Thursday marked the opening day of the the closely watched trial of Michael Slager, a white, former South Carolina police officer accused of shooting 50-year-old Walter Scott—an unarmed black man—in the back, in 2015. 12 people—seven women and five men—were selected as jurors. 11 of them are white, and one is black.
As NBC reports, jury selection for the trial lasted two days, during which Slager’s defense attorneys struck a total of nine potential jurors, seven of whom were minorities, from a total pool of 75. When challenged by prosecutors, the defense reportedly provided justifications for each of the dismissals, such as a poor grasp of English. However, as the network noted, over 20% of the qualified applicant pool was black—far more than the makeup of the final jury selection, and significantly less than the 28% black population recorded by the U.S census bureau for the state and county.
Slager’s trial comes over a year and a half after he was filmed shooting Scott multiple times in the back. That footage, and the outrage it prompted in the public, helped turn Scott’s death into a rallying point in the ongoing effort to address police violence against black communities in the United States.
In addition to the current proceedings, Slager has also been indicted on federal charges, including excessive force, and obstruction of justice. In their indictment of Slager, the Department of Justice alleges he misled investigators by “claiming that Scott was coming toward him with a Taser at the time that Slager fired his weapon, when in truth, Scott was running away.” Slager is reportedly being represented by attorney Andy Savage is both cases.
On Wednesday, a coalition of civil rights groups, including the NAACP and ACLU, released a statement calling the jury’s racial composition “disturbingly unrepresentative of the Charleston County population.” But, the group said, “we hope and expect the criminal proceedings to be fair and transparent in its pursuit of truth and justice, and help the public understand how a routine traffic stop turned fatal.”
If convicted in the current murder trail, Slager faces anywhere from 30 years to life behind bars.