TIME Magazine’s cover story this week explores the aftermath of a South Carolina police officer shooting an unarmed, retreating black man.
Despite the disturbing trend of black men dying at the hands of police officers around the country, TIME’s image shows why this incident was different — a video emerged and authorities see that as a good thing.
The cover image, a still from a cell phone video taken by a bystander, shows North Charleston police officer Michael Slager moments before firing 8 shots toward Walter Scott, an unarmed black man he stopped earlier for having a broken brake light. Five of those shots hit Scott, and he died on the scene.
Before the video emerged, however, Slager had told a different story. During a scuffle, according to Slager’s version, Scott had taken control of his Taser, and Slager fired because he felt threatened. After the video became public, Slager was fired and charged with murder.
“Where would we be without that video?” attorney Justin Bamberg asked.
“The answer to that question is important,” David Von Drehle writes in TIME. “Before the video emerged, the killing of Walter Scott had occupied the same contested territory in which hundreds of other cases have languished and festered — famous cases, like the killings of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and other cases that barely register in the police blotter.”
And the presence of the video is contributing to the increased use of video by police. The mayor of North Charleston ordered hundreds of body cameras and said every city cop will wear one going forward.
“Of course, dashboard and body cameras should be the friends of well-trained, honest cops,” Von Drehle notes. “The good apples are able to rely on more than their own word when they find themselves in trouble. The bad apples feel less free to level their weapons with impunity. Video is a tool by which the police can better police themselves.”
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