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Walter Scott’s Family Finds Hope in Former Minneapolis Officer’s Murder Conviction

Scott family photo from federal sentencing
Victoria Hansen
SC Public Radio
Anthony Scott (right) with his mother Judy Scott ( second from right) as the family addresses the press following the federal sentencing of former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager in the shooting death of Walter Scott. December 2017.

As the verdict was read Tuesday convicting a former Minneapolis police officer in the death of George Floyd, a Charleston family listened and watched. Even more than one thousand miles away, the news hit close to home.

Anthony Scott’s phone immediately started ringing. He initially told reporters the guilty verdict was a victory. But days later, after nationwide celebrations, he’s not sure what to feel.

Mixed Emotions

George Floyd is still gone. So is Scott’s brother. Walter Scott was killed as he fled a traffic stop in North Charleston a little more than six years ago, April 4, 2015.

Then, there are the other Black men and women who’ve died at the hands of police in the years in between, and even since.

“I feel for all the families,” says Anthony Scott. “Yes, it’s a step in the right direction, but we got a long way to go.”

It’s already been a long journey for the Scott family. Their loss was one of the first racially charged, video-taped, officer involved killings.

The world watched as former officer Michael Slager fired eights shots at the back of Walter Scott. Unarmed, Scott collapsed and was handcuffed before being pronounced dead at the scene.

Michael Slager’s Case

Initially, Slager said Scott stole his taser and charged at him. The officer didn’t know a young bystander, Feidin Santana, not only witnessed what happened but captured the confrontation with his cellphone. The video appeared to show Slager dropping his taser next to Scott’s body.

The former North Charleston police officer was never convicted. His state trial ended with a hung jury. Slager ultimately pleaded guilty to a federal charge of violating Walter Scott’s civil rights and just last week tried to appeal his sentence by blaming his prominent defense attorney.

“They ask us why we’re so angry, why we’re mad and why we protest the way we do,” says Scott’s brother Anthony. “It’s because we have been enduring this for so long and nothing has been done.”

Hope for Change

Scott hopes people are finally beginning to see, and believe, what many Black Americans fear every day, violence at the hands of police. He also wants them to see through what’s become an all too common defense, blaming the victim. In Scott’s case, attorneys argued he fled. Police faulted Floyd for using drugs.

But a collective, shaken conscience is not enough. Scott says there needs to be a change in the system of policing. He points to the video of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin ignoring the pleas of witnesses to take his knee off Floyd’s neck.

“He felt comfortable enough to believe that he was going to have the system protect him in this violent, murderous act,” says Scott.

Anthony Scott’s wife Denise says while the nation may have breathed a sigh of relief following Chauvin’s murder conviction, she can’t relax as a black mother.

“It’s too much,” she says. “We are strong and that’s why George called out for his momma. We are holding it up. We are praying. We are sacrificing.”

Denise Scott says she worries every time a loved one gets in a car. She knows she still has to have “the talk” that many black families do; warning their kids if they are they are ever pulled over, to keep their hands on the steering wheel like a clock at ten and two.

Some of the youngest in the Scott family still don’t know how or why Walter Scott died. How do you explain to a child? Denise Scott wishes one day she won’t have to.

“The victory would be they would never know,” she says. “Can you imagine a world where we never know racism?”

The family has vowed to fight for change ever since losing their loved one. They say their mission is to end abuse by police, especially in communities of color.

“It’s not so much when the camera is watching,” says Anthony Scott. “It’s when the camera is not even on.”

The Scotts want justice to be blind and people paid to serve and protect to do so, regardless of color.

Victoria Hansen is our Lowcountry connection covering the Charleston community, a city she knows well. She grew up in newspaper newsrooms and has worked as a broadcast journalist for more than 20 years. Her first reporting job brought her to Charleston where she covered local and national stories like the Susan Smith murder trial and the arrival of the Citadel’s first female cadet.