Forty-four hours after the police shot and killed another person of colour, Charlotte (North Carolina) is under a state of emergency. One man is on life support and the mayor is raising the possibility of imposing a curfew amidst calls for peace and demands for answers.
It all started Tuesday with a despairingly familiar scenario: a police officer fatally shot a 43 year old black man named Keith Lamont Scott for questionable reasons. Police claim that the man had a handgun that he was refusing to drop. Eyewitnesses claim that Scott was only holding a book and that he tried to get out of his truck with his hands up.
Tuesday: Shooting and Mass Protests
One thing is undisputed: it ended with Keith Lamont Scott being shot four times at 3:54 PM. The shots were fired by Brentley Vinson, a black officer of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police.
Family and eyewitnesses soon took to social media to spread their version of the events. Three hours later, people were already taking to the streets and demanding justice.
Three hours and 45 minutes after the shooting, police stated that the protest was turning violent, and that one officer was injured while trying to de-escalate a situation.
The Mayor of Charlotte, Jennifer Roberts, issued a first statement urging the community to stay calm. A few minutes later, she issued another one to announce a full investigation into the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, saying that the community deserves answers.
Around 11 PM, police ordered the crowd to disperse and deployed tear gas. Clashes with police continued throughout the night. A group of protesters shut down Interstate 85. Different sources report rocks thrown at police cars, two trucks looted, and two fires started.
However, even the Mayor said that the mass protest, in a park, was peaceful. The rioting and looting that happened near the interstate and downtown was the doing of a small group of agitators.
Wednesday Morning: A Gun or a Book?
On Wednesday morning, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney held a press conference to share the police’s conclusion. Officers approached Scott while they were trying to execute an arrest warrant for someone else. Putney said that Scott exited his vehicule, then got back into it before coming out with a gun in his hand and ignored orders to drop it as he advanced towards police officers.
“The officers gave loud, clear verbal commands that were also heard by many of the witnesses […] to drop the weapon,” claimed Putney. “Despite the verbal commands, Mr. Scott exited the vehicle as the officers continued to yell at him to drop it. He stepped out, posing a threat to the officers, and Officer Brentley Vinson subsequently fired his weapon, striking the subject.”
The CMPD (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department) recovered a gun at the scene and insists there was no book. Later in the day, a photo of the crime scene where a gun can be seen reached the media. The source of the photo is unclear, but the initial tweet of a local reporter says it’s from CMPD.
The family of the victim is convinced that this is not how it happened. They say Keith Lamont Scott was a disabled father of seven children, well-known and liked in his community. They believe he “wouldn’t have it in him to hurt a policeman.” According to them, he was sitting in his truck and reading while he waited for the school bus to drop his kids off.
Here's the man's sister. She says he did not have a gun. @CMPD says he did. @WBTV_News pic.twitter.com/JwHMixy9m7
— Sarah-Blake Morgan (@SarahBlakeWBTV) September 20, 2016
Witness Tahesha Williams says she saw Scott get out of the truck unarmed with his hands up.
Wednesday Night: State of Emergency
Peaceful protests rapidly degenerated. One man ended up on life support and the city was put under state of emergency.
Around 7 PM, on Wednesday, Scott’s wife addressed the protesters, encouraging them to keep the peace: “Please do not hurt people or members of law enforcement, damage property or take things that don’t belong to you.”
Two dozen people reportedly sat silently for a while in front of a Bank of America building, holding up Black Lives Matter signs. A peaceful crowd of men, women and children gathered in Marshall Park before marching through the city. You can read a detailed account of the night in Charlotte Magazine. However the atmosphere easily tipped into chaos. Tear gas and explosives joined the game before 8 PM.
At 8:30 PM, someone was shot somewhere near North College and East Trade streets. The city soon tweeted that the shooting was “civilian on civilian. CMPD did not fire shot.” The victim is currently on life support.
One eyewitness, Minister Steve Knight of Missiongathering Christian Church in Charlotte, shared his skepticism: “It was an ambush. The victim was shot while he stood between two ministers, and we believe he was shot by police. We would like to see surveillance video from the surrounding area that may have captured the shooting to determine who was responsible for the shooting.”
Later that night, while police used rubber bullets to disperse protesters, the Governor Pat McCrory declared a State of Emergency. He dispatched the National Guard and State Highway Patrol troopers to help local law enforcement.
Gov. McCrory had very harsh words for the protesters since the first night. Incidentally, he also recently passed a law to restrict viewing of police body cam and dash cam recordings. Essentially, he signed off on a bill to take police recordings off public records, effectively allowing law enforcement to keep them from media or citizens.
Thanks to this, the dash cam footage of Scott’s death will probably never be publicly released. Chief Putney said that they would try to accommodate the family’s request to see it, but that he had no intention of releasing it “to the masses.”
“Transparency’s in the eye of the beholder,” he said on Thursday. “If you think we should display a victim’s worst day for public consumption, that is not the transparency I’m speaking of.”
He also warned that the recording did not definitely show Scott holding a gun.
Also on Thursday, Mayor Roberts appeared on ABC news to convey three messages: the city is fine and open for business (do not panic), the majority of protesters was peaceful (we’re on your side) and the possibility of imposing a curfew will be discussed (yes, we can do that because of the State of Emergency).
“A peaceful protest, and many folks do want to express their views peacefully, turned into something else last night,” said Roberts.
The Department of Justice just sent four members of their Community Relations Service to Charlotte. Attorney General Loretta Lynch gave a press conference this morning, assuring that they were “monitoring the matter” and that they were looking into the circumstances of Keith Lamont Scott’s death.
* Featured image: CNN screengrab