Handling Police Shootings

North Charleston shows the right way to handle police shootings

BOB: Cal, although I still think that justice was not done in the shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Mo. police officer, in the case of the North Charleston, S.C., shooting of Walter Scott, the authorities acted quickly and correctly, thus avoiding the unrest Ferguson experienced. The white police officer, Michael Slager, shot Scott as he was running away. A video shows he posed no threat to the officer. Mayor Keith Summey fired Slager, who was arrested and charged with murder.

CAL: I agree on the way North Charleston handled that incident, but disagree on Ferguson when all the evidence showed just the opposite of what activists, the news media and so-called witnesses claimed occurred. These incidents, along with other shootings involving white officers and black subjects and recent reports of rapes on college campuses, are part of a larger narrative.

BOB: How so?

CAL: In these shooting incidents, the events get much more national media attention when the supposed victims are black and the perpetrators are white. In many such incidents, people often jump to conclusions before all the facts are in because it confirms their prejudices.

BOB: You make a good point, but many black people believe they are unfairly targeted by white cops because of their race. In another South Carolina shooting incident on Sept. 4, state trooper Sean Groubert stopped an unarmed black man, Levar Jones. Jones was out of his car and reaching for his driver's license and registration as the officer requested. The trooper shot Jones as he followed the officer's instructions. As with North Charleston, Groubert was fired and charged. As The Washington Postrecently reported, it is rare when a police officer is charged for shooting a suspect.

CAL: While these cases are terrible tragedies for those involved on both sides (Slager's wife is more than eight months pregnant), the media and activists mostly ignore shootings when the victims are white, or the officers are black or of the same race. They and the politicians seem to care little about the scores of young black males who die every weekend in our major cities at the hands of other black males. This plays into a narrative of whites as oppressors and blacks as victims. Still, there are some fundamental differences in the way authorities in Ferguson, North Charleston and the other South Carolina shooting were handled, and lessons can and should be learned.

BOB: You're right. Unlike the Ferguson case, the North Charleston police department was quick to hand off the investigation to independent state investigators. The Ferguson police department allegedly leaked information favorable to the police officer and damning information about the suspect. Both police departments in South Carolina participated in full investigations of the shootings. Officers were fired and charged with crimes. Scott's parents were reserved in their comments about their son's death.

CAL: The parents sure weren't reserved in Ferguson. One got caught up in the frenzy, with Brown's stepfather yelling, "Burn this b---- down."

BOB: Another difference between Ferguson and North Charleston is that police officers attended Scott's funeral.

CAL: I wouldn't want to be a police officer. Each day, they leave their homes, kiss their spouse and kids and never know if it will be their last day on earth. They are second-guessed when they have to make split second decisions that no one, other than soldiers, have to make. Maybe body cameras will help reassure the public. I hope so.

BOB: Professionally trained police departments, local elected officials and a responsible media can all contribute to avoiding riots like the one in Ferguson. It also would help if outside groups stayed away until such incidents are properly investigated. Investigations take time. They aren't like TV crime shows in which perpetrators are caught, tried and convicted in one hour.

CAL: That can start with Al Sharpton staying in his TV studio. Rarely does he contribute anything helpful. There's something else no one is mentioning in any of these cases, and that is personal responsibility. If Scott had not run, he would still be alive. That does not excuse criminal behavior by a police officer, but it does say people can do more to protect themselves from becoming victims.

BOB: Sharpton was in North Charleston this weekend, and he managed not to do any damage. If you'll recall, when Levar Jones was shot by a police officer, he was complying with the officer. For black men in the United States, it is reasonable to assume that police are not treating them equally with whites.

CAL: There is a reason police officers may react differently to young black males. They are involved in a disproportionate amount of crime as perpetrators and as victims. Fairness goes both ways. Police need to make sure they are reacting to the facts of individual cases and not broad trends, but police officers deserve to be treated as individuals, too.