In all the frenzy over the shocking massacre which took place last night in Charleston, South Carolina, what’s being missed is that there’s another huge shock on the way for that city, and for the entire country, if a certain way of analyzing of the murder case against former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager turns out to be correct.
I’m not the only one who has said that Slager is being over-charged, and will most likely beat the murder rap. Others have also pointed out that although he was wrong in shooting the fleeing Walter Scott, and that the incident likely amounted to the serious crime of manslaughter, all the evidence and circumstances do not appear to support conviction beyond a reasonable doubt for murder. There are too many mitigating factors — having to do with the prolonged foot chase and struggle between the two men, with both ending up on the ground, Scott on top of Slager (the first seconds of shaky video do show this), the fight over the taser, and the case law regarding police officers’ use of deadly force.
So what happens if the jury returns a verdict of not guilty on murder? Does the jury have the option to convict on any lesser charge, say, manslaughter, or does Slager just walk away free? In the absence of any information to the contrary, the latter looks to be the case. I’ve called the office of Scarlett Wilson, Charleston County Solicitor, twice in the last week trying to get an answer as to whether the jury will be asked to decide only on murder, or has any other option, but my calls have not been returned. My attempts to find information online to clarify the matter have been unsuccessful.
South Carolina’s criminal code does not have degrees of murder, nor degrees of manslaughter — just two different crimes, murder and manslaughter.
If Slager goes free, what’s likely to happen is that not only will Charleston (if you recall, also the site of the first shots fired in the Civil War, at Fort Sumter) go up in flames, but it’s likely other cities across the country will, too.
In Charleston, we’ve already seen some ugly skirmishing in what might be called a low-level ongoing race war in our country. Not long after Slager killed Scott, frantic Charleston residents and tourists made 911 calls to report a rampaging mob of around fifty young black people tearing through the downtown streets at night, attacking random white people and destroying property. Now, we have a young white man in police custody for suspicion of gunning down a group of black churchgoers there within the last 24 hours. The church in question happens to be the headquarters of key black leaders who organized and led racially-oriented protests in Sanford, Florida, in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland. Allegedly, through a woman who says he singled her out to spare in order to carry his message, the shooter relayed grievances about blacks as his motive for killing. She quoted him as saying, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
So it all seems to be heading toward something ominous. No trial date has been set for Michael Slager, and it might not even start until next year.
It’s impossible that the those who would riot, loot, and burn over incidents like this church massacre, or pending acquittal of a white cop in a murder case where a black man died, or any other occasion to rampage, will soon or ever forget their motives or abandon their propensity for destroying entire city blocks and anything/anyone in their path.
In Charleston, and elsewhere, the passage of time until trial verdict may help. But better to just bar the door, in case.