Curfew Calms But Doesn't Stop Police Protests in Charlotte
By Jaweed Kaleem and Jenny Jarvie
Protesters gathered in Charlotte for a third straight night Thursday, as National Guard troops patrolled the streets and the city instituted a midnight curfew in hopes of heading off the violence that erupted after a black man was fatally shot by police.
Large crowds swept chanting through the streets, at one point surging onto Interstate 277 before police drove them back with tear gas.
"Move back! Move back!" police shouted, eventually restoring the free flow of traffic on the busy thoroughfare.
While Wednesday's protests saw hotel windows smashed and demonstrators pushed back by tear gas and riot police, Thursday night's demonstrations unfolded without major incident.
In some cases, citizens positioned themselves as buffers between the angriest demonstrators and the police.
"All we need is to let people know, stop killing God's people," one man shouted as he stood, raised above the cheering crowd.
Mayor Jennifer Roberts signed a midnight curfew order early in the evening, but as the deadline came and went, protesters showed few signs of dispersing.
At least 100 people continued to make their way through the streets, and police suggested the curfew would be enforced only if there were trouble.
"We hope things remain peaceful," said Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Capt. Mike Campagna.
By 12:30 p.m., police had made no curfew-related arrests.
The night was not entirely without incident. Two officers were "sprayed with a chemical agent by demonstrators" and receiving medical attention, the Police Department said on Twitter without providing more details.
The family of the slain man, 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott, on Thursday was allowed to watch police videos of the killing, and an attorney for the family urged officials to make the footage public.
But Police Chief Kerr Putney said he had no intention of doing so.
"Transparency is in the eye of the beholder," he told reporters. "If you think I say we should display a victim's worst day for public consumption, that is not the transparency I'm speaking of."
Police have said that Scott emerged from his vehicle with a gun and refused orders to drop it; Scott's family members contend that he was not armed.
The ensuing unrest has left more than a dozen police and civilians injured and one protester dead.
Clergy and activists who had protested the police shooting of Scott said Thursday they were planning more vigils and community meetings in hopes of quelling the violence.
By early Thursday evening, military Humvees were parked in the streets.
A crowd of hundreds worked its way from the area of the county courthouse and jail, west on East 4th Street and up North College Street, converging with another, smaller crowd gathered by the Omni Hotel.
"We want the tape," marchers yelled, calling for the release of video showing Tuesday's shooting by police. "If we don't get no justice, they don't get no peace!"
They passed officers in neon-yellow shirts blocking the entrance to the Charlotte Transit Center.
The protesters, a racially diverse group primarily in their 20s and 30s, paused by the site of the shooting before 10 p.m. as a small group lighted memorial candles outside the Omni.
"Justice is not justification," read a sign one protester held. "White silence = neglect," said another sign.
Protesters headed down Main Street toward Interstate 277, aiming to shut down the highway. A few dozen reached the highway around the same time dozens of police emerged from vans in riot gear and fired tear gas.
Protesters fled across the highway as a helicopter flew overhead.
Not far away, a protestor prayed with a police officer and a marcher stopped to hug a guardsman.
Two musicians -- one black, one white -- had set up an amp and were playing covers of pop songs, including DNCE's "Cake By The Ocean." They said they were playing for peace in Charlotte.
The curfew was scheduled to run through 6 a.m. The city said it would be in effect each day until the city revokes it or lifts its state of emergency.
"We cannot tolerate any type of violence," North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said at a news conference Thursday.
"We're not going to let a few hours give a negative impact on a great city," the Republican governor said.
Many businesses remained closed Thursday as major corporations -- Wells Fargo and Bank of America among them -- urged employees to stay away from their downtown offices. Cleanup crews and volunteers worked overnight to board up damaged buildings and sweep shards of glass from sidewalks. Protesters had thrown rocks at hotel and restaurant windows and sprayed "Black lives matter" on a wall outside a Hyatt hotel.
Meanwhile, a North Carolina congressman apologized Thursday for a statement he made in an interview with the BBC, in which he said the violence in Charlotte stems from protesters who "hate white people because white people are successful, and they're not."
Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Republican whose district includes parts of the city beset by protests, said later it was his "anguish" over the violence that led him to respond "in a way that I regret."
Sharply different narratives have emerged not only around the original police shooting, but on the protests it sparked.
Police said one protester, 26-year-old Justin Carr, was shot Wednesday and died the next day.
"Don't know how to feel!" his mother, Ann Carr, posted on Facebook on Thursday before he died.
"My baby is fighting for his Life! Please if your gonna protest do it peacefully! My baby was shot in the head for no apparent reason!"
The victim was shot by another civilian, the city said on its Twitter account.
Several protesters, however, said they saw police fire rubber bullets that hit the man.
Two officers were left with minor eye injuries, three officers were treated for heat-related conditions, and eight civilians were injured, Putney said. Police arrested 44 protesters for failure to disperse, assault, and breaking and entering.
"This has been a difficult couple of days for the city of Charlotte," Mayor Roberts said at a news conference Thursday. "The events that we saw last night are not the Charlotte that I know and love. In Charlotte we have a long tradition of working together to solve our problems, of working collaboratively, and I urge everyone to continue that tradition."
Roberts pledged that the city would conduct a thorough investigation into the shooting. "It's important that we have a full and transparent investigation of the original incident and we are working very hard in a collaborative way to ensure the integrity of that investigation."
North Carolina's State Bureau of Investigation has already begun to investigate Scott's shooting to determine whether charges should be filed against the officer who shot him. The local district attorney's office said in a statement that it has been in contact with the FBI and U.S. Justice Department, providing them "information to assist with their review of the matter."
The shooting was captured on police video by a body camera and a dashboard camera.
Justin Bamberg, an attorney for the Scott family, released a statement Thursday saying that the videos show that Scott calmly followed orders to exit his vehicle and that it was impossible to see whether he was holding anything.
He was shot while slowly walking backward with his hands at his side, the statement said.
Bamberg urged police to make the videos public.
Scott did not own a handgun, let alone carry one, Bamberg said.
"We still don't know if there was or was not a gun even there," he said. "There are witnesses who are saying that no gun was there. There are witnesses who say that a gun was put there. There are witnesses who say that a gun may have been pulled out of the car. There is too much talk. We are here to get answers."
Putney said the police video did not give him "absolute definitive visual evidence" that would confirm that a person is pointing a gun. But the "totality of all other evidence" supported "the version of the truth" that the police had given about Scott's death, he said.
"There's your truth, my truth and the truth. Some people have already made up their minds about what happened," he said.
Scott was confronted Tuesday by police outside a Charlotte condominium complex.
Brentley Vinson, the officer police identified as having shot Scott, is also black. He has been placed on administrative leave, a routine procedure following an officer-involved shooting.
Police say Vinson was at a University City apartment complex looking for a suspect with an outstanding warrant -- not Scott -- but came upon Scott shortly before 4 p.m. Scott got out of the truck with a gun, according to police, then got back in the truck. Police said that they told Scott to drop the gun but that he got back out of the vehicle with the gun and "posed an imminent deadly threat" before the officer shot him.
(c)2016 the Los Angeles Times