Don't delay justice for Walter Scott: New Michael Slager trial is an opportunity to get it right

The former Charleston cop's new trial begins March 1. We need to be unified in our demand for accountability

By D. Watkins

Editor at Large

Published January 4, 2017 4:10PM (EST)

 (Getty/Grace Beahm-Pool)
(Getty/Grace Beahm-Pool)

People of Charleston, your city is back under the microscope. I hope those of you called to serve do what’s right.

Michael Slager, the former Charleston South Carolina police officer who lied about the events that took place before he murdered Walter Scott, all the way up until he found out it was recorded, only to be charged but not convicted because one juror said that he couldn’t convict a cop in good conscience, is back in the news.

The 35-year-old has a new trial date set for March 1. I hope and pray that you guys get it right this time. Walter Scott — a son, father and man who proudly served our country — didn’t receive justice and everyone should have a problem with that.

Even though I strongly believe that Scott would be alive right now if he weren't black, I’m not here to call anyone stupid and racist, nor do I want to attack anyone's political or personal beliefs. But one of your citizens was murdered for no reason. We all just enjoyed the holiday season with our family, friends and loved ones, but let's take some time to think about Scott's family and the pain they must’ve felt knowing that he wasn’t going to walk through that door, open a gift, crack any jokes or enjoy that family gathering food we live for, and for what? Because he ran?

Many black people run when they see cops. It’s a survival skill. Cops kill African Americans at alarming rates, and even obedient citizens can become easy targets, like Oscar Grant, who was murdered while he was face down on the ground with handcuffs on; or Eric Garner, who said he couldn’t breathe while the life was being choked out of him. And let's not forget Kathryn Johnston, a 92-year-old woman who was relaxing in her home when she was murdered by police officers.

And that doesn't even cover the daily interactions that many black and brown people have with officers. I've seen cops tackle grandmothers after calling them bitches, kick homeless people and slap children. The disrespect is constant: the profiling, the tickets, the harassing, the beatings and the arrests for petty violations like carrying open containers of alcohol in public or riding a bike on the sidewalk. It’s a constant war that we all lose. I’d gladly acknowledge the police's perspective if they took the time to acknowledge ours, as we have serious problems on both sides.

It’s not right to belittle the people of Charleston, or that one juror who couldn’t deliver a guilty verdict against Michael Slager — it’s time to take a step toward the middle, because we are going to need each other over the next four years more than ever before. Our government is going through major changes and working class people of all colors and ethnic backgrounds are going have to stick together.

Within the last 24 hours, a gutting was attempted on the ethics office by House Republicans, as if our government is exempt from oversight. This is evidence of an us v. them mentality of the most dangerous sort. President-elect Donald Trump disagreed not with the move, only with their sense of timing. And who knows what his billionaire team will do in the coming months, after he is officially sworn into office?

I know South Carolina was a Trump state, but jobs aren’t coming back. Think about it — these people have all of the money and they export labor, so do you really think that joining the government will give them a change of heart? As they slowly deregulate everything? So they can do what they want with their business? No!

We are going to need each other, we are going to have to put our insults and differences aside if we want our country to be here in four years and the first step is getting rid of the biggest distractions. Michael Slager was wrong, and he was caught on tape. Make him pay the price. Protecting him only furthers the divide. Like I said, this is not the time to be at odds. We need each other.

By D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a writer on the HBO limited series "We Own This City" and a professor at the University of Baltimore. Watkins is the author of the award-winning, New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America”, "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir," "Where Tomorrows Aren't Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope" as well as "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress." His new books, "Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments," and "The Wire: A Complete Visual History" are out now.

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

Black Lives Matter Charleston Michael Slager Police Brutality Walter Scott