Photo by Scott Rodgerson on Unsplash

South Carolina law allows law enforcement to shock, gas, restrain and kill people with impunity as long as they’re following their training. That’s what our community learned last week when Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson delivered the news that the Charleston County deputies involved with Jamal Sutherland’s January death would face no state charges.

This is not acceptable. Our state legislature must act swiftly and decisively to enact proposed excessive-force statutes to help keep people safe during interactions with law enforcement officers.

It’s no secret that police often get the benefit of the doubt, letting departments avoid full accountability in the interest of law and order at any cost. But even Wilson laments that without an excessive-force law on the books, her hands are tied in some cases.

“We are one of only eight states in the country where the legislature has declined to enact any special or specific criteria for officer-involved force. That omission affects the state’s ability to hold officers accountable for excessive uses of force,” Wilson wrote in her explanation on whether to bring charges in Sutherland’s death.

This is not about rooting out a few bad cops. It’s about a top-down culture change for law enforcement. From Ben Tillman’s Red Shirts in the 1870s to the charged environment at the Al Cannon Detention Center, fear and violence have long been used as intimidation tactics by paramilitary police to protect the white political ruling class. Deputies needlessly deployed deadly force on Jamal Sutherland without legal consequences because they were allowed to — they always have been.

So again, a South Carolina family is left without a path to justice under the laws of their own state. And again, we’re left to rely on the federal prosecutors to swoop in and bail out solicitors and the lawmakers who continue to enable our state’s primitive justice system. Remember: Michael Slager is in prison on federal civil rights violations in the killing of Walter Scott — Wilson’s 2016 prosecution of the former North Charleston cop resulted in a hung jury.

Thankfully, two Charleston-area lawmakers have already filed a bill to make sure officers who exploit their power have to answer to a judge in state court.

“What happened to Jamal Sutherland was unacceptable and outrageous,” S.C. Rep. J.A. Moore (D-Hanahan) said May 13, soon after videos showing Sutherland’s killing were released. “There must be accountability, and we must take steps to make sure this never happens again.”

With Rep. Marvin Pendarvis, another young Charleston-area Democrat, Moore has also filed bills to ensure mental health patients in crisis receive medical treatment, not a mugshot.

South Carolina can no longer be indifferent to its deadly, unjust criminal justice system. Get serious and pass these bills into law.

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