NEW YORK (AP) — As an act of violence once again focuses the nation on relations between law enforcement and minorities, the Rev. Al Sharpton said Wednesday that his civil rights organization will stand with the family of the black South Carolina man fatally shot by a white police officer.
Sharpton addressed the killing of Walter Scott at the beginning of his National Action Network conference in New York. Before the South Carolina shooting, the annual gathering had already scheduled a panel discussion on police brutality featuring the families of several black men and boys killed by police in the last year, including Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice.
"We are saying for the sake of this family in Charleston, that not only are we with you, we are saying that there must be national legislation around cameras and police accountability," Sharpton said.
North Charleston Patrolman Michael Thomas Slager was charged Tuesday with murder after video emerged that shows the officer shooting at Scott as he flees following a traffic stop. Scott falls after the eighth shot. Slager has said he fired in self-defense.
Sharpton praised the police and mayor of North Charleston "for doing the right thing" in charging the officer. He called for national reform on police conduct and said he planned to travel to Charleston in the coming days.
The civil rights leader was flanked by several elected officials, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who nodded along with Sharpton's call for reform.
New York was rattled by its own fatal encounter between a black man and a white officer last year. Garner was selling loose cigarettes when he was confronted by police and placed in a chokehold. A witness was recording with a cellphone camera, and the video showed Garner yelling "I can't breathe" as he toppled to the sidewalk and died.
Though he did not mention Garner by name, de Blasio alluded to his death last summer on Staten Island as he discussed Scott's death Saturday in South Carolina.
"Once again we are watching a video. It's a video that is so disturbing and so painful," the mayor said. "You can't watch that as a human being and not feel pain. It makes no sense according to what our core notions of humanity and decency and justice are."
A grand jury did not bring charges against the NYPD officer. Garner's widow broke down in tears while addressing the conference crowd at a Manhattan hotel.
The grand jury's decision led to days of protests that swept through city streets. A gunman cited Garner's death on social media before he gunned down two NYPD officers in December, which led the city's police unions into an open revolt against de Blasio, who they blamed for permitting an anti-NYPD sentiment to take hold in the city. The tension between de Blasio and the police has lessened since then.