Dozens of protesters marched from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police headquarters to the city center Wednesday night after a prosecutor’s announcement that Officer Brentley Vinson would not be charged in Keith Lamont Scott’s death.
Speakers at the protest, organized by the coalition Charlotte Uprising, said they want to see more police transparency in investigations.
The march was generally peaceful, especially compared with the sometimes violent protests in the days after Scott’s death in September. A heavy rain that soaked protesters around 7 p.m. Wednesday may have kept some people from participating.
However, scuffles between police and protesters broke out around 8:30 p.m. at the EpiCentre as the march continued through uptown to the Transit Center. The procession returned to CMPD headquarters a few minutes before 9.
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CMPD said its officers had arrested a total of four people in protests it described at mostly peaceful. The four arrests were for obstructing traffic, with one person also charged with disorderly conduct.
Protesters tried to lower the American flag in front of CMPD headquarters, but officers stopped them. Some chanted that CMPD “murdered” Scott, while others there are “no good cops in a racist system.”
Around 10 p.m., protestors left CMPD headquarters and marched north on Trade Street.
Despite a State Bureau of Investigation report into Scott’s death, some protesters insisted Wednesday that a white police officer – not Vinson, who is black – shot Scott.
“Mayor (Jennifer) Roberts is out of touch, Chief (Kerr) Putney is out of touch,” said a protester who wants both to resign.
The protesters also demanded answers in the death of Justin Carr, 26, who was shot in the head during the uptown protests after Scott’s shooting in September. Police charged fellow protester Rayquan Borum, 21, with the shooting, but critics contend that police killed Carr.
Police Major Mike Campagna waded into a small sea of protesters who were chanting anti-police slogans and taking video of him with cell phones. He talked with them for several minutes about evidence in the case that led to Borum’s arrest.
Shortly before 8 p.m., protesters began to march toward uptown’s Omni Charlotte Hotel, where Carr was shot. Police urged them to stay on sidewalks.
The CityLYNX Gold Line service was suspended for the rest of the night.
Scott, 43, a black man, was shot on Sept. 20 when he stepped from an SUV parked outside his University City apartment holding a gun and ignored police commands to drop it. The confrontation sparked two nights of riots.
On Wednesday, Mecklenburg District Attorney Andrew Murray laid out in extensive detail the evidence gathered in the case.
“I’m extremely convinced that Mr. Vinson’s use of deadly force was lawful,” Murray said.
Evidence in the case shows that Scott stepped out of his SUV with a gun in his hand, Murray said, and ignored at least 10 commands from the five officers on the scene to drop it.
Murray said that Scott bought the gun – a Colt .380 semi-automatic that had been stolen in Gaston County – 18 days before the confrontation for $100. One bullet was found in the chamber of the cocked gun, the safety was off and Murray said Scott’s DNA was found on the grip and slide.
The person who sold the gun to Scott admitted to doing so when confronted by state and federal law enforcement, according to a prosecutor’s report on the shooting. “The seller said that Scott asked him to find him a weapon because he was having problems with his wife and her family, specifically his nephew,” the report said.
Murray said that speculation in the community that Scott was unarmed – initial reports from a family member on Facebook said he was holding a book – were untrue.
“A reading book was not found in the front or back seats of Mr. Scott’s SUV,” Murray said.
People who claimed on social media that they had seen the shooting and Scott was unarmed later recanted – three people who’d made the claim told State Bureau of Investigation agents in interviews that they hadn’t actually seen the shooting, Murray said.
Murray said he ran the evidence in the case past 15 veteran prosecutors in his office and they were unanimous in their recommendation that there was insufficient evidence to charge Vinson in the case. Two of those prosecutors were African-American and one was Latino, Murray said.
Meanwhile, the president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP called Wednesday for a federal investigation into the shooting of Scott.
Local NAACP President Corine Mack, who attended a meeting of clergy and community leaders at Little Rock AME Zion Church before the protest, said she was disappointed but not surprised at Murray’s decision.
She called for more police accountability and transparency, and for an independent federal investigation into the Scott killing and law enforcement’s response to it.
“I am still very deeply disturbed,” Mack said. She said the episode brought to light problems such as lack of economic opportunity and social mobility for minorities.
“This goes beyond killing people,” Mack said. “The system was never made for black people.”
Earlier in the day, anger and frustration spilled out at a community meeting Wednesday afternoon in Belmont, north of uptown, after prosecutors’ announcement.
Hosted by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee, the Belmont meeting was a chance for community members to stand before the news cameras as District Attorney Andrew Murray and lawyers for the Scott family had done earlier in the day.
The Rev. Ray McKinnon of South Tryon United Methodist Church said that whether the shooting was legally justified is the wrong question.
“The question is whether that is a valuing of life,” he said. “It is on us all to remember that – a life was lost, a life that is the embodiment of what is wrong with our broken system. We have to say it is never OK to shoot first and ask questions later.”
But others said conflicts with police run both ways.
“We talk to youth, teaching them options,” said Frederick Adams of the group The M.E.N. The group’s advice on avoiding confrontations with police? “Follow the directions of that officer and it’s less likely that something will happen.”
Added Shaun Corbett, who owns a North Tryon Street barbershop: “It boils down to fear on both sides. We’re all afraid, and it’s up to the community how we get rid of that.”
In a statement after Wednesday’s announcement that no charges would be filed against Officer Brentley Vinson, Scott’s family asked that protests remain peaceful.
“We respectfully ask that you please keep any protests that may occur peaceful,” it said. “Responding to violence with violence is never an appropriate response. This is just one more step in our quest for justice.”
But Charlotte Uprising members unfurled a banner before the TV cameras at the Belmont community meeting: “How to get away with murder: Become a cop.”
The group reacted to city officials’ statements that police were ready for a protest Wednesday night. “We know that’s not likely to have good connotations for what happens tonight,” said Ashley Williams of the coalition.
Charlotte Center City Partners urged uptown building managers to take precautions. Among them were to remove or chain down tables, chairs, signs or planters; consider adding private security staff; and tell tenants, employees and guests to be vigilant.
The Mint Museum uptown said on its Facebook page that it would close early at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and reschedule planned programming. The Childress Klein YMCA in the One Wells Fargo building said it would close at 7 p.m.
The Scott shooting drew a crowd of protesters to the scene, and violence erupted overnight and continued into the early morning. It spread to uptown on Sept. 21, where bystanders and police were both injured, one man was fatally shot, and more than 100 people were arrested.
Gavin Off, Steve Harrison and Fred Clasen-Kelly contributed