Man Who Filmed Walter Scott's Murder Was Terrified and Still Fears Police Retaliation . . . With Good Reason
Feidin Santana is the 23-year-old who shot the now infamous video of Walter Scott being murdered by South Carolina Officer Michael Slager. In the footage, Slager, who is white, fires eight times on Scott, who was black, as he runs in the opposite direction of the officer, vivid proof of Slager’s lie about needing to protect himself from Scott. The officer looks remarkably unshaken throughout the video. The callousness of the entire scene led Scott’s father, speaking in an interview, to compare his son's murder to the slaughter of an animal: “The way [Slager] was shooting that gun, it looked like he was trying to kill a deer.”
Slager would be free were it not for Santana’s video. In the day after Scott’s murder, media had unquestioningly bought Slager’s story, a typical narrative of good white cop versus bad black criminal. (The opening line of a South Carolina Post and Courier story matter-of-factly reported that, “[Slager] felt threatened last weekend when the driver he had stopped for a broken brake light tried to overpower him and take his Taser.” Much of the story focused on Scott’s criminal record.) Feidin, who didn’t initially come forward out of fear -- this is, after all, a young man who had just watched an officer gun down a person in broad daylight -- gave the video to the victim’s family after seeing how Slager’s lie, with support from the North Charleston police department, had emerged as the only narrative. The final straw came when he read the police report. “This is not what happened,” he said an interview on MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes.
Santana admits that his fears were so great he thought of deleting the footage. In the aforementioned interview, he says, "I felt that my life, with this information, might be in danger. I thought about erasing the video and just getting out of the community, you know Charleston, and living some place else.” He ultimately turned over the footage because, “I just put myself in the position of the family. I know if I wouldn’t give [the video] to them, nothing would happen.”
His fears are justifiable. Not only has the ubiquity of cell phones revealed the astounding extent of police abuse, it has proven that the criminal justice system all too often functions as a willing accomplice. Not just in its refusal to jail, or often even indict, officers who have killed unarmed and often African-American victims, but in its treatment of their whistleblowers. Take, for example, the case of Ramsey Orta.
Orta, the man who filmed the July 17, 2014, killing of Eric Garner, is the sole person connected to the incident to be indicted. A grand jury indicted Orta in August 2014 on weapons charges he contends were fabricated by police as revenge for the Garner footage. (Orta reported harassment from police in the aftermath of the video’s release. He was arrested just one day after the coroner ruled Garner’s death a homicide.)
Initially facing bail set at a staggering $100,000 -- since reduced to $16,000 -- Orta has spent months in jail at Rikers Island due to his family’s inability to pay the hefty cost. In recent days, he’d gone on a hunger strike, believing police were targeting him by poisoning his food. (More than 19 other inmates also claim that they were sickened by rat poison placed in their food. According the the New York Post, a Brooklyn federal judge ruled against the group’s request for tests of their blood and urine to prove the food had been tainted.) Only after The Free Thought Project publicized an online fundraising campaign did a spotlight get shined on Orta’s situation. Word quickly spread and Orta’s GoFundMe campaign, located here, raised more than $16,000 in a little over 24 hours.
It should be noted that Taisha Allen, who also filmed a portion of the Garner incident, claims that her association with the video has led to police harassment. She says that in a recent run-in with cops over walking through a park during off-hours, one officer called her “the little bitch from the Eric Garner case.” She also states officers used “excessive force,” including hitting her with their batons, causing extensive bruising.
In the meantime, an update on Orta’s GoFundMe indicates bail has been submitted. Feidin Santana has appeared recently in multiple interviews, including on CNN and MSNBC’s Morning Joe. And by every account, he continues to fear for his safety for doing the right thing. His lawyer, Todd Rutherford, appearing with him on the Today show said, "He’s afraid. The first thing he said to me this morning was, how can I get protection?”
He added, "What does he do when the people that are supposed to protect us are the ones that are turned against us?"
Santana, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, was frank about his fears. "Now people know where I live. People know where I work. So my normal routine from just walking to my house to work have changed. And at some point, I thought about staying anonymous and not show my face and not talking about it. But this [is] something that has to go beyond that.
"If I want to show my face, everybody over there knows, including the police officers in that department, knows who I am."
Here’s hoping that when cameras go away and the virality of the video fades, the public angered by the brutal injustice displayed in his video keeps justice for Santana in mind.