The morning after violent protests erupted over the fatal police shooting of a black man, officials in Charlotte
called for peace.
They stressed that the man was armed and posing an “imminent deadly threat” when officers shot and killed him yesterday near the University of North Carolina
at Charlotte campus.
Sixteen police officers and numerous protesters were injured as the two sides clashed hours after Keith Lamont Scott was fatally shot by an officer from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
Scott’s family insisted he was not armed when he was killed outside an apartment complex, instead saying he was reading a book in his car at the time of the fatal encounter – a detail seized on by protesters in Charlotte and on social media.
Today, at a news
conference, Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Chief Kerr Putney said the officers were searching the previous afternoon for a suspect who had outstanding warrants when they spotted Scott – who was not the suspect they were seeking – emerge from a vehicle armed with a handgun.
“It’s time to change the narrative, because I can tell you from the facts that the story is a little bit different as to how it’s been portrayed so far, especially through social media,” Putney said. “So Charlotte, the challenge is ours.””The officers gave loud, clear verbal commands,” instructing Scott to drop the weapon, the chief said. “In spite of verbal commands, Mr Scott exited his vehicle armed with a handgun as the officers continued to yell at him to drop it. He stepped out, posing a threat to the officers” – at which point, Putney said, an officer fired his service weapon, striking 43-year-old Scott, who was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
Following the shooting, a large crowd of protesters gathered near the university campus. The demonstrations began peacefully, with some people chanting “black lives matter” and “hands up, don’t shoot.” News reports and posts on social media later showed police in riot gear firing tear gas and rubber bullets at the protesters and some people smashing out the windows of police cars.
Activists said the violent demonstrations stemmed from lingering frustrations over previous police shootings in the city – including a deadly encounter in 2013, when Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed black man, was shot and killed by a white police officer.
Hours after Scott’s death, demonstrators shut down traffic on Interstate 85; some opened up the backs of tractor trailers, took out boxes and set them on fire in the middle of the highway, WSOC reported. The station spoke to one truck driver who said people stole cargo from her trailer. Police reportedly used flash grenades to break up the crowd and cleared the highway.
A few dozen others broke down the doors of a nearby Walmart, then dispersed when the authorities arrived, according to the news station.
The police chief told reporters that 16 officers were injured during the demonstrations, one of them hit in the face with a rock. At least 11 people were taken from the demonstrations and treated for life-threatening injuries.
Attorney-General Loretta Lynch called on protesters to remain peaceful, criticising the violence that injured law enforcement officers and demonstrators alike.
“Protest is protected by our Constitution and is a vital instrument for raising issues and creating change. But when it turns violent, it undermines the very justice that it seeks to achieve and I urge those demonstrating in Charlotte to remain peaceful in their expressions of protest and concern.”
Putney said he was uncertain whether Scott’s weapon was loaded, or whether he had pointed it directly at the officers. He also said investigators did not find the book referenced by Scott’s family.
Authorities identified the officer who shot and killed Scott as Brentley Vinson, who has worked for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police force since July 2014. He has been placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation, which is standard procedure in officer-involved shootings. Vinson is also black, authorities told the Washington Post.
Putney said the officer was in plainclothes, wearing a vest with a police logo, but was accompanied by other officers in full uniform.
The police chief also said that the officer was not wearing a body camera but that other officers on the scene were.
A woman who identified herself as Scott’s daughter said her father was unarmed and reading a book in his car when police shot and killed him.
In a widely circulated Facebook Live video, she said Scott was parked and waiting for a school bus to drop off his son when police arrived. Officers used a stun gun on him, then shot him four times with their service weapons, she said.
“My daddy didn’t do nothing; they just pulled up undercover,” she said in the video.
A police spokeswoman declined to comment on the video.
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said the city will conduct a “full investigation” into the shooting and promised transparency.
Scott is one of at least 702 people who have been fatally shot by police so far this year, 163 of them black men, according to a Washington Post database tracking fatal officer-involved shootings.
Protesters in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photo / AP
Scott’s death came just one day after police in Tulsa released video of an officer shooting and killing an unarmed black man who had gotten out of a stalled SUV.
Terrence Crutcher, 40, was standing on the side of the road by the broken down vehicle on Saturday when officers arrived and ordered him to show his hands. Police said they Tasered and shot Crutcher after he refused to obey officers’ commands and reached into the driver’s side window of the SUV.
But video released on Tuesday showed Crutcher walking with his hands in the air, and a lawyer for the man’s family said the vehicle’s window was rolled up when an officer opened fire on him. Police said they found PCP in the vehicle but no weapon.