Walter Scott — the black driver who was fatally shot while running away from a white police officer during a traffic stop — was remembered at his funeral Saturday in South Carolina as a gentle soul who fell victim to an act of racism.
Hundreds of mourners crowded into W.O.R.D. Ministries Christian Center for a two-hour service in memory of Scott, a father of four and U.S. Coast Guard veteran whose death sparked outrage as another instance of a white law enforcement officer fatally shooting an unarmed black man under questionable circumstances.
Reverend George Hamilton, a minister at W.O.R.D. Ministries, told the overflow crowd as Scott's funeral ended that the shooting "was an act motivated by overt racism," and that the officer who shot him, Michael Slager, was a disgrace to the North Charleston Police Department.
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"We will not indict the entire law enforcement community for the act of one racist," Hamilton said.
Ahead of the service, Scott's family arrived in a fleet of three black limousines that was followed by several other vehicles. Some who were lined up outside held up their cellphones trying to capture the scene as Scott's casket was unloaded from the hearse and wheeled inside.
Organizers placed chairs in the church's vestibule to accommodate the overflow crowd and ushered select people inside for the service. Many who were in line and waited through a period of rain and humidity were unable to get into the sanctuary.
'He was friendly with everyone'
"You know, Walter touched a lot of people. He was very friendly with everyone. I don't think he ever met an enemy. So, there's a lot of people out here, just paying their respects to him and his legacy," said Tyrone Johnson, a Charlotte North Carolina resident who said he went to high school with Scott and one of his brothers.
Police initially said Scott was shot on April 4 during a tussle over Slager's department-issued Taser. But a video taken by a bystander surfaced later, showing Scott being shot eight times as he ran away. Slager was fired and charged with murder.
Scott was driving a 1991 Mercedes that he bought from a neighbour and was headed to an auto parts store when he was stopped, his brother Rodney Scott said. Police said he had a broken taillight. Video from the police car's dashboard camera shows Slager asking Scott for his licence and registration, then heading back to his cruiser before Scott gets out of the car and runs.
Scott's relatives have said they suspect he fled Slager out of fear of being jailed again over missed child support payments.
At the time he was stopped, Scott, a father of four who worked as a warehouse forklift operator, owed more than $18,000 US in child support and court fees, according to Charleston County records. He last paid child support in 2012 and a bench warrant for his arrest was issued in early 2013. Scott had been in jail three times since 2008.
"His mission was to avoid the police as much as possible," Rodney Scott said.
Rodney Scott said his brother would take long detours while driving to their parents' house because he thought there were more police patrolling the direct, 10-minute route from his home. He said Walter also tried to make sure any vehicle he drove had working headlights and taillights.
'We've got problems in this country'
The congregation Hamilton spoke to included two black members of South Carolina's congressional delegation, Republican U.S. Senator Tim Scott and U.S. Representative Jim Clyburn, a Democrat.
After the service, Clyburn said he hoped Scott's death would act as a wake-up call on the state of race relations in the U.S.
"I think this is a catalyst to get people to face up to the fact that we've got problems in this country," Clyburn said. "I think this exposed something that is already there."
Clyburn also said that it didn't make sense for Scott to face jail for failing to pay child support. That caused Scott to lose a $35,000-a-year job, making it impossible for him to pay.
Scott had been married twice, and proposed to his girlfriend Charlotte Jones about a week before he was killed.
Despite struggles to keep up with child support payments, Scott's relatives said he stayed close to his four children — a 24-year-old daughter and three sons, ages 22, 20 and 16.