Keith Lamont Scott’s funeral was pushed back a week by Hurricane Matthew. And when hundreds of his family and friends finally gathered Friday for a proper sendoff in the marsh community where the 43-year-old was born, the storm surrounding his death poured through the church doors.
Scott died 200 miles away on Sept. 20, encircled by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers who opened fire, they say, after Scott, a husband, father of seven and a convicted felon, failed to drop his gun.
His family says there was no weapon, that Scott, an avid reader, was holding a book. They and other critics say Scott lying in a black casket Friday only because police lost control of a confrontation they caused.
The investigation continues. And while the disputed specifics of shooting didn’t surface at the First Baptist Church of James Island, the grief, confusion and anger still harbored by Scott’s loved ones was as clear as the toppled trees and ripped-up sweetgrass piled along the roads.
“This whole thing is so senseless,” said Spalvera Graham, Scott’s oldest sister, as she greeted mourners earlier in the day.
“I pray to God that America and the world will see that we have a problem ... This insensitivity to black men has to stop, said Graham, who’s retired from the military. “We are angry, but we want something done.”
That theme repeated itself in word and verse throughout the two-hour services in which the spiritual and political often merged.
“Sometimes events cause the nation to look into the mirror, and sometimes you don’t like what you see,” said the Rev. Bryan Moten of the Goose Creek Church of Christ. “If you don’t like what you see, fix it.”
Scott’s father-in-law the Rev. Ray Dotch said he had watched Scott grow from a boy to a man. He said Scott never knew how smart he was and what to make of his life. In thundering tones, Dotch challenged the audience to make Scott’s death mean something now.
“Don’t tell me your vote doesn’t count,” he said. “Learn the law, you can handle the law. If you don’t know the law, the law handles you.”
Lawrence Gordon, who described himself as a concerned parent and citizen, walked to the open microphone to the right of Scott’s casket and broke into a spiritual he had written.
“Lord,” he sang, “I need you to heal the sick nation that we live in ... where people are killed because of the color of their skin.”
Charlotte was also represented. Johnathan Thrower described himself as one of the activists who had taken to the streets of uptown after the killing. He told the family that Scott’s death was a tipping point for dozens of young people struggling to find anything to believe in.
“We now have something to rally on. We know we can continue to fight,” Thrower said to applause. “His legacy is how he inspired so many.”
In many ways, Scott’s funeral resembled the services for Jonathan Ferrell, who was shot and killed by a Charlotte police officer three years ago in a confrontation with police. While the city settled the civil suit filed by Ferrell’s family for a record amount, the manslaughter trial of the officer involved ended in a hung jury, with the majority favoring acquittal.
Friday, Ferrell’s mother, Georgia Ferrell, sent a message to the Scotts. “Stay close together. Keep praying and figuring out how to fight this,” she said. “Have faith – you must have faith – that this will all work out.”
Scott’s family – more than 100 strong – began entering the church at 11:15 a.m., slowly making their way to the open casket. Scott’s body was dressed in white. So were many of his loved ones, who held on to each other as they moved up the center aisle.
Scott’s brother Duane walked hand-in-hand with his young son, but he broke down after he reached the casket, sobbing loudly as he reached his brother’s side.
“Hell, man,” he said, the words echoing around the octagonal church.
But folks on James Island know how to ride out a storm, and Duane Scott’s tone had changed when he later stood on the altar and began to speak.
He told stories of Keith that had the church rocking with laughter. He paid tribute to all who had come to support the family, then singled out his mother Vernita to end on a hopeful note.
There were seven Scott children, he said. Now there are six.
“You lost only one – that boy lying right there,” he said. “We’ll be alright. We’re going to be alright.”