Family of Walter Scott Hopes His Death Is Turning Point in Use of Police Force
'We feel the system is working,' Scott's brother says after former cop Michael Slager is charged, 'but it doesn't bring him back'
Walter Scott’s family welcomed the news that a former South Carolina police officer was charged last week with his murder, but they vow to seek further justice for the father, son and brother who was unarmed when he was shot and killed while fleeing a traffic stop last April.
“The indictment is a victory of sorts,” Scott’s older brother, Anthony, 52, tells PEOPLE. “The officer was charged immediately and relieved of his duties. We feel the system is working but it doesn’t bring him back.”
For now – as their attorney readies a civil lawsuit for wrongful death and violation of Walter Scott’s civil rights – the Scott family, of North Charleston, are contemplating their loss and hoping it’s a turning point for those across the country who have risen to protest what they see as excessive use of force by police against African-Americans.
The accused officer, Michael Slager, is white. He said Walter Scott, 50, who was black, did not comply when stopped for a broken tail light and tried to grab the officer’s stun gun. Slager initially said he was acting in self-defense when he fired eight shots, five of which struck Scott, the last in the back. A bystander’s video later surfaced to challenge Slager’s account. Slager was fired and arrested.
After the indictment, Slager’s attorney Andy Savage told CNN that he would withhold comment until further review of the prosecution’s case.
“I’m angry, but my parents have set the tone for how we will get through this,” says Anthony Scott. “There is tremendous hurt; we miss our brother, they miss their son, the children miss their father. For him to go this way, we were all cheated.”
“I believe some good change can come from this, like more accountability for cops so citizens won’t have to fear for their lives if they’re stopped,” he says. “They won’t have to suffer like Walter did. Citizens need to be aware of their rights so they are not killed.”
A Panicked Reaction
Walter Scott was the middle of three boys and a father of four children – two from a first marriage, and two from a second – ages 15 to 24. He previously had been jailed for failure to make child support payments, and he owed several thousand dollars at the time he was killed, according to The Post and Courier. His family says his fear of returning to jail may have been a factor when he was stopped by Slager on April 4.
“We don’t really know why he ran,” says his father, also named Walter, 71. “We think it was because he owed back child support. He had gone to jail before for back support and he didn’t want to go to jail again.”
He adds: “All of the boys were taught to respect law enforcement. Walter would never have tried to resist arrest. We knew none of it sounded like something Walter would try to do.”
Walter Scott’s parents have not seen the video – son Anthony made sure of that.
Says Walter’s younger brother, Rodney, 49: “It has caused me unbelievable anxiety. Every time I think I’ll never talk to him again for the rest of my life, I won’t see his smile, hear his laugh again, I am traumatized all over again. It’s too much.”
Their family has always been close-knit, with family reunions and Sunday dinners together. “Everybody had their favorite meals,” says Walter’s mother, Judy, 71. “Walter’s was ham and macaroni and cheese.”
Judy worked 28 years in support services at a naval base; her husband worked 21 years for the school system during the day, and at night as a custodian. Their three boys all went to the same schools, playing basketball in the carport of their modest North Charleston home and football in the street out front. Each showed musical talent, with young Walter singing tenor in the church choir. And he was a jokester, going to the library to find joke books, and later calling to leave jokes on his father’s phone.
“That’s one of the things I miss the most,” says his dad.
In his 20s the younger Walter did a stint in the Coast Guard. He later attended technical college. He was working in trucking and distribution when he died. His eldest, daughter Samantha, 24, beams when she talks about him. “He was overprotective, he was always asking me about boys,” she says, laughing. “We had a lot of wonderful times.”
Their attorney, Chris Stewart, marvels at the family’s strength. “They have relied heavily on faith; they have managed to stand tall through their sorrow, advocating for positive change in a respectful, peaceful and dignified manner,” he says.
But big brother Anthony is stepping up to advocate for Walter, to make sure he gets justice. “He always said I was the best big brother ever; that’s something to live up to,” he says.
He urges more widespread use of body cameras “so the police are not judge, jury and God anymore. It will make them more accountable, which is a great move.”
He wants an independent investigation whenever there is a police shooting. “It’s not impartial when it is investigated by your own department,” he says.
He also hopes to see reforms in child support. “If you get behind in your child support, you get locked up, lose your job, and all the while it is still adding up,” he says. “You can never get caught up.”
He knows the family’s struggle will continue. “Day to day we take baby steps,” he says, “but the pain will never go away.”
They say they are comforted by the support they’ve received and by their memories. The last time they were all together, the family had stopped by Walter’s house after church. “Mom kept telling me, ‘Tell your brother you love him, give your brother a hug.’ I’m so glad I did,” says Rodney.
Adds Anthony: “My brother would want us to get to the truth, not to be violent, not to cause destruction. Peace is the best way; God will fix the rest.”
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