Charlotte police protests: from peaceful to violent
Protests turned violent for a second night in Charlotte after Tuesday’s fatal police shooting of a black man. Late Wednesday, Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency for the city and deployed the National Guard and State Highway Patrol troopers to assist local police.
One person was shot at the protest and was taken to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, Medic said. The city initially reported that he died, but later retracted that, saying he was on life-support.
City leaders appealed for calm and promised a thorough investigation of the shooting that triggered hours of violent protest and shut down Interstate 85 on Tuesday.
But the unrest continued Wednesday night, with police using tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who blocked the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets in the heart of uptown, then occupied the EpiCentre entertainment complex.
Pockets of the city were on edge late Wednesday afternoon, with some uptown businesses apparently sending workers home early over uncertainty about further protests. The Charlotte Chamber urged businesses in uptown and University City to “remove or chain down all tables, chairs, signs or planters.”
At about 4:30 Wednesday, a group of two dozen protesters stood in front of the Bank of America Tower at Trade and Tryon streets. They silently stood and held signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop Killing Us.”
Andrew Monroe said the protest was organized informally by a group of black professionals. “What we want to do is show we’re not dangerous,” he said. “We want to show the world it’s not thugs out here.” Monroe said black people deserve to be safe in the streets and don’t feel that way in the spate of recent police shootings. Across town at UNC Charlotte, students gathered at the Union and laid down in protest.
Earlier in the day, authorities said they were reviewing video from body and dashboard cameras from the deadly confrontation in University City. Despite demands by some activists for that footage to be publicly released, police said they would not do so during an active investigation.
Keith Lamont Scott, 43, was fatally shot. The officer who shot him, Brentley Vinson, 26, is also black. Sixteen Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers suffered minor injuries during the chaotic night.
Word of the incident exploded on social media and drew national attention in the wake of police shootings of black men that led to protests from Ferguson, Mo., to Tulsa, Okla., and spawned the Black Lives Matter movement.
“This is a very difficult situation for everyone involved,” Mayor Jennifer Roberts said at a Wednesday news conference. “I’d like to ask people to wait until all information is available.” She expressed the city’s condolences to Scott’s family and concern for the injured officers.
The chain of events began around 4 p.m. Tuesday, when police were conducting a search for someone who had an outstanding warrant at The Village at College Downs complex on Old Concord Road, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney said.
Scott was not the person they were looking for, but police saw him in his car in the apartment complex.
They saw Scott get out of the car, then get back in, Putney said. They saw he had a handgun, approached the car and ordered him to drop the weapon.
Despite the commands, he got out of the car with the gun as officers continued to tell him to drop the weapon, Putney said.
Within seconds Scott was shot. Authorities said Scott posed an imminent threat of danger.
Police do not yet know definitively if Scott had raised his weapon, Putney said. But he said that a person’s gestures, aggressive behavior and other factors can also be interpreted as “imminent threats” under North Carolina law.
Police did not disclose how many times Scott was shot.
A woman who identified herself as Scott’s daughter said on a live-streamed video that Scott was unarmed, reading a book in his car and waiting for the school bus to drop off his son. The video, viewed more than half a million times, elevated the incident to a national stage within hours.
Putney said no book was found at the scene. He said he did not know if the gun found near Scott was loaded.
Some civil rights activists and neighbors questioned the police account of the shooting Wednesday, saying Scott was disabled and was waiting for his son’s school bus. Activists demanded answers from police and called on protesters to be peaceful.
The chief said he wanted to dispel false rumors and get as many facts out to the public as he could in the midst of the ongoing investigations.
“People are watching how we respond, how we react,” Putney said. “I’m optimistic that the results of our actions will be positive ...but it’s time for the voices of the majority to stand up and be heard. It’s time to change the narrative, because I can tell you from the facts that the stories will be different as to how it’s been portrayed so far, especially through social media.”
‘A family man’
Scott’s mother, Vernita Walker of Charleston, said her son had seven children.
“He was a family man … and he was a likeable person. And he loved his wife and his children.” She said she had just talked with her son on the phone that day.
At the shooting scene early Wednesday morning, activists, residents and citizens gathered to support the family and raised questions about police officials’ accounts.
Some witnesses said they believed the officer who shot Scott was a white man, not a black officer as police said.
Several apartment residents who said they knew Scott and his family said he suffered brain damage from an accident that affected how he communicates. They said the brain damage left him unable to be in the sun, so he waited for his son’s elementary school bus each day in his white truck in a shady part of the apartment parking lot.
Yolanda Haskins, a 10-year resident of the neighborhood, said her children play with Scott’s and she would see Scott at the bus stop most afternoons. She said Scott and his wife and children had moved into the neighborhood over the summer and are living with relatives there. “They’re just friendly people,” Haskins said.
She said she was late getting to the bus stop yesterday and when she arrived, the complex was flooded with police and emergency personnel.
Protests break out
Putney said officers began to encounter protesters at around 7 p.m. Tuesday. About one hour later, the crowd transformed into “more aggressive agitators who began breaking the law,” Putney said.
Shortly before 11 p.m., police donned gas masks. Soon, clouds of tear gas bloomed in front of their lines. Protesters damaged at least two CMPD vehicles.
“Accountability!” one man shouted repeatedly at CMPD officers. “You don’t get to murder us and get away with it!” yelled another.
More officers were deployed to the scene throughout the night. At about 1:45 a.m., some people blocked nearby Interstate 85, broke into a tractor-trailer and set goods on fire, Putney said.
Observer news partner WBTV said three of its reporters were hit during the protest, and at least one went to the hospital after a blow to the head.
Around 3:30 a.m., a crowd of people moved to the Walmart in the 7700 block of North Tryon Street, where they broke windows and doors and looted the store. It was still closed late Wednesday afternoon.
Several hundred people blocked streets well after midnight, despite the use of tear gas by police in riot gear. Clouds of tear gas drifted over the crowd, and people coughed and fell back before walking toward police lines again multiple times.
They held signs that said “Stop Killing Us” and “Black Lives Matter,” and they chanted “No justice, no peace.” One sign read: “IT WAS A BOOK.”
The scene was sometimes chaotic and tense, with water bottles and stones thrown at police lines, but many protesters called for peace and implored their fellow demonstrators not to act violently.
A CMPD helicopter circled low over the crowd, shining a searchlight on the protesters. Old Concord Road was shut down. Some protesters began to throw water bottles and rocks.
One person has been arrested so far, Putney said.
Not all the interactions were so tense. Around 1 a.m. Wednesday, police were seen handing bottles of water to the several dozen people who were still protesting.
Charlotte pastor Ray McKinnon said he went to the scene near the apartment complex when he heard about the incident. He found himself in the middle of an intersection where tear gas was sprayed.
“I was literally in the road praying,” he said. “What I saw on the faces of the protesters and police officers was similar – there was the same hurt.”
He said people “feel like they’re not being heard.”
New protest planned
In a news conference Wednesday morning, leaders of a civil rights group called True Healing Under God, or T.H.U.G. Ministry, condemned the latest incident involving the death of a black man at the hands of a police officer.
Charlotte radio personality B.J. Murphy called for an “economic boycott” of Charlotte, urging blacks to “take our money out of Charlotte. I don’t want to offend nobody,” he said, “but we got nothing to lose.”
John Barnett, a Charlotte-based civil rights activist, announced the Marshall Park gathering to mobilize around “getting rid of these dirty cops inside” the police department.
“I do encourage the youth to be controlled, but I can’t control them,” Barnett said.
“It’s all about fighting the system and getting rid of these dirty cops who’s inside,” he said. “You’ve got a virus, you need some chemotherapy to get that virus out.”
Putney said his department would be staffed appropriately throughout the day, “and hopefully we’ll have peaceful protests and do things the Charlotte way.”
Roberts said Wednesday that she had spoken to the White House and later in the day she spoke to President Obama. She also spoke to Gov. Pat McCrory and other community leaders. “We are a collaborative community. We rise and fall together,” she said.
In a statement, McCrory said, “We will do everything we can to support the mayor and the police chief in their efforts to keep the community calm and to get this situation resolved.”
Other community leaders joined local and state leaders in seeking calm as the investigation unfolds.
Charlotte City Council member Greg Phipps, in whose district the protests took place, said, “I can understand the frustration of people, but we have to abide by the law. It’s a situation that we have to be very careful about.”
Pastor McKinnon said that people are frustrated and want police to release video footage.
In other developments:
▪ The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina called on CMPD to release any video footage that captured the shooting of Scott.
▪ The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, called for an independent investigation and for police accountability.
▪ Following standard procedure with any officer-involved shooting, CMPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau will conduct a separate but parallel investigation to determine whether CMPD policies and procedures were followed. As part of department protocol, Vinson will be placed on administrative leave.
Vinson joined the department’s police academy in July 2014 and was assigned to the Metro Division that December. He faced no disciplinary actions, according to personnel records released by CMPD.
▪ The neighborhood where the incident occurred was quiet Wednesday, aside from a large media presence. All lanes of Interstate 85 had reopened Wednesday but were still littered with rocks and glass.
A public records search shows that Scott was convicted in April 2004 of a misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon charge in Mecklenburg County. Other charges stemming from that date were dismissed: felony assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, and misdemeanors assault on a child under 12, assault on a female and communicating threats.
In April 2015 in Gaston County Court, Scott was found guilty of driving while intoxicated.
In 1992, Scott was charged in Charleston County, S.C., with several different crimes on different dates, including carrying a concealed weapon (not a gun), simple assault and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He pleaded guilty to all charges.
Scott also was charged with aggravated assault in 1992 and assault with intent to kill in 1995. Both charges were reduced, but the disposition of the cases is unclear.
According to Bexar County, Texas, records, Scott was sentenced in March 2005 to 15 months in a state jail for evading arrest. In July of that year, records show, he was sentenced to seven years in prison on a conviction of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. A Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman said Scott completed his sentence and was released from prison in 2011.
Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call police at 704-432-TIPS (8477) or Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600.
Staff writers Ely Portillo, Cristina Bolling, Celeste Smith, Joe Marusak, Elizabeth Leland, Karen Garloch and Jim Morrill, researcher Maria David, and Deanna Boyd of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram contributed.
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