North Carolina has a troubled past when it comes to police shootings. While Charlotte Police Chief, Kerr Putney may have inherited the problem, he also exacerbated it. The PR handling in the latest high profile police shooting case is excruciatingly painful to watch.
Charlotte NC endured another night of protests since police shot unarmed Keith Lamont Scott. The investigation is ongoing, but what has been released publicly is that Scott was the father of 7 who was waiting for his son to come home from school. Police mistook him for another man they were trying to find to serve a warrant.
While there was disagreement about whether he was holding a book or a gun when he was shot, according to North Carolina Gun Laws, legally it doesn’t matter. In North Carolina, the open carry law allows for citizens to carry a gun to protect themselves. And since Scott reportedly didn’t use the gun (or book) in a threatening manner and he was also not the man they were actually looking for, it is a case with many police errors and legal concerns.
While the cop who shot Scott allegedly wasn’t wearing a body camera, the American Civil Liberties Union is demanding that the police release their video footage from other cameras at the scene. The Charlotte Observer reports that all patrol officers were given body cameras in 2015, however 3 out of 4 police shootings since then mysteriously weren’t caught on camera. One video that was actually released by police shows a 47 year-old woman, Chieu Di Thi Vo meandering down a sidewalk when shot by a cop.
The police allege she was “a threat” to the officer. But after watching the video, I agree with the family of Chieu Di Thi Vo that in the video, she did not appear to be an imminent threat. Ultimately this is at the crux of the main problems in high-profile cases, people interpret the same events differently.
Normal citizens watching the video of the Vo murder might think that the video clearly shows the officer had an error in judgement, while police department officials view the same video and say the officer’s response appropriate and justified. But if he was trying to stop the woman he considered a threat, why not simply use his taser? And if this questionable video is one that the police deemed suitable for release, then other videos not released to public must have been extraordinarily damning for the police departments in question.
And to muddle matters worse, the Vo case, like so many others, is one in which the victim did not speak English as her native language. Just because a person is not obeying an officers commands, does not give the officer the right to shoot. There are many factors to be considered, such as ability to hear officer’s commands, ability to understand commands, mental stability, disabilities and the person’s age. And to be factored into the viewing is the police officer’s state of mind at the time and information the officer received before arriving at the scene and whether it was accurate or not. Adrenaline could theoretically offer clarity, or it may cloud judgement of what is actually going on. Critical thinking is important as police often arrive at a situation with inaccurate information.
Another twist in the most recent North Carolina case is the police department’s use of body cameras at all. In 2015, patrol cops were given body cameras in an attempt to clarify cases and defend the actions of police. Oddly, this year NC passed a law to ban the viewing of those videos. However, the law isn’t set to go into affect unto October, which means the Charlotte police department could release the Keith Scott video to clear up the controversy and end the rowdy protests, rather than drain federal resources by asking for help from the National Guard.
Another waste of resources is the $7 million spent on body cameras in Charlotte alone in 2015. This summer Gov. Pat McCrory passed a highly-criticized law preventing body camera videos to be public record. Odd since in 2015, the NC House voted to provide grant matching to help police departments pay for body cameras.
Police Chief Kerr Putney just announced he will not release the Scott video footage. Highly ironic, since in April he reportedly was against the new body cam bill. The point in having body cameras is for total transparency and to provide the outraged pubic with answers so they aren’t forced to speculate or protest. But it seems North Carolina officials are only releasing the videos that support their cases, which negates the whole point in body cameras and transparency. Police are not only shooting civilians, but also shooting themselves in the foot.
Right now, the wrongful death of Keith Scott, coupled with complete lack of transparency by the police departments in this case and previous others, has created a hostile, unruly situation in Charlotte.
Prior to Keith Scott’s death, the last high-profile accidental shooting of an unarmed man was less than a month ago, when NC State Trooper shot and killed Daniel Harris, a deaf man who didn’t pull over for a speeding ticket, allegedly because he couldn’t hear the siren. A new video has surfaced alleging that the police pulled Daniel Harris over, then he drove off, which lead to the pursuit in which he was shot. However the video is from far away and it isn’t clear in the video if the man in the car was actually Daniel Harris or if this is a completely unrelated video. Something that the NC investigation will hopefully address. Right now they are not commenting on the video about their shooting of an unarmed disabled man. And their closed door approach makes them look more guilty than innocent.
In 2015, a bizarre story unfolded about a NC police officer murdering 24 year-old Jonathan Ferrell. Ferrell was in a car crash and couldn’t find his phone to call for help. We walked to the closest house to ask the resident to call for help. The startled woman called the police. The police arrived, then turned off their dashboard camera and proceeded to taser, beat and shoot the car crash survivor. I consider this premeditated murder since the officers turned off the camera when they arrived at the scene, yet the trial ended in a hung jury. As I read the old news from the trial last year, I’m saddened by this quote from the mother of the deceased, “We can do everything in our power to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
So when one reads that “Charlotte has erupted in protests” they should consider that locals outrage at the death of Keith Lamont Scott is not an isolated incident, but rather a deadly pattern that has emerged in the Tar Heel state.
While I don’t agree with angry mob mentality, residents of NC should be outraged and demanding answers from local and state officials. And because of the protests, Police are now additionally having to address the issues of security and safety in Charlotte as well as the issue of a protestor also being shot. NC Gov. Pat McCrory has already declared a state of emergency. Although historically known as ‘First in Flight’ North Carolina might want to consider ‘First in Fight’ as an option for their state plates.
The Charlotte police could learn a lot about handling police shooting cases from the case of North Charleston, SC police shooting of Walter Scott. When a video produced proof that the officer shot an unarmed man, the local police promptly disavowed the officer. North Charleston, while it received a lot of national publicity for this case, did not erupt in violence. That case is still ongoing, but there is no civil unrest in North Charleston.
Another problem in North Carolina is the lack of information coming from the NC Department of Justice, mixed with current national media coverage on shootings of people with disabilities and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Ruderman Family Foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit group, released a three year study this year that claims that people with disabilities accounted for half of all high-profile police-related. Among many studies, they reference an analysis of cases by the San Diego County District Attorney’s office which looked at “all officer-involved shootings from 1993-2012, 358 cases total, and found that 81% had mental illness, were impaired by drugs, or both.” Eighty-one percent is alarming. Even GQ magazine addresses the problems of police violence against people with disabilities.
An important component to consider in North Carolina is that these same three years that the Ruderman Family Foundation references, happen to be be the same three years that the North Carolina Department of Justice is NOT reporting about. They stopped sharing their annual crime statistics in 2012. Presumably because, like the current body-camera video, it does not show them in a good light.
Since government agencies have become reluctant to share their crime statistics, other organizations have started picking up their slack. The Guardian reaches out to readers to try and get a handle on the number of murders by police. A disturbing list is posted online at Killedbypolice.net that shows the number of Americans, not just shot, but killed monthly by police: over 57 so far in September alone! The civilians killed in September range in age from 13 to 69. While the numbers for August 2016 show 99 people killed by police, ranging in ages from 14 to 84. No matter what the circumstances, how can we justify our government killing children and seniors?
Apparently while the number of civilian deaths continues to rise, the number of police deaths continue to drop. The alarming statistic that blacks are being shot at a rate 2.5 higher than white is unbelievably disturbing, and the fact that anyone is getting shot by police is also unsettling. The devastating number of unarmed and underage people shot by police is socially irresponsible.
According to the BBC, “The debate over this continues, both on the streets and in academia.”
How can the US find a balance of keeping everyone alive? In my opinion, all lives matter. Rather than pointing fingers and continuing more violence like what is happening now in Charlotte, Americans should search for solutions to stop the violence on everyone – cops, blacks, whites, Asians, immigrants, women, children, elderly, etc. Americans should require reform and new laws from their local, state and federal government elected officials, and they should demand laws that are for transparency, not against it.