SC Politicians urge respect for law enforcement, black community in wake of shootings

Originally published in the Greenville News, July 9th 2016

Amanda Coyne, reporter:

After a week when two black men were killed by police and five Dallas police officers were killed by a sniper, South Carolina politicians are urging their constituents to respect both law enforcement and the black community.

A sniper shot 12 police officers in downtown Dallas on Thursday night after a Black Lives Matter march. The officers had been patrolling the non-violent demonstration before five were killed and seven more were wounded. The demonstration was in response to the deaths of two black men shot by police earlier in the week.

On Tuesday night in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Alton Sterling was shot by police when he was pinned to the ground and officers learned he had a gun on his person. Video of that incident quickly gained national attention. On Wednesday, Philando Castile was shot in the arm by a police officer during a traffic stop. Castile's girlfriend, who was sitting next to him in the car, broadcast the immediate aftermath of the shooting on Facebook Live and said Castile was shot while reaching for his driver's license and after informing the officer that he was legally carrying a concealed weapon. Castile died shortly after being shot.

In a post on the blogging platform Medium, Sen. Tim Scott drew a parallel between the shooting deaths of Castile and Sterling with that of Walter Scott, who was fatally shot in the back by a North Charleston police officer while running away in April 2015.

"These two deaths are the latest in a troubling trend of disturbing videos involving law enforcement and black men," Scott wrote. "We experienced this in my hometown of North Charleston last year, and I could not be more proud of the way our community came together. Protests were peaceful, voices were heard and the healing continues."

Scott called the actions of the sniper in Dallas, identified by authorities as Micah Xavier Johnson, "truly reprehensible," and invoked civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., in calling for unity against violence.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, who represents much of the Upstate in the 4th Congressional District, also urged unity in the wake of the shooting in Dallas.

"In light of these attacks — and the tragedies witnessed recently — people of good conscience should link arms for justice, order, and respect for the rule of law, and stop the spilling of innocent blood," Gowdy said in a statement.

Sen. Lindsey Graham praised the bravery of the officers in Dallas and said he was "horrified" by the shooting.

Chris Fedalei, the Democratic candidate running against Gowdy, held a press conference with Greenville County Councilwoman Xanthene Norris on Friday to address the shootings. Fedalei said that the community must support law enforcement and promote positive policing while also addressing the symptoms of institutional racism. He noted that as a white man, he does not worry about his safety during encounters with police.

"When I get pulled over, I’m worried about the points on my license, fingers crossed that maybe he’ll give me a warning, then send me on my way. I have never feared for my life. I’ve never been worried about being beaten or shot, or watched it happen to a friend. I’ve never had a console someone’s child who must now grow up without a parent," Fedalei said. "I’ve always known a traffic stop as a traffic stop, but there are too many Americans where a traffic stop is another moment that they must steel themselves against potential abuse."