April 12, 2015 / 3:05 PM / 4 years ago

Sharpton praises South Carolina mayor where officer shot black man

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton on Sunday praised the mayor of a South Carolina town where a white patrolman was charged with murder after the fatal shooting of a black man and said other officers there should face charges.

Founder and President of the National Action Network Al Sharpton speaks at the opening of the 2015 National Action Network Convention in New York City April 8, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar

New York-based Sharpton said he hoped the prosecution of the officer, who shot Walter Scott in the back on April 4, would mark a turning point in the United States. The incident was caught on video by a bystander.

“Rather than duck, the mayor stood up,” Sharpton said of North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, who attended Sunday’s service at a local church where Sharpton spoke.

“Maybe now, between a Southern white mayor and a forgiving black mother, maybe this nation will deal with this.”

Scott’s shooting was one of the latest in a series of killings that have stoked a national outcry over police use of force against African-Americans. Last year, the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri, and choking death of a black man in New York City triggered a wave of demonstrations across the United States.

Sharpton said it seemed providential that “way down in South Carolina, where we are still protesting the Confederate flag, that in the Deep South, a mayor and police chief did what we couldn’t get mayors in the North and the Midwest to do.”

Sharpton told the New York Times he would urge authorities to prosecute a black police officer, Clarence Habersham, who arrived on the scene just after Scott was fatally shot. Critics have said video evidence contradicted Habersham’s report.

On Sunday in South Carolina, Sharpton said officers who had turned in false reports should not expect superiors to cover for them, regardless of race.

“If you lie, you go where liars go,” he said. “It’s not about white cop, black cop. It’s not about black and white. It’s about right and wrong.”

The National Bar Association, comprised mainly of African-American lawyers, said on Friday Habersham should be fired and indicted for filing a report that said he aided Scott when there is no video evidence that he or another officer performed CPR.

Hundreds of mourners attended the funeral for Scott on Saturday in Summerville, north of North Charleston where the shooting took place. Scott, 50, was the father of four.

Sharpton, who preached at Charity Mission Baptist Church in North Charleston, is expected to lead a prayer vigil on Sunday afternoon at the site where Scott was shot.

Michael Slager, 33, the North Charleston officer who fired eight times at Scott’s back as he fled from a traffic stop, has been charged with murder and dismissed from the police force.

Slager pulled Scott’s black Mercedes-Benz over for a broken tail light. Video from the dashboard camera in Slager’s police cruiser recorded a respectful exchange between the two men before the officer returned to his patrol car.

Minutes later, after being told by Slager to stay in the Mercedes, the man emerged from his car and ran off. Scott, who was apparently unarmed, had a history of arrests for failing to pay child support.

A cell phone video taken by a bystander showed the men in a brief tussle before Scott ran off again. It also shows Slager firing his gun and Scott slumping onto the grass. There was a gap between the dashboard video and the bystander video, however, as the officer was not wearing a body camera.

Writing by David Bailey; editing by Susan Thomas and Matthew Lewis

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