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North Charleston, S.C., Prepares For Police Shooting Trial


Jury selection starts tomorrow in the case of a white police officer who killed an unarmed black man in North Charleston, S.C. Michael Slager has been charged with murder for fatally shooting Walter Scott after he fled a traffic stop last year. Cellphone video captured the incident, and Slager was fired. But activists say the police department still hasn't gone far enough to change its relationship with the community. South Carolina Public Radio's Alexandra Olgin reports.

ALEXANDRA OLGIN, BYLINE: Thirty-five-year-old Jonathan Thrower doesn't trust the North Charleston police. And he hasn't for a while.

JONATHAN THROWER: If you're traveling down this road 10, 11, 12 o'clock at night, you're going to get followed. You're going to get stopped - anywhere in the black community in this area.

OLGIN: Thrower, who previously served prison time for drugs, stands at one of the city's main intersections. He's near the grassy area where ex-cop Michael Slager shot 50-year-old Walter Scott as he ran, fleeing a traffic stop. The stop was for a broken taillight. Sixty-nine-year-old Arthur McFarland heard many similar traffic cases in his more than three decades as a judge.

ARTHUR MCFARLAND: I saw firsthand, from the bench, those cases where it was clear to me that there was unfairness in the stops. Wrong neighborhood, what are you doing here, the suspicious activity - reasons for a stop that, as a judge, I determined had been unlawful.

OLGIN: Both McFarland and Thrower are black men of different generations. And both have felt targeted by police because of their race. North Charleston is very different from Charleston, its historic, touristy neighbor. What used to be a majority white city in the '90s is now majority black. Crime in North Charleston is higher, and many feel the police have become more aggressive. Thrower has taken to protesting, while McFarland is part of a religious group with a different approach.


EDWARD BERGERON: This is one of the largest gatherings ever in the history of Charleston to fight for justice where black and white are in the same room together.


OLGIN: That's Brother Ed Bergeron. He was among more than 2,000 people from multiple faiths and races who asked for change. The police chief did not attend that meeting and declined to be interviewed for this story. The North Charleston Police Department is in the midst of a Justice Department review it requested. Fayetteville, N.C. completed the process last year after several deadly-use-of-force incidents. But since then, Captain James Nolette says there hasn't been one.

JAMES NOLETTE: We've had weapons displayed. We've had shots fired. So we've responded to incidents involving firearms. Many times, in - our officers have been able to de-escalate the situation so it doesn't become an officer-involved shooting.

OLGIN: He says it worked because the whole department was actively involved in improving police-community relationships. In South Carolina, local activists hope that this murder trial of the former North Charleston officer is another step to make things better for a community that has long wrestled with racial divisions.

For NPR News, I'm Alexandra Olgin in North Charleston, S.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: October 30, 2016 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous headline incorrectly stated that North Charleston is in North Carolina. In fact, it is in South Carolina.