Once, after a high-speed car chase and foot pursuit through one of San Francisco’s tougher housing projects, an officer handed what we’d thought was a lethal looking Tec-9 machine pistol to a winded reporter, who demurred.
The confiscated gun, which turned out to be a very good replica, was locked away with others in a beat car. “Never know when you’re going to need another gun,” an officer, later fired from his department for burglarizing a quickie photo development store, said at the time.
Additional years in police cars and housing projects uncovered a loose name for such guns, often cheap, untraceable knockoffs which came to be known by the public at large as “Saturday Night Specials.” In police lexicon, we learned, they were also known simply as “throwdowns.”
The name implies their intended use. To be dropped or “thrown down” at a crime scene in the event an officer needed a quick – if unlawful and foul – way to prove an unarmed suspect had in some way threatened their life. In some cases, the use of a throwdown meant the difference between job retention and a return to duty – or dismissal and, in extreme cases, jail.
Saturday’s shooting of an apparently unarmed man shown in a stunning video released soon after the killing captured what many have believed has been happening on American streets for years – up to and including an apparent throwdown by the police officer.
In the video, North Charleston, S.C., police officer Michael Slager is shown firing eight rounds into the back and buttocks of 50-year-old Walter Scott, shown fleeing from the officer after their final, fatal contact in a weedy alleyway. Scott apparently had an outstanding Family Court warrant out for him. Slager reported by radio that Scott had made a grab for his Taser and, in fact, the video depicts two objects – one that looks like a Taser and another like a black baseball cap – on the ground near where the two men first made contact.
The video picks up as Scott begins running from Slager, and the officer drawing his weapon and opening fire. A bystander, whose name was not given and who – miraculously – was not chased off by Slager or other officers responding to the scene, continues to film as Slager hurries back to where the cap and presumed Taser are on the ground, picks up the device and throws it on the ground near where Scott lies bleeding from several wounds.
We will admit to saying “there it is” the first time we saw the video. A throwdown. On camera.
The officer has been charged with Scott’s murder. North Charleston’s mayor announced the state charges at a news conference Tuesday evening. His police force, arrayed in phalanx behind him, appeared stricken.
Slager is currently in jail stripes. The trial process, and additional scrutiny of his case and all its implications, lie before him. For many, however, the exclamation point to a long-uttered claim of police abuse has been added – by who we presume was a kid with a smartphone cutting through a weedy back lot in North Charleston, S.C.