(CN) – Members of the South Carolina Legislature’s black caucus and the Charleston Chapter of the NAACP on Thursday called for swift action Thursday on bills that will mandate the use of body cameras by state and local police.
The call to action, in separate press conferences Thursday morning, was the latest development in the wake of the killing of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, by North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager on Saturday, March 4.
“We are again experiencing the results of a great divide in America … not only one of race, but of perceived power and intent,” said state Rep. Carl Anderson.
“We cannot condone the continued lack of judgment used by police officers … particularly on African-American males,” he continued. “I can assure you that we are hard at work looking at what has taken place [in other parts of the country] and in our state now.”
There are currently two bills that have been filed in the state legislature regarding body cameras for law enforcement officers in South Carolina, one pertaining primarily to local police departments, and the other, mandating their use by state police.
Rep. Wendell Gilliard, the initial sponsor of the first of those bills, also proposed similar legislature last year, only to see it stall in committee. On Thursday, Gilliard announced the bill now has bipartisan support, and got a huge lift in the past few days when state Sen. Larry Grooms, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, also signed on as a sponsor.
“What we are talking about is a method of accountability,” Gilliard said. “We want to ensure that South Carolina sets an example at this moment, and that the tragedy of Mr. Scott’s death ultimately has a positive impact on the nation.”
Both the lawmakers and the members of the NAACP praised the response of North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey and Police Chief Eddie Driggers , as well Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson and the State Law Enforcement Division for its swift and steady response to the shooting.
“We’re glad in this instance, there was a speedy investigation and a speedy indictment, and we will continue to monitor this case to see that justice is done,” said local NAACP President Dot Scott.
“The lingering question in this case is what would have happened if there was no video?” she continued as she read form a prepared statement. “Would there have been an indictment, or would there have been a cursory investigation where Mr. Scott was painted as a criminal, where the officer’s version of what happened would have been accepted as truth, and where there would have been no murder charge?”
Many of those who spoke on Thursday also praised Feidin Santana, the young man who was on his way to work Saturday when he came upon Officer Slager and Scott, and used his cellphone to record the shooting.
Santana has said the two men were struggling on the ground before he started recording, but throughout the encounter, Slager appeared to have the upper hand.
“I remember the police had control of the situation,” Santana told NBC’s Lester Holt.
“We’re thankful for Santana’s actions,” said state Sen. Clementa Pinckney. “He is a hero. But is the problem resolved? No. I challenge my fellow lawmakers to get focused on the issues that matter.”
The black caucus members focused their ire on Gov. Nikki Haley, who they described as essentially being absent as the story of the shooting, and the emerging of a video of what transpired, unfolded.
After murder charges were filed against Slager, Haley issued a statement that said, “We have many good law enforcement officers in the field.
“What happened in this case is not acceptable in South Carolina, nor is it reflective of our values or of the way most of our law enforcement officials act, and I assure all South Carolinians that the criminal judicial process will proceed fully,” the governor continued. “This is a sad time for everyone in South Carolina, and I urge everyone to work together to help our community heal.”
But for many members of the Legislature’s black caucus, issuing a statement isn’t enough.
“If she can be enthused and have the energy she devotes to the anti-union movement in the South … if [that energy] was devoted to domestic violence or to racial profiling, imagine the inroads we could make,” Pinckney said.
He reminded those attending the press conference that “North Charleston is an economic engine in our country,” pointing to Boeing’s ongoing expansion in the community as an example of the dramatic growth that’s gripped the community in recent years.
“I don’t think any company wants to be in a place that does not protect all of our citizens,” Pinckney said. “We want everyone to believe that South Carolina stands for something and that it stands for more than what we saw last Saturday.”
As for the City of North Charleston, it has announced that it will provide a police escort for Scott’s funeral and burial on Saturday. Mayor Summey also announced that despite Slager’s now having been fired by the North Charleston Police Department, the city will continue to provide medical benefits to the former officer’s wife, who is eight months pregnant, until after the couple’s child is born.
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