CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Less than a week after a white former South Carolina police officer pleaded guilty to a civil rights charge in the 2015 death of an unarmed black man who ran from a traffic stop, a "Blue Lives Matter" billboard was installed on the road where the shooting happened.
The sign expressing support for police was installed Friday about a mile (1.6 kilometer) from where Walter Scott was killed, The Post and Courier of Charleston reported Monday (http://bit.ly/2q16MIt). On May 2, former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager pleaded guilty in federal court to violating Scott's civil rights by shooting him without justification.
Scott Garland, a resident of Charleston's West Ashley community, sponsored the billboard that bears its message on a black background with a blue line through it. He has held a cardboard sign with the same words outside Slager's hearings and would not comment on whether the billboard's placement was purposeful.
"It's nothing negative against anybody," Garland said. "It was intended as a show of support to the men and women in blue."
The message on the billboard in North Charleston discourages scrutiny of police-involved shootings, local activist Thomas Dixon said.
"There is no dispute that officers' lives matter," Dixon said. "But this just drives another wedge between law enforcement and the community."
A fundraising effort that began two weeks ago for the billboard raised roughly $500 in donations through GoFundMe.com, according to The Post and Courier.
In April 2015 Slager pulled over Scott's car, and after a struggle the former officer shot Scott. A video showed the man running away while Slager fired shots.
Slager testified at his murder trial that he feared for his life because Scott was trying to grab his stun gun. The jury in the murder trial deadlocked, and a mistrial was declared.
Slager, 35, is currently awaiting sentencing on the civil rights charge. He could get up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine, though prosecutors agreed to ask for about 20 years behind bars.
Information from: The Post and Courier, http://www.postandcourier.com