What exactly happened when Keith Lamont Scott, 43, was shot dead by a Charlotte police officer Tuesday in the University City area of the city? As the story has unfolded through police, officers were looking for someone with an outstanding warrant, and it wasn’t Scott. But they saw him in his car, and they saw him get out of it and then back in, and he had a handgun, police say. When he didn’t drop the weapon as ordered, police say, he was shot.
Scott’s family believes he was an innocent victim. Now the Charlotte police chief says he will allow the family to see video of the confrontation as recorded by police dashboard and body cameras. But that footage will not be made public, at least not yet.
Unfortunately, North Carolina law treats body camera footage as “personnel information” that is therefore not accessible to the public. The law will change on Oct. 1, but there remain restrictions on release of video that favor the desire of law enforcement to control its release.
The shooting in Charlotte came less than a week after a fatal shooting in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in which a black man was shot by a white officer who is reported to have believed the man was under the influence. (The person killed and the officer in Charlotte’s Tuesday incident are African-American.) But a video of the incident shows the man with his arms in the air walking to his SUV. The officer who shot him was charged Thursday with manslaughter.
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Charlotte was plagued after the Tuesday tragedy by disturbances downtown and in other places, and one man was shot – not by police – during one protest gathering. People also looted stores. The Queen City was declared under a state of emergency by Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor.
It is understandable that there is doubt and anger and skepticism about the police after all the incidents with racial factors involved since the 2014 shooting of a black man by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri. That does not justify destructive demonstrations and looting, however. But police and state officials must remain aware of and sensitive to the need to release as much information as they can and as soon as they can after an incident of violence involving law officers. Delay only raises the level of suspicion among members of the public and therefore, rightly or wrongly, damages the credibility of law enforcement.