager case.
Despite a clear video of an execution, a jury of Walter Scott’s peers could not find Slager guilty.
In this instance, a 50-year-old man, Scott, who could have been caught and arrested, is targeted by Slager with eight bullets, five of them finding the fleeing man in the back.
Slager then retrieves his Taser to drop it next to Scott, which could be an attempt to implicating Scott. And even after handcuffing Scott, per procedure, neither Slager nor the second responding officer offered any medical attention to an unarmed man who had been pulled over for a broken tail-light.
In a world where everyone has a smartphone, we have a rare instance of definitive video proof of a police officer acting far beyond reasonable force and shooting a man in the back. Yet, somehow, even this wasn’t enough to secure a conviction of a police officer.
The only defense Slager could offer was that his reaction and use of force was what he was trained to do. He testified in his defense that he felt ‘total fear’, questioning why Scott would run from a traffic stop for a broken tail-light. After the stop, there ensued an altercation where Scott tried to prevent being stunned with a Taser, he then broke free and continued running, where Slager, rather than pursue an unarmed man, pulled his weapon and fired eight times in 2.7 seconds.
This case was so strange and runs counter to the normal narrative of conservatives who applaud and uphold truth and justice for police in virtually 100% of cases that even Sean Hannity couldn’t find a way to defend Slager:
Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday passionately defended Walter Scott, a black man gunned down apparently in cold blood by white North Charleston, S.C., police officer Michael Slager.
“You don’t shoot an innocent person that’s not a threat in the back—that’s murder,” Hannity said.
“We cannot have in this country—look, you talk about the officer is innocent until proven guilty, that tape is overwhelming, incontrovertible evidence that this man was shot innocently in the back,” Hannity continued. “He’s not the judge, jury and executioner here. He doesn’t get to fire against the guy that’s not a threat to anybody.”
The mistrial yesterday shows that we still have a long way to go in order to gain accountability and hold accountable those sworn to protect. Challenges will always remain, but for every bit of progress we make at a prosecution level, there remains progress to be had in the courtroom.