The Rev. Al Sharpton gave a sermon Sunday in North Charleston, South Carolina, where he praised the mayor and police chief for their response to the shooting of Walter Scott after a traffic stop.
The civil rights activist appeared at Charity Missionary Baptist Church -- near where Scott was killed April 4 -- along with Mayor Keith Summey and Police Chief Eddie Driggers. Later, Sharpton led a vigil before a small crowd in the grassy, fenced-in area where Scott, 50, died.
In a phone interview with Newsday after the vigil, Sharpton said the shooting of blacks by white officers has always happened. But cellphone video now allows the public to witness such encounters, he said.
"We've been reporting this for years," Sharpton said Sunday evening, minutes before boarding a flight back to New York. But police officers "weren't paying a price," he said.
"That's why [North] Charleston is so important, because they see an officer going to jail and not walking away from prosecution." He added, "This isn't going to stop until they [officers] know" jail is possible.
Sharpton said he met with Scott's family Sunday, but did not disclose details. He repeated his call for mandatory police body cameras.
Scott was killed by former Officer Michael Slager, who initially said Scott was shot after a tussle over his Taser. But witness video later surfaced showing Scott being shot as he ran away, prompting officials to fire Slager and charge him with murder.
Such prosecution by a police officer like Slager, who remains in custody, for shooting a black person rarely happens in the Deep South, Sharpton said.
There is lingering skepticism about whether Scott's death would have been thoroughly probed without the witness video.
"The mayor and the chief, they did what they had to do because none of us are blind," Keith White, 60, of North Charleston, said before the church service. "Everyone saw the video and they did what they were forced to do once that video became public."
The response by city officials and the local community hasn't been similar to that in Ferguson, Missouri, where protests after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown and a grand jury's decision not to indict the officer who shot him turned violent.
Some North Charleston residents have said they suspect abuse of power and public trust among law enforcement as issues that may have played a more pivotal role than race in Scott's death.
"It's not about the color of your skin, it's about social justice. When we all practice social justice, we're all free," said Mattese Lecque, a North Charleston resident who heard Sharpton preach Sunday. "Sometimes it takes disaster to bring about change, and that's what's happening now."