Protesters clashed with riot police and shut down a major highway overnight in Charlotte, North Carolina, after city police shot and killed 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott on Tuesday afternoon.
Scott was reportedly sitting in his truck waiting for one of his children to get home from school when plainclothes officers began to serve a warrant on a different man in a nearby apartment complex. Police and Scott’s family offer very different accounts of what happened next.
Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department Chief Kerr Putney says that Scott got out of his truck holding a handgun, prompting officer Brentley Vinson to shoot and kill him. But neighbors and family members say Scott was unarmed and reading a book when the non-uniformed officers came upon him and Vinson, who is reportedly black, fired.
“He didn’t have no gun. He wasn’t messing with nobody,” a woman identified as Scott’s sister told local news reporters Tuesday. “All he did, them jump-out boys, them undercover detectives, they jumped out their truck, they said ‘hands up, he got a gun,’ pow-pow-pow-pow. That’s it.”
Protesters angry about the killing quickly filled streets nearby the scene of the killing on the city’s north end, close to the University of North Carolina-Charlotte campus.
As day turned to night, a handful of protesters climbed atop an apparently empty police vehicle and kicked at its windshield. Police in riot gear turned out in response. Police said roughly a dozen officers were injured in clashes that followed. Al Jazeera reports that at least one protester was also injured.
Later in the night, protesters blocked a stretch of I-85 roughly three miles west of the apartments where Scott was killed. Some threw tear gas cannisters back toward police, and others pulled items out of a semi truck and set them ablaze.
Scott is at least the 16th black American to die in an interaction with police in the past four weeks. His killing comes hard on the heels of Terence Crutcher’s death in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where video shows a white officer shooting the unarmed man while he stands next to his car. And days before Crutcher’s death, officers in Columbus, Ohio, shot and killed 13-year-old Tyre King as he played with a BB gun.
Scott’s death also comes just over a year after the last high-profile scar on police-community relations in Charlotte.
On August 21, 2015, CMPD officer Randall Kerrick got off on voluntary manslaughter charges over his killing of Jonathan Ferrell. Ferrell had sought help at a nearby house in September 2013 after crashing his car, only to have the woman living there call police.
Kerrick shot Ferrell a dozen times. His justifications for this actions invoked nearly every cliched depiction of frightening black masculinity imaginable. After a hung jury resulted in a mistrial, prosecutors declined to re-try the case and Kerrick resigned from the force.
UPDATE: On Wednesday morning, the Charlotte Police Department revised their estimate of the number of officers injured during the altercations to 16.
“The extent of injuries varied but they were all minor enough that they would be released,” said Police Chief Kerr Putney during a Wednesday morning press conference. “One was much more severe than the rest, though.”
Putney also went into greater detail about the circumstances surrounding Scott’s killing.
“He exited the vehicle armed with a handgun. The officers observed him get back into the vehicle, at which time they approached the vehicle to engage this subject,” he said. “The officers gave loud, clear verbal commands which were also heard by many of the witnesses. They were instructing the subject once he got out of the vehicle to drop the weapon. In spite of the verbal commands, Mr. Scott exited the vehicle armed with a handgun as the officers continued to yell at him to drop it. He stepped out, posing a threat to the officers.”