Why partial justice for Walter Scott isn't nearly enough

Walter Scott and his family got a bit of justice Thursday when a judge decided to sentence former North Charleston po...

Posted: Dec 8, 2017 11:21 AM
Updated: Dec 8, 2017 11:21 AM

Walter Scott and his family got a bit of justice Thursday when a judge decided to sentence former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager to 20 years in a federal prison. That's a serious consequence for a serious crime, a fact anyone who understands anything about the American prison system knows well.

US District Judge David Norton found Slager guilty of second-degree murder and obstruction of justice. That doesn't mean this outcome is the start of a new era of accountability for those who police us. It's actually an illustration of just how far we have to go.

We live in an upside-down world in which the men and women we give the most responsibility, those we train and pay, are given more leeway for bad acts than those we would never give the power and right to detain and kill fellow Americans.

Here are the undisputed facts: Slager shot Scott in the back five times as Scott was running away. The killing was caught on cellphone video by an onlooker.

It was murder. The only real question was whether it was first- or second-degree murder. And yet, a South Carolina jury looked at that video and decided it couldn't convict Slager. Had federal officials not stepped in, Slager probably would have faced a second state trial with another South Carolina jury who could have also struggled to find him guilty, despite the clearest evidence imaginable.

Why was it so hard for the jury to really see the evidence? Because Slager wore a blue uniform, had a badge and a gun paid for and sanctioned by the state.

Had Slager been a random American man caught on video shooting a fleeing man in the back, the case likely would not have reached a trial. It likely would not have mattered if the two men had been in a tussle beforehand, a claim Slager made but prosecutors disputed.

It likely would not have mattered if the shooter had claimed he was afraid or angry. It very likely would have ended like many criminal cases do, with a plea deal -- a confession in exchange for the man being able to avoid a death sentence. And no one would have batted an eye.

Instead, because he was a police officer, Slager received a lesser (if still serious) punishment for his crimes. Federal prosecutors were seeking a life sentence.

While the Scott family got some semblance of justice, the process which led to Slager's prison sentence sends the message that other families should not expect the same. It took nearly a perfect set of circumstances for Slager to be held accountable. A bystander had to happen upon the scene where Slager was about to murder Scott and pull out his cell phone just in time to capture it on video.

Had that not been the case, there's strong reason to believe Slager would have never been charged, given that police officers are still rarely charged -- let alone convicted -- for on-the-job killings, despite all the progress made by Black Lives Matter and other movements for reforms of the criminal justice system. Fellow officers likely would have believed his claim that he shot Scott because he feared for his own life. If they didn't, a prosecutor likely would have; the South Carolina jury proved that not even airtight evidence is enough to convict an officer.

It should be noted that this decision happened on the same day Democrat Al Franken resigned from the Senate because of allegations he mistreated women, even while declaring that some of the allegations were false. It was a painful moment to witness, a beloved member of the Senate making a sobering speech as he leaves, but Franken's example shows that those in power can -- and must -- be held to the highest standard or be stripped of the privilege to lead us.

And his fellow legislators aren't the only ones who should take note -- so should other agents of the state, like police officers. They shouldn't be given a pass or be allowed to face lesser consequences because they have power; they should face more.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 14372

Reported Deaths: 693
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds92024
Lauderdale69957
Madison68721
Scott62310
Neshoba56534
Jones52519
Forrest51137
DeSoto4936
Leake39512
Rankin3736
Holmes37324
Jackson30013
Copiah2854
Attala27715
Monroe25324
Leflore25030
Lincoln25022
Newton2504
Harrison2457
Lamar2275
Yazoo2233
Pearl River20731
Pike20211
Adams19015
Lowndes1828
Noxubee1696
Washington1636
Warren1587
Oktibbeha15010
Bolivar14911
Wayne1480
Jasper1483
Covington1411
Clarke13517
Smith13311
Kemper13110
Chickasaw12812
Lafayette1254
Lee1175
Carroll11410
Coahoma1133
Marion1129
Winston1051
Clay1043
Lawrence991
Simpson930
Hancock8711
Yalobusha855
Wilkinson859
Itawamba857
Grenada823
Montgomery811
Sunflower783
Union785
Marshall763
Jefferson Davis752
Tippah7111
Tate691
Panola643
Claiborne642
Calhoun614
Webster591
Amite561
Humphreys537
Tunica523
Walthall510
Perry492
Prentiss413
Jefferson400
Choctaw352
Stone300
Pontotoc283
Franklin272
Tishomingo260
Quitman250
Tallahatchie251
George201
Benton140
Alcorn141
Greene111
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 16310

Reported Deaths: 590
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2085112
Jefferson167397
Montgomery144634
Marshall6609
Tuscaloosa63212
Lee52632
Franklin4986
Shelby47019
Tallapoosa41063
Butler39113
Chambers34024
Madison3154
Elmore3007
Baldwin2829
Walker2821
DeKalb2403
Etowah24011
Dallas2323
Coffee2191
Lowndes21610
Morgan2111
Sumter2106
Autauga1923
Houston1854
Bullock1763
Pike1730
Colbert1612
Calhoun1523
Marengo1506
Choctaw1487
Russell1480
Lauderdale1452
Hale1416
Wilcox1327
Barbour1301
Clarke1282
Randolph1247
Marion11711
St. Clair1081
Pickens964
Dale960
Talladega963
Chilton931
Greene914
Cullman880
Limestone860
Winston770
Covington751
Jackson742
Bibb711
Henry702
Macon672
Crenshaw662
Washington656
Blount531
Escambia483
Lawrence460
Geneva400
Perry360
Conecuh351
Coosa341
Monroe342
Cherokee332
Clay272
Lamar210
Cleburne131
Fayette130
Unassigned00
Tupelo
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