Sharpton praises response to police shooting of SC man
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — During a sermon at a North Charleston church, the Rev. Al Sharpton said Sunday that swift action taken by a white mayor and police chief in the South could set the tone for handling future questions of police misconduct across the country.
“It’s not about black and white. It’s about right and wrong,” Sharpton said. “What this mayor did is what we’ve been asking mayors to do all over the country: Not do us a favor, just enforce the law.”
The tone of the local community’s response to the shooting death of Walter Scott, 50, has been different than other instances of unarmed black men being fatally shot by white police officers, including the violent demonstrations from people in Ferguson, Missouri after Michael Brown’s death.
Sharpton preached at the Charity Missionary Baptist Church and commended Mayor Keith Summey and Police Chief Eddie Driggers — both of whom were in the congregation and at a later vigil at the grassy vacant lot where Scott was shot to death.
The shooting was captured on dramatic video that was taken by a witness. Scott was shot after fleeing a traffic stop by then-officer Michael Slager. The officer initially said Scott was shot after a tussle over his Taser, but the witness video that later surfaced showed Scott being shot at eight times as he ran away. Slager was fired and has been charged with murder.
Scott’s death was criticized as yet another fatal shooting involving an unarmed black man by a white officer under questionable circumstances.
Some North Charleston community members said they suspect abuse of power and the abuse of public trust played more of a role than race in the shooting.
“It’s not about the color of your skin, it’s about social justice. When we all practice social justice, we’re all free,” said Mattese Lecque, a North Charleston resident who heard Sharpton preach. “Sometimes it takes disaster to bring about change, and that’s what’s happening now.”
The chants, hymns and calls for more police accountability during small rallies in North Charleston have echoed those in Ferguson, Missouri.
However, many in the North Charleston area have said they don’t want to see the burned-out buildings, broken windows and social tension that characterized Ferguson after Brown’s shooting — and the announcement that a grand jury wouldn’t indict the officer who shot him.
“There’s been no violent situation whatsoever because everybody supports the Scotts and what we’re trying to accomplish here,” L. Chris Stewart, the attorney representing Scott’s family said Saturday.
Despite North Charleston’s response, there’s still a lingering sense of skepticism among some community members about whether Scott’s death would have been thoroughly investigated without the witness video.
“The mayor and the chief, they did what they had to do because none of us are blind,” said Keith White, 62, of North Charleston. “Everyone saw the video and they did what they were forced to do once that video became public.”
Residents say they’re more focused on pursuing justice for Scott’s family, not violent demonstrations.
“We’re not gonna tear it up, we’re not gonna have that,” said Dwayne German, 56, of Charleston. “If you want to vent anger, take it out when it’s time to vote.”
Ferguson saw an increase in voter turnout during the city’s elections earlier this month. Two black candidates were elected to the six-member council, bringing the total of African-American representation to three.
During his sermon, Sharpton urged the congregation to use South Carolina’s role in the upcoming presidential race to question candidates about community policing and accountability.
“Don’t let them come through here and eat some sweet potato pie and sing with the choir and then get your vote on the cheap,” Sharpton said. “Make them stand up and discuss your issues.”