A year after Keith Lamont Scott shooting, Charlotte hasn’t done enough

The Observer editorial board

Protesters hold a moment of silence for Keith Lamont Scott in November after the officer who shot him was cleared.
Protesters hold a moment of silence for Keith Lamont Scott in November after the officer who shot him was cleared. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

One year after Keith Lamont Scott was killed, everything has changed and little has changed.

The police shooting of Scott a year ago Wednesday and the protests that ripped through our city afterward changed everything – for his friends and family, certainly, but also for how we see ourselves. And yet there is an uneasy feeling that Charlotte has done very little to prevent a similar tragedy from happening today, and that if one did, the city would not be prepared to handle it differently.

Tensions that are generations in the making aren’t resolved overnight, or even in a year. But Charlotte has long prided itself on being a “can-do” place. So it is right to have high expectations for its response to one of its sternest challenges. To our eyes, that response has been inadequate.

Consider all the places more could be done:

As former Sen. Malcolm Graham told Observer reporter Ely Portillo this week, “People were not out there rioting and looting because they wanted more affordable housing. We have to address the elephant in the middle of the room, which is police relations within the city of Charlotte.”

Police Chief Kerr Putney says his department is more transparent and is expanding the use of officers’ body cameras. City Council members say police have tried to improve relations with residents.

But many residents don’t feel it. The city said only Tuesday that it had received Police Foundation recommendations seven months after the city agreed to pay it $400,000 to review CMPD policies. Putney has said the department will continue to routinely investigate its own officers’ shootings rather than inviting independent reviews. The Citizens Review Board that examines police conduct has no more power today.

On the flip side, another aspect that hasn’t changed: Some activists making unfounded allegations against police. Some long maintained that Scott was unarmed, and they still question even today whether police killed protester Justin Carr. An investigation found that Scott was armed and did not drop his gun despite repeated commands, and there is no evidence that police killed Carr.

The City Council, for its part, vowed to tackle jobs and affordable housing in addition to police procedures. It has taken only baby steps on those fronts. The city claims it is on track to fulfill a promise to create 5,000 affordable housing units in three years, but many of those are merely refurbished, not newly constructed, units and 5,000 falls far short of the need in any case.

The Opportunity Task Force did stellar work identifying causes of and potential solutions to the city’s glacial economic mobility. Yet a council formed to implement those solutions was announced only Tuesday, six months after the task force’s work was unveiled.

It is tempting to expect an event as seismic as the Scott shooting and protests to lead to monumental change. Such an expectation may be unrealistic; it may also be essential.

We have so far to go. We have no time to waste. We are moving too slowly.