Walter Scott Killing: Reactions

April 10, 2015

In this lesson students discuss reactions to the police killing of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, in North Charleston, South Carolina. Students consider quotes and discuss two short videos.   


Read the following quote out loud: 

This case is yet another in a horrifyingly familiar succession of cases that have elevated the issue of use of force, particularly deadly force, by officers against people of color and inflamed the conversation that surrounds it.

Ask students:  Do you know what the quote refers to?

Elicit and explain that the quote, by New York Times columnist Charles Blow, refers to the fatal shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man from North Charleston, South Carolina. According to local media, Scott, 50, had been stopped for a broken tail light by white police officer Michael Slager, 33, on April 4, 2015.
In a video shot by a passerby, Scott is seen running away from the officer after a scuffle in a nearby park over what we’ve now been told was the officer’s stun gun.  Without warning, Slager fires his gun eight times, shooting Scott in the back. Scott falls to the ground, never to get up again. The officer handcuffs him, walks away and waits for back up. Slager doesn’t check Scott’s vital signs till minutes later and no CPR appears to be administered in the video at any point.  Scott is pronounced dead at the scene.
Ask students:  

  • What are your thoughts and feelings about what happened?
  • How does this relate to other incidents this past year in Ferguson, Missouri;  Cleveland, Ohio; Staten Island, New York, and other parts of the U.S.? 
  • How is this case similar to the others? How is it different? 

Jonathan Capehart Commentary 

Next, show the following 2-minute video clip in which Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post talks about what happened in North Charleston. Note:  The video includes upsetting footage of two police shootings.  
Ask students some or all of the following questions: 

  • What stood out to you about the video?
  • What resonated most with you? 
  • What are your thoughts or feelings about Capehart’s arguments?  

 Next discuss some of Capehart’s quotes, touching only on those that students have not already addressed.
Capehart says: "A routine traffic stop is never routine when you’re black."
Ask students:

  • What are your thoughts and feelings about this?
  • What do you know about such traffic stops?
  • Can you relate to this statement? If so, how? 

Further in the clip Capehart says:  

The April 4 shooting of Walter Scott by NC police officer Michael Slager in South Carolina shows just how vital documentation of encounters with the police are.   A passerby captured the shooting with a cellphone and thank goodness for it.  We saw with our own eyes an abuse of power that’s every African American’s worst nightmare.  Not only does the enraging incident argue for body cameras but it also should encourage people to continue to use their cellphones to hold police accountable.  Without video in these situations the tie goes to the cop.  Because of that horrific video the tie was broken in favor of Scott.

Ask students:

  • What are your thoughts and feelings about this?
  • What do you think about Capehart’s argument for body cams?
  • How is a police body cam different from a video shot by a passerby?
  • What do you know about what happened to Eric Garner in Staten Island last year?  How might this relate?
  • What does Capehart say about community responsibility and involvement?
  • What are your thoughts and feelings about the shooting at a gas station, which we saw on the video?
  • How does Capehart say that case is similar to the shooting of Walter Scott?

Responses from the Mayor and Walter Scott's family 

Show students this 2-minute video, which includes North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey’s statements about the shooting, and reactions from Walter Scott’s family members:
Alternatively, read the quote below from Summey: 

I can tell you that as a result of that video and the bad decision made by our officer, he will be charged with murder. And that’s not something that we like to hear, or like to say, but it goes to say how we work as a community. When you're wrong, you're wrong, and if you make a bad decision, don't care if you're behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision. And so we as a city want the family to know that our hearts and our thoughts are with them.  Our prayers are with them. Anything that we can do for them, we’re here to. We do not look at the responsibility we have lightly.  We take the role that when we do wrong we do wrong.

Explain that several days after the shooting, Mayor Summey went to visit the Scott family to offer his condolences. It was also the day that it was announced that 250 body cams would be installed on police officers uniforms.
Ask students:  

  • What do you think about North Charleston’s response to the police killing of Walter Scott?
  • What do you know about the response of authorities in Ferguson and Staten Island response?  How was it the same/different?  Why do you think that is?
  • How do you think this might affect people’s response to the case?  Why? 

What is needed?

In the earlier video, Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post said: "The swiftness of action ...  is heartening but we have to find ways to keep such confrontations with tragic ends from happening in the first place."  

  • What does Capehart mean when he says that "the swiftness of action is heartening"? 
  • What does he mean when he says that "we have to find way to keep such confrontations with tragic ends from happening in the first place"?

Tell students that there are many proposals for preventing police shootings of unarmed black men. Read the quote below by Jessica Pierce, national co-chair of the Black Youth Project, an activist organization begun in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting.  In an interview on the PBS NewsHour, she says:  

I think that that what we really need at this point is not to look at this one individual case, but to look at the entire system and say, What type of changes do we need on a systemwide level? ...That’s why we have to indict the institutions and we have to say we need to pass the End Racial Profiling Act. We need to talk about publicly elected independent police review boards that have some level of hire-and-fire power as an accountability system... I think it’s more than just police officers’ responsibilities to keep our communities safe. 

Ask students: 

  • What does she mean by that last statement that "It’s more than just police officers’ responsibilities to keep our communities safe"?

 New York Times columnist Charles Blow says:

Now is the time for not only considering the interplay of race and power in these cases, but also the ability to register and respect humanity itself. That requires a change of culture.

Ask students:  

  • What do you think Blow means by a "change of culture"? 


Share one thought or feeling about today’s lesson.