"A police officer felt threatened last weekend": When the media protects cops who kill

Officer Michael Slager has been charged with murder. But how many Michael Slagers go unpunished?

Published April 8, 2015 2:35PM (EDT)

Michael Slager         (AP/Charleston County Sheriff's Office)
Michael Slager (AP/Charleston County Sheriff's Office)

On Tuesday, a video surfaced of a white cop in North Charleston, S.C., fatally shooting Walter L. Scott, an unarmed black 50-year-old man. The video shows Scott running away from the cop, who shoots at him multiple times until Scott falls to the ground. The officer has now been charged with murder.

It is one of the few, rare, fortunate times that an instance of grotesque misconduct has been captured on camera. However, news outlets were writing about the occurrence days before video evidence was available to corroborate or dispute details of the scuffle reported as fact. One specific news outlet reported on the shooting using only evidence provided by the police. As it turns out, their report was not only extremely biased, but flat-out wrong.

The Post and Courier describes the incident as one of regrettable, yet necessary police brutality.

"A North Charleston police officer felt threatened last weekend when the driver he had stopped for a broken brake light tried to overpower him and take his Taser," the article begins.

It isn't until the end of the second paragraph before the article explains that this is the story according to the attorney of Michael Slager, the officer now charged with murdering Scott: "That's why Patrolman 1st Class Michael Thomas Slager, a former Coast Guardsman, fatally shot the man, the officer's attorney said Monday."

Reporter Andrew Knapp names Slager, along with his title and accomplishments, but refuses to name the victim in the lede. Later on in the article, Knapp mentions Scott's 10 arrests "mostly for failure to appear for court hearings and to pay child support," but did not immediately counter that point with Slager's multiple accusations of police brutality.

Instead, Knapp writes, "Slager, 33, served honorably in the military before joining the North Charleston Police Department more than five years ago, [his lawyer] said. He has never been disciplined during his time on the force..." and then vaguely describes how Slager has two "complaints" in his file related to his taser use.

Tensions between police and civilians have been high, following a slew of police shootings, most notably that of unarmed teenager Michael Brown at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson last summer in Ferguson, Mo.

How many times have we settled for the police's version of events? The Post Courier article is emblematic of a culture that encourages us to blindly trust information gleaned at a press conference. It is emblematic of a media that too often fails to adequately scrutinize cases of police violence. Our operating assumption is that police are in the right, even when that assumption introduces unanswerable questions, like why Scott was found in a deserted park, instead of by his car as Slager's report would have indicated.

We are fortunate enough to have video evidence this time -- but how many times has Slager's attempted trick been turned without consequence?

"When you're wrong, you're wrong," said Charleston Mayor Keith Summey in a news conference about Slager's actions. "And if you make a bad decision, don't care if you're behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision."

The full, unedited video is available below.

Warning: The footage is extremely disturbing.

By Joanna Rothkopf

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Michael Slager North Charleston Police Police Brutality Video Walter Scott