(CN) – Several angry protesters shouted down North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey Wednesday afternoon during press conference that offered little new information on the case of a white police officer caught on video shooting an unarmed black man to death.
The packed press conference after hours of peaceful protests outside city hall; but as the mayor stepped to the podium to speak, several of the protesters who’d been allowed to attend the session began chanting “No justice; no peace.”
“I understand what you are saying,” the mayor said.
But that was perhaps the last time Summey and the protestors were on the same page during the 20-minute give and take.
The outburst of sorrow and defiance came a day after North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager was charged with murder in the death of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was shot at least five times as he ran from a routine traffic stop on Saturday, March 4.
The problem was the mayor had very little of substance to offer his inquisitors, deferring questions about the Michael Slager, the officer involved in the shooting, and the ongoing investigation of the case to Solicitor Scarlett Wilson and the State Law Enforcement Division, neither of whom was represented at the press conference.
Asked why officials appeared to embrace a version of the alleged incident that was later contradicted by a witnesses’ video, Mayor Summey said he hadn’t seen the video until Tuesday, and that in the immediate aftermath of the killing of Walter Scott, “I had to rely on the evidence we had.”
One of the protestors asked the mayor why the city, which is almost 50 percent black, has a police force that’s nearly 80 percent white.
“We’ve tried to recruit African-American members to the police department … anyone that can become certified,” Summey said. “The problem is we have had a very limited of applicants who we’ve been able to certify.
“That’s been the challenge in getting more minority police officers to work for us … and in response, we’ve started reaching out to other police departments for recruitment purposes,” he said.
With that, the crowd began to chant “We want Driggers. We want Driggers,” a reference to Police Chief Eddie Driggers who opened the press briefing by saying he had watched the video of the shooting “and I was sickened by what I saw,” and announcing officer Slager had been officially fired by the department.
Driggers had stepped aside to let the mayor take the lead during the press conference, but remained near the podium.
“The people would like to know why the police chief is not allowed to answer any questions about the investigation,” a protester shouted.
“We are not doing the investigation,” Summey said. “We took the appropriate step to place the investigation in the hands on independent parties who don’t work for me or for the police department, and that answers you want are going to have to come from them.”
The mayor did say that he issued an executive order to purchase more body cameras for officers and that every North Charleston police officer will wear one.
“We will also be working within the community to work on an open dialogue,” Summey said.
Moments later, after continued disruptions, the press conference ended.
An hour later, Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten issued her first formal statement on the case.
“At the direction of the Coroner’s Office, an autopsy was performed on the victim on April 5, 2015,” Wooten wrote. “The autopsy revealed that Mr. Scott sustained multiple gunshot wounds to the back of his body and the manner of death was ruled “Homicide.”
North Charleston City Hall was ground zero for protests all day Wednesday. At the start of business today, about 70 protesters held a peaceful rally on the city’s doorstep.
For several minutes after the group assembled, they chanted alternately, “black lives matter” and “all lives matter,” and then, “back turned, don’t shoot,” before quieting down for comments by community leaders.
One young man, summing up the feeling of many in the multi-racial crowd, said “You should be able to walk out of your house and not be afraid.”
But there were also far more pointed comments made.
Ramon Roane, one of the protest’s organizers, said, “There is an atmosphere of racism in North Charleston, and we need to get rid of it.”
After the chanting resumed, several protestors momentarily blocked traffic.
Fueling the anger and skepticism of some in the crowd is how the story of the shooting unfolded in the days after Scott’s death.
In a statement on Sunday, April 4, Slager’s attorney David Alyor described Scott’s killing as “a very tragic event for all of the families.”
“I believe once the community hears all the facts of this shooting, they’ll have a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding this investigation,” Alyor said.
At the time, Slager, who has been a police officer in North Charleston since December 2009, said he believed that he felt threatened by Scott, and that he followed all departmental procedures before resorting to the use of deadly force. The North Charleston police placed the officer on administrative duty, and the State Law Enforcement Division began an investigation of the incident.
As tensions over the shooting continued to build, state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, a Democrat from Charleston, said the incident underscored the need for local police to wear body-mounted cameras. The city noted it already has more than 100 of the devices on order.
But at that point, the thrust of such comments was to stem community speculation about the fatal encounter.
Then, on Tuesday, it emerged that an witness had recorded a video of the shooting, a video that clearly showed Scott running away from Slager before the officer pulled his gun and began firing.
The filing of murder charges against Slager quickly followed.
“What happened today doesn’t happen all the time,” said Scott family attorney L. Chris Stewart after the existence of the video became known.
Stewart called the as-yet unidentified videographer a hero. He also announced Scott’s family plans to sue the police department.
The Post and Courier newspaper also reported that while Slager received largely favorable reviews from his superiors, he was also twice the subject of complaints about his alleged use of unnecessary force during investigations.
Questions continue to fly about the incident. One being why Scott ran. Stewart said the reason may have been because Scott owed child support, which could have resulted in his being sent to jail until he paid it.
Scott had four children. He was also engaged to be married.
On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Tim Scott said he understood “the hurt, the frustration and the many are feeling today,” but went to lengths to remind residents of the city that “violence solves nothing.”
“We must come together as a community, state and nation in working to bring our communities together and rebuild trust,” he said.
Also commenting on the still developing situation was U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, whose congressional district includes the area where the shooting occurred.
“I believe the unfathomable and unconscionable killing of Walter Scott, captured on video for all four of his children to see, should be met with real consequence and a thorough review,” Sanford said in a Facebook post.
“In the past year, we have witnessed communities torn apart by police-involved deaths from Ferguson to New York City, and now such a tragedy has struck right here at home,” he continued. “We cannot let the actions of one officer cast a shadow on every man and woman who wears a badge, particularly when I believe they overwhelmingly serve our community honorably in all sorts of very trying settings and circumstances.”
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