by Paul Bowers
If you haven't been reading the Post and Courier's investigative series "Shots Fired" this week, you should be. The comprehensive review of how the state handles police-involved shootings is incisive, damning, and sometimes surprising.
In Part 1 of the series, which ran in Wednesday's print edition, the P&C made some bold statements based on a review of the 245 officer-involved shootings in South Carolina from 2009 through May 21, 2015. Here are some of the big ones:
• In about 25 percent of the shootings, officers fired into fleeing cars, a practice that many departments across the country have all but banned, including the city of Charleston. The New York City Police Department prohibited officers from shooting at moving vehicles in 1972, one of several moves that dramatically reduced shootings there.
• Almost any shooting by police here, whether blindly into cars or into fleeing suspects' backs, can be ruled justified if officers say they felt their lives were in danger, a vague standard that opens the door to abuse.
• Shootings disproportionately affect minorities. While 28 percent of South Carolina's population is black, more than half of those shot by police were black.
• SLED [South Carolina Law Enforcement Division] portrays itself as an independent agency that treats police shootings as it would any other incident. In reality, officers are shielded from the kind of questioning detectives typically use to uncover the truth.
Interestingly, the P&C says it began its investigation four months ago — well before the Walter Scott shooting brought the issue of police-involved shootings in South Carolina into the national spotlight. The team that compiled this report includes two of the authors of the newspaper's Pulitzer Prize-winning 2014 series "Till Death Do Us Part," which focused on violence against women and helped make domestic violence reform a central issue in the state legislature this year.
This year's General Assembly session is nearly over, but we're predicting that this series will shape next year's legislative priorities in a major way.