Police Officer Indicted in Shooting of Unarmed Black Man. Yes, Really.

The South Carolina charges are unusual in the context of recent police-related shootings.

Officer Justin Craven. (Photo: Courtesy Edgefield County Detention Center; Flickr)

May 28, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

A South Carolina grand jury on Wednesday indicted a white police officer in the shooting of an unarmed black man, Ernest Satterwhite Sr., in 2014. The former officer, Justin Craven, 25, apparently suspected that Satterwhite, 68, had been drinking. Craven then chased Satterwhite across two counties. The chase ended on Satterwhite’s driveway. Craven was placed on administrative leave. The indictment charges Craven with discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle, which could mean up to 10 years in prison.

So, Why Should You Care? It is rare for police officers to be charged or indicted for homicide. Last summer, Eric Garner, a black New York City man, was choked to death by a white officer, Daniel Pantaleo. A grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo. The same scenario played out in the case of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, who was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer. On Saturday, Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo was found not guilty for the 2012 deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. Williams led Brelo and numerous other officers on a high-speed chase that ended with Brelo standing on the hood of her car and firing at least 15 shots through the windshield at the couple.

In Baltimore, the six police officers involved in Freddie Gray’s fatal arrest were quickly saddled with murder and manslaughter charges by the city’s chief prosecutor. While the case is still ongoing, the public perception of holding the officers accountable for their actions was perceived as a shift by some, compared with the Brown and Garner cases. These events have fueled the national debate about the contentious relationship between police and the black and Latino communities they serve and spurred investigations by the Department of Justice into the police departments of cities including Ferguson, Cleveland, and Baltimore.

Craven, like the officers in Baltimore, intends to fight the charges and said he fired the shots in self-defense. South Carolina state police have declined to release dashboard camera footage of the incident because they are concerned it could hinder a fair trial.