The Rev. Al Sharpton was right to contrast the recent reaction of city officials in North Charleston, S.C., with those who had been in charge in August in Ferguson, Mo., after shooting deaths in both cities of unarmed black men by white police officers.
Sharpton was among the speakers Sunday at a vigil for Walter L. Scott, 50, who was shot to death by then-Officer Michael T. Slager. The shooting, which was captured on cellphone video, occurred on April 4, the 47th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tenn.
Slager, who was fired after the shooting, has been charged in the slaying. He initially reported that he struggled with Scott over a Taser and feared for his safety in using lethal force. The video shot by a citizen contradicted his story.
Sharpton praised the quick response by North Charleston’s mayor and police chief, saying: “It's not about black and white. It's about right and wrong. What this mayor did is what we've been asking mayors to do all over the country: Not do us a favor, just enforce the law.”
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Sharpton also had been among speakers in Ferguson, calling for justice after then-Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9. That slaying launched a national Black Lives Matter movement.
Brown’s death also was notable for police and city inaction. The slaying resulted in days of protests — some turning violent with property being damaged and many people arrested. A state grand jury declined to indict Wilson, and the Justice Department also didn’t file charges in the slaying.
However, a separate highly critical Justice Department report in March found that the Ferguson Police Department habitually violated the constitutional rights of African Americans with racial profiling used in traffic stops. Residents of the majority black St. Louis suburb of 21,000 people were shaken down by the city through ticketing, fines and court costs, serving as a substantial revenue stream for city government.
It wasn’t until after the Justice Department report was issued that the city manager, police chief and municipal court judge resigned. The action by North Charleston officials indicates that the South is more progressive about seeking justice.