Rev. Al Sharpton said today that U.S. Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions “is going to have answer” whether he will continue to press federal charges against a South Carolina officer who killed Walter Scott, and unarmed black man, after a county-level case ended in a mistrial yesterday.
Local authorities charged Officer Michael Slager with murder last year after a video surfaced of him fatally shooting Scott eight times in the back as the civilian fled a traffic stop. The Department of Justice also filed a federal civil rights violation accusation against Slager, but postponed the trial until after the conclusion of Ninth Circuit Court Solicitor Scarlett Wilson’s case.
“The real question is will this next administration continue the federal charges?” Sharpton told MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe this morning. “The hope the family expressed yesterday was that this is just justice delayed, the solicitor’s going to do another state trial, they have the federal trial. Well we hope that the federal trial still goes on under the next administration because a new attorney general can stop the federal trial.”
Slager and his attorneys insisted he feared for his life because Scott stole his stun gun in a tussle. But the video appears to show the officer planting the taser on Scott’s lifeless body.
The shooting came less than a year after the deaths of Eric Garner on Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in police custody. At the time, Sharpton had called for national policing legislation.
Last month, Sharpton ripped Trump’s selection of Sessions for Attorney General, outlining allegations that he had spoken positively of the Ku Klux Klan, called a black prosecutor “boy” and recalling his description of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People “un-American” that hindered his nomination for a federal judgeship in 1986 under the late President Ronald Reagan. He even called on the 48-member Senate Democratic Caucus led by Sen. Charles Schumer to try to block the confirmation of Trump’s Cabinet choices.
Sharpton said many people were stunned by the jury’s failure to reach a verdict, and recalled visiting Charleston the weekend after the shooting, noting that even the North Charleston mayor and police chief came to the church at which he spoke and condemned the shooting.
“I think you raise the right question Joe: how in a city—North Charleston, South Carolina—47 percent black, you only have one black on the jury and how does the message go out now that you can, on videotape, watch a man shooting and an unarmed many running from him some 18 feet and he argues that I was in eminent danger, I was fear-y,” Sharpton said. “I mean, how is that even possible?”
Indeed, Sharpton says the fact that charges were brought and that a mayor and a police chief in the Deep South saw the injustice is why people are still protesting and being vocal about the issue.
“That’s why some of us continue to march and that’s why some of us raise the issue and that’s why Senator Sessions is going to have to answer this,” he said.
Sharpton hosted Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, at his weekly gathering at the Harlem headquarters of his National Action Network on Saturday. He used the occasion to assert that Trump’s selection of Sessions was bad news for the ongoing federal probe of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the cop a grand jury refused to indict for killing the black Staten Islander—and who remains in his position.
“[He was] saying I can’t breathe 11 times, 11 times,” he added. “So at some point, we’re going to have to stop those of us that raise the questions and start answering the questions on how do you get equal protection under the law?”
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.