Charlotte, a city built on banking and committed to serving business interests, has always carefully tended its image. It would be big, but Southern friendly, religious but committed to major league sports and entertainment, in accord with the chamber of commerce, but supportive of its poor.
Last week that carefully balanced picture was upended by other images. The first came from the daughter of Keith Lamont Scott, a man fatally shot by police Tuesday. She streamed live video over Facebook in which she cursed at police and said her father had been holding a book, not a gun.
Then came the image of police officials withholding public release of dash cam and body camera videos of the shooting.
Then came national TV images of protests, looting and vandalism.
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Then a BBC TV interview in which U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Republican whose district includes parts of Charlotte, said the Charlotte protesters “hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.” He later apologized.
And finally there was the emergence on Friday of a shaky, expletive-laced mobile phone video taken by Scott’s wife moments before he was shot.
“He doesn’t have a gun,” Rakeyia Scott tells the police as they confront her husband sitting in his vehicle in their apartment complex parking lot. “He has a T.B.I.” — an abbreviation for traumatic brain injury. “He’s not going to do anything to you guys. He just took his medicine.”
Police are heard demanding that Scott drop a gun. Then there are shots and the final image of Scott laying on the ground. As the video went viral, so much of what Charlotte built up seems to lie collapsed beside him.
A strong response
The events of last week have rattled the marketing image of Charlotte. But now the city can show its real strengths in response to its real problems.
Charlotte police have begun by deciding to release – after a three-day delay – police videos of the shooting scene. There was a sensible reason for holding the images in order to test the validity of eyewitness accounts, but that procedural advantage in one case is trumped by the greater need to show police transparency and accountability in this and all cases. The city’s leaders and its delegation to the state legislature should also push to amend a new state law effective Oct. 1 that blocks the public release of law enforcement recordings from body cameras or dashboard cameras with limited exceptions.
Charlotte can also take the lead in evaluating its police force’s training in how to deescalate situations. Regardless of whether Scott had a gun, his wife’s video shows that the confrontation escalated rapidly. One option for the police may have been to have Mrs. Scott talk to her husband rather than ignoring her pleas not to shoot him.
A better balance
This is also a time for Charlotte to look anew at the balance of the city, its patterns of housing, its areas of high unemployment and the racial diversity of its schools. The police shooting exploded amid a national debate about the use of deadly force against blacks, but it also showed frustration within the city itself. How prevalent is Pittenger’s view that the frustration in low-income, African-American communities arises from resentment rather than neglect?
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and members of the City Council have shown compassion and courage in standing up for the rights of gay and transgender people in the face of the state’s discriminatory HB2 law. They can do the same on the issues of race and policing.
Charlotte’s business community has done more than build a mirage of a New South city. It has built a great city of business that isn’t all business. The arts, entertainment, sports and higher education flourish there. Now there are problems to admit and to address in support of building a better Charlotte.