Justice Delayed But Not Escaped: This Is What Accountability Looks Like

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In a historic move, U.S. District Judge David Norton has ruled that former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager committed second-degree murder when he shot Walter Scott, a black unarmed motorist, five times in the back when Scott tried to run away after a traffic stop in April 2015. Norton, who also found Slager obstructed justice by repeatedly lying to state police after the shooting, sentenced Slager to 20 years in prison; because he had pleaded guilty to the federal offense of violating Scott’s civil rights, he has no chance of parole. According to statistics, Slager is the first officer convicted of murder in an on-duty shooting.

Slager had pulled Scott over for a broken brake light that cost less than $2. Scott, a 50-year-old who had served in the Coast Guard and was behind on child support payments, panicked and ran. Slager fired eight bullets, hitting Scott five times. In police reports, Slager claimed Scott had reached for his stun gun and "an altercation ensued..During the struggle, the man gained control of the taser and attempted to use it against the officer. The officer then resorted to his service weapon and shot him." In court last December on state charges of excessive force, Slager repeated that narrative with a tearful account of his "total fear." When the trial ended in a hung jury and Slater faced retrial on both state and federal levels, he took a plea deal that dropped the state charges and left his fate to a judge. On Thursday, Norton found him guilty of murder and announced the 20-year sentence.  
 
The shooting was perhaps the only high-profile killing of an unarmed black man by a white cop egregious enough that even Republican officials condemned it. That was thanks to Feidin Santana, a barber from the Dominican Republic who had come to America at age 13 with his family, was passing by that day in 2015, noticed the two men, and even though he was afraid began filming it with his cell phone - thus revealing an entirely different narrative from the police account, including the moment Slager, after he'd killed Scott, picked up his stun gun and placed it next to the body. Santana remains traumatized by the shooting - "I dream about it every night," he said in August - but is certain he did the right thing. “I’m a person who doesn’t like injustice,” he says. "We are here to be each other's keepers." Many in his community remain grateful.  "We don't need body cameras," said one online supporter. "We need more people like .

In court before the ruling, Scott's family gave emotional testimony about the impact of his loss. “I miss my father every day,” said his youngest son Miles through tears. “I would like you to sentence the defendant to the strongest sentence (because) he murdered my one and only father.” Other relatives likewise described missing Walter; each also said they forgive Slater. Walter's older brother Anthony Scott admitted forgiveness came hard to him, but it did come. Regardless of Slager's he noted,  "At the end of the day, there’s another judge he has to face." After the sentencing, many applauded what may prove a turning of an unjust tide. But with Scott still gone and an estimated, appalling 1% of cops ever held accountable for their shooting deaths, said activist Rashad Robinson, "Until justice means less Black bodies lost, this is only the start."

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