Conflicting Accounts in Charlotte Police Shooting Leads to Civil Unrest
A police shooting of an African American man in Charlotte, North Carolina is the latest law enforcement incident to cause civil unrest.
The shooting occurred Tuesday afternoon when police, looking for an unrelated person, came across Keith Lamont Scott in his vehicle. As is sadly common with many of these situations, the rest of the story depends on which narrative one believes.
Witnesses to the shooting, including members of Scott’s family, claim that the disabled, 43-year-old father was quietly reading a book while waiting for his son to arrive home on a school bus. They also allege that Scott was unarmed, and that the officer who shot him, Brently Vinson, was wearing plainclothes.
Scott’s daughter live-streamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook, crying out at one point, “The police just shot my daddy four times for being black. They tased him first and then shot him.”
The video quickly went viral on social media, with Scott’s name becoming a major trending topic on Twitter. By evening, dozens of people had gathered at the site of the shooting to protest. As the demonstrations continued into morning some turned violent.
— Adam Rhew (@AdamRhew) September 21, 2016
The situation continued to escalate, with protestors throwing rocks at cops, lighting fires, and shutting down traffic on a portion of Interstate 85. In the end, 16 officers were injured and at least one protestor arrested.
— Joe Bruno (@JoeBrunoWSOC9) September 21, 2016
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department released a press release on the incident that read, “Officers observed a subject inside a vehicle in the apartment complex. The subject exited the vehicle armed with a firearm. Officers observed the subject get back into the vehicle at which time they began to approach the subject. The subject got back out of the vehicle armed with a firearm and posed an imminent deadly threat to officers who subsequently fired their weapon striking the subject.”
On Wednesday morning, Police Chief Kerr Putney held a news conference regarding the killing. He provided new details, which seemed to corroborate the press release, contradicting the version of events that played out on social media Wednesday.
Putney began by saying, “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.”
The chief went on to describe the incident as such:
“The officers gave loud, clear verbal commands that were also heard by many of the witnesses. They were instructing the subject, once he got out of the vehicle, to drop the weapon. Despite the verbal commands, Mr. Scott exited the vehicle as the officers continued to yell at him to drop it. He stepped out, posing a threat to the officers, and Officer Brentley Vinson subsequently fired his weapon, striking the subject.”
The chief went on to describe what was found at the scene. “I can tell you a weapon was seized, a handgun, I can also tell you we did not find a book that was made reference to. We did find a weapon, and the witnesses corroborated it to, beyond just the officers.”
However, he could not confirm if the gun was loaded or actually pointed at officers in any manner, threatening or otherwise. Complicating matters further, North Carolina is an open carry state, meaning that having the gun out didn’t necessarily mean Scott was breaking the law.
Putney went on to explain that Officer Vinson, who is African American, was wearing elements of plainclothes, but did have a CMPD vest on. Vinson also wasn’t wearing a body camera, though other uniformed officers present at the time were.
Vinson has been out on paid leave, and the department’s homicide and internal affairs units are each independently investigating the shooting. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has said the Justice Department is aware of the shooting and monitoring the investigation.
Meanwhile, a GoFundMe page has been established to support Scott’s family.