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Cop Shooting Victim's Family Calls For Calm In South Carolina


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Mourners gathered at a church in North Charleston, S.C., yesterday to remember Walter Scott. The 50-year-old father of four was fatally shot in the back by a white police officer named Michael Slager. The shooting was caught on cell phone video, and now Slager is facing murder charges. Activists say they want Scott's death to lead to police reforms, but they're starting to face push back. NPR's Martin Kaste reports from North Charleston.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: The news media weren't welcome at yesterday's funeral.


KASTE: Reporters were allowed just a quick peak after the service as the church band played and mourners filed by Walter Scott's flagged-draped coffin. LeRoy Simmons explains it this way.

LEROY SIMMONS: We don't want this to turn into another Ferguson.

KASTE: Simmons was buddies with Walter Scott. They played dominos together. And he says the Scott family is worried about what his death might turn into.

SIMMONS: They don't want any type of drama. They want to show how we conduct ourselves. And we have other elements to try to infiltrate, but we don't want that. We want to have this low-key. We don't have anything - and we're going to make sure this doesn't become a Ferguson 'cause it's not about that.

KASTE: The family's desire to keep things low-key has gratified a lot of people in the Charleston area. In fact, it inspired Chris Cox to come to the funeral.

CHRIS COX: When I heard on the - when I read on Facebook yesterday they had declined a request from Al Sharpton to come in town, I just really respected that.

KASTE: That's actually a matter of dispute. A paper in New York reported that, but the family later denied that they told Sharpton to stay away. Nevertheless, he's speaking today at another church, not at the funeral as he did at the funeral of Michael Brown last summer. And that fact pleases Cox, who's white.

COX: The family obviously doesn't want people coming here and trying to promote their own agenda from their grief.

KASTE: Cox is echoing a statement released Friday by John Blackmon, the president of the local Fraternal Order of Police. In it, he warned people not to allow, quote, "the professional race agitators to seize this moment." In a similar vein earlier in the week, a white member of the North Charleston City Council criticized protesters, saying they were putting on a show for the rest of the country. Laurie Beckman of the group Black Lives Matter bristles at comments like that.

LAURIE BECKMAN: It's been reported that this is a belligerent group of out-of-towners that have come in and stirred things up, and it's not. We're a local group, and we're not trying to stir anything up. Everyone wants to be peaceful.

KASTE: She also dismisses the argument that shootings like this one are just bad calls by police officers, not a product of racism.

BECKMAN: Statistics don't bear that out - these claims that they make when they say it's not about race. If you look at the numbers, it's about race.

KASTE: She means the fact that blacks are shot by police at a rate higher than whites are. Still, it is true that the Black Lives Matter group has a national agenda, or maybe you could call it a cultural agenda. Dimitri Cherny is also with the Charleston chapter of the group. Like Beckman, he's white. He says the videos of Walter Scott being pursued and then shot from behind make him want to change the way American police think.

DIMITRI CHERNY: It's almost like, when I saw that, is it that every cop needs to chase after a running man? It's like we're dogs? Are we dogs, or are we humans? You know, let's use our higher intelligence and stop chasing after things that are running away. Let's just stand back and go, OK, we'll get him later.

KASTE: That very question has become a controversial one inside police academies lately. And the footage from North Charleston may become an argument for those who say it's time to rethink the training of American cops. Martin Kaste, NPR News, North Charleston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.