A billboard in support of law enforcement has been placed in North Charleston, South Carolina, just down the street from where a white officer fatally shot a fleeing black man in the back during a traffic stop and tried to cover it up.
The $800“Blue Lives Matter” billboard on Remount Road stands about a mile away from where former North Charleston officer Michael Slager killed Walter Scott after Scott had attempted to escape Slager during an April 2015 traffic stop for a broken taillight.
Erected on May 5, the billboard’s presence came after Slager pleaded guilty in federal court on May 2 to using unreasonable force and violating Scott’s civil rights.
Despite Slager’s actions and guilty plea, Scott Garland, who raised money for the billboard through a GoFundMe campaign, said it was the right time to profess his support for police.
“It’s nothing negative against anybody,” Garland told The Post and Courier about his sign. “It was intended as a show of support to the men and women in blue.”
Others expressed reserve about the billboard’s effect.
“[T]his just drives another wedge between law enforcement and the community,” resident Thomas Dixon told the Post and Courier.
Garland would not say if the billboard, rented by him throughout May, was intentionally placed near the site of Scott’s killing.
“Just like in many other cities, we are having protests and attacks on our Law Enforcement Officers,” Garland says on his GoFundMe page, explaining the need for his billboard.
Garland, a retired Air Force sergeant, often appeared outside Slager’s court appearances holding a small “Blue Lives Matter” sign, according to reports. He told Reuters last year that his demonstrations outside Slager’s court appearances were about showing “the cops that there’s somebody on their side,” adding that police “are a thin blue line between us and the criminals.”
Video of Scott’s shooting showed a brief scuffle between the two, before Scott began to flee. Slager then fired into Scott’s back, hitting him with five bullets. Slager then lifted his Taser from the ground and placed near Scott’s body in what prosecutors said during his trial was an attempt to plant evidence.
Scott’s family has said they believe he was attempting to flee based on $18,000 of child support debt that he thought could land him in jail.
In June 2015, Slager was indicted for murder by a state grand jury. In late 2016, his five-week trial ended in a mistrial. The jury deliberated for nearly 22 hours over four days whether to convict the former officer of murder or voluntary manslaughter before they could not reach a unanimous verdict.
In May 2016, Slager was indicted on federal charges of violating Scott’s civil rights and obstruction of justice. Then, last week, he pled guilty in exchange for a dismissal of the state murder charges.
The plea agreement made no mention of race, but said Slager used deadly force knowing that it was “unnecessary and excessive, and therefore unreasonable under the circumstances.” He could get up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine at sentencing.
Scott’s killing was captured in a cellphone video that sent shockwaves throughout the US, as the nation was still reeling from high-profile police murders of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, among others. Those murders and other instances of law enforcement brutality against people of color in an era of general police impunity helped galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement.
The city of North Charleston agreed to pay $6.5 million to the Scott family in October 2015.
Two months after Scott’s murder, white supremacist and self-professed race-war instigator Dylann Roof purposely targeted and fatally shot nine black parishioners of Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 10 miles away from where Scott was killed.