A video shot by a passerby has roiled this Southern city and led to a white police officer being dismissed from his job and charged with murder after he was seen firing eight shots at a fleeing black man.
The video, which went viral on Wednesday, has become the center of this Southern drama over race and the use of force by police. In a day of local protests and condolence calls by top municipal officials seeking to contain the fallout from the shooting, the White House also weighed in, calling the video, filmed by a young man with a cellphone, “hard to watch.”
Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said the bystander’s shaky handheld video of North Charleston police Officer Michael T. Slager, 33, repeatedly shooting Walter L. Scott, 50, in the back changed how investigators viewed the case.
“That is an example of how body cameras worn by police officers could have a positive impact in terms of building trust between law enforcement officers and the communities that they serve,” Earnest said.
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Earnest said he did not know if President Barack Obama had seen the graphic video, which set off a firestorm of angry protests directed at local officials.
Speaking at a news conference that was often interrupted by protesters, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey called the shooting a tragedy for both families, the white officer’s and the black man’s. The city will continue to pay health insurance for the officer’s wife, who is eight months pregnant, he said.
“This has been a horrible tragedy within our community,” Summey said after praying earlier with the Scott family.
“Two families have been harmed by what has occurred,” the mayor said. “Our hearts go out to both of them.”
The city has also ordered additional body cameras to be worn by all officers, the mayor said, with police Chief Eddie Driggers at his side.
“I have watched the video,” Driggers told reporters, and “I was sickened by what I saw.”
Protesters often broke into the officials’ remarks, chanting, “No justice, no peace,” a frequent slogan in the past year at demonstrations across the nation over the use of police force, particularly against blacks.
“We understand, we don’t have any issues with that,” the mayor responded, trying to answer questions and calm the crowd, which had earlier demonstrated outside City Hall.
About 47 percent of the city is black and whites make up about 41 percent of the 104,000 residents. The police force is more than 80 percent white.
South Carolina is 66.2 percent white and 27.9 percent black.
Summey said the city was more than willing to hire more African-Americans but had difficulty finding recruits.
Officials also defended police officers who did not administer first aid or CPR in the moments after the shooting.
“Not every officer is CPR-certified,” the mayor said.
“Why not?” shouted back a protester.
Earlier, Scott’s family praised the video with its painful images of the man’s death.
Without the video, the shooting “would have never come to light. They would have swept it under the rug, like they did with many others,” Walter Scott Sr. said on Thursday on NBC’s “Today” show. “When I saw it … my heart was broken.
“The way (Slager) was shooting that gun, it looked like he was trying to kill a deer. … I don’t know whether it was racial, or it was something wrong with his head,” Scott said.
Judy Scott, the slain man’s mother, called the video “the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen.”
“I almost couldn’t look at it to see my son running defenselessly, being shot. It just tore my heart to pieces,” she said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Slager, a five-year veteran of the city police force, had originally told authorities that he feared for his life during a confrontation with Scott after a traffic stop on Saturday over a faulty brake light. Scott had taken the officer’s stun gun, officials said they were told by the 33-year-old officer.
The video, however, shows the officer firing as Scott flees. Scott appears to be 15 to 20 feet away from the officer at the time, and falls at the last of eight shots. Some of the shots hit him in the back, the family’s lawyer said.
The officer then runs to where the original confrontation takes place and picks up something off the ground. Moments later, he drops an object near Scott’s body, the video shows.
Anthony Scott said he was attending an impromptu memorial service for his dead brother Sunday at the very spot where a video depicted the fatal shooting.
A young man walked up to Scott and said, “I have something to share with you,” Scott, 52, said at his parents’ home Wednesday, and produced a cellphone to play a video. Scott saw Slager fire eight times as his brother fled.
The man, Feidin Santana, told NBC Wednesday that he was walking to work and approached the scene because he noticed officer Michael Slager controlling Walter Scott on the ground. He began recording when he heard the sound of a Taser. He says “Mr. Scott was trying just to get away from the Taser.”
Santana has been cooperating with investigators.
After he viewed the tape, Anthony Scott said, “I felt sick and angry.”
Justin T. Bamberg, a lawyer representing the Scott family, said Santana “was in the right place at the right time for justice.”
“He exemplifies courage. He had a strong desire to do the right thing,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed.