Warren Bolton

Bolton: SC has responded well in protesting shootings involving white officers, black men

FOLLOWING THE shooting death of Walter Scott in North Charleston, a white man called me all in a panic:

“Can the governor call out the National Guard?”

Excuse me, I said, not really understanding what the caller was getting at.

“Does the governor have the right to call out the National Guard?”

Yes, she can in certain emergencies, I answered. “What makes you think there is a need for the Guard?”

He said there’s no telling what manner of rioting might take place as a result of the shooting. Although I insisted that there was nothing to suggest there would be anything outside of peaceful protests, he kept saying there’s no telling what people — black people, although he didn’t say it — might do, particularly if the officer got off.

I explained that the officer had been charged and that a trial was a ways off. In the event that the officer somehow wasn’t convicted, I still didn’t expect any rioting, I said.

Still, he insisted, the governor needed to put the Guard on alert. “You’ve got to get ahead of these things.”

Thank God that, despite that man’s thinking, South Carolina has proven that it is ahead — or should I say above — rioting. The same can’t be said for Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, both of which saw ruthless and ridiculous violence in connection with the death of unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers.

South Carolina. Who would have thought that we’d be the example on how to respond to such controversial issues given the past division and racial strife — as well as ongoing tensions — our state has endured?

While no one else might have thought that about South Carolina, it’s apparent that we did. That’s why black citizens marched and protested peacefully. That’s why elected and law enforcement authorities stepped in to bring charges where necessary rather than delay matters unnecessarily.

Frankly, South Carolina has shown amazing emotional intelligence, restraint and civility.

And it’s not because the incidents here were any less tragic than what has been going on in other places across the country.

The events surrounding Mr. Scott’s death rank among the worst: Initially, Patrolman 1st Class Michael Thomas Slager claimed Mr. Scott had attempted to grab his Taser during a struggle and that he feared for his life. But a cellphone video provided by a passerby shows Mr. Scott running away as the officer fires eight shots at him, hitting him in the back multiple times. Ultimately, the officer walks up to Mr. Scott and handcuffs the dying man. The officer then goes back and retrieves his Taser and drops it near Mr. Scott, who later is pronounced dead at the scene.

Yes, people were understandably angry and demanded justice following this reprehensible act. But there was no rioting. For their part, after the video revealing the truth was released, North Charleston authorities stepped in quickly to charge Officer Slager in Mr. Scott’s death.

Similarly, the shooting of a black motorist by a white trooper last year in Columbia drew outrage and protests — but no violence.

On Sept. 4, Levar Edward Jones was shot by a white state trooper who had pulled him over for not wearing a seat belt. Mr. Jones, who was unarmed, sustained a bullet wound to his hip. Video from the camera in Trooper Sean Groubert’s patrol cruiser captured the traffic stop: Mr. Groubert asked Mr. Jones for his driver’s license. When Mr. Jones reached into the cab of his Dodge Durango to retrieve his wallet, Mr. Groubert fired multiple shots, striking Mr. Jones.

Mr. Groubert was fired and later charged with a felony, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.

Why did South Carolina respond differently than Baltimore, where protestors rioted, looting and burning cars and businesses in the process? Or Ferguson, where similar mayhem occurred?

Is it the genteel nature of the South? Or is it that while we haven’t been able to solve some particularly prickly racial issues, we have been at it so long that we’re able to act more civilly? Is it that we have had ongoing discussions that have raised awareness and helped avert crises?

Following the Jones shooting, Lonnie Randolph, president of the S.C. NAACP, said our state managed not to become a Ferguson because South Carolinians generally have good communications with authorities, and because officials took swift action in dealing with the state trooper.

Whatever it is, we all should be grateful. And proud.

South Carolina is leading the way. And, quite frankly, it’s not the first time South Carolina has led on the issue of race.

Back in the 1960s, South Carolina didn’t see the race riots that many places such as Mississippi did. For example, whereas there was racial violence at the University of Mississippi when it was desegregated, the same didn’t happen when black students first walked in to the University of South Carolina and Clemson University.

There were even instances where educators from South Carolina traveled to other parts of the country such as Boston to help integrate their public schools.

Despite our state’s long and storied and unflattering racially tinged history, we’ve come a long way. If only others could learn to emulate South Carolina in that respect.

That said, we still have a ways to go.

The Confederate flag yet flies on our State House grounds, and race still is a key element to practically every meaningful issue that our lawmakers deal with — from education to health care to the selection of judges.

But it’s quite evident that in some respects, the Palmetto State is ahead of others.

And the fact that we can handle such an explosive issue as black men being killed at the hands of white police officers in such a mature fashion means that we have the capacity to address other issues involving race. We just need to develop the will.

Reach Mr. Bolton at (803) 771-8631 or wbolton@thestate.com.