Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Second Night of Unrest Erupts in Charlotte in Wake of Police Killing of African American
Tonya Maxwell and Melanie Eversley
9:24 p.m. EDT September 21, 2016

Charlotte's police chief Kerr Putney disputed social media reports about the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. Police say Scott had a gun, but witnesses say he only had a book. USA TODAY NETWORK

CHARLOTTE — A second night of dramatic protests gripped this North Carolina city Wednesday night, one day after a police-involved shooting of an African-American man led to angry demonstrations, smashed windows and trucks set ablaze.

Protesters beat against a police van and broke a window of the Ciity Smoke barbecue restaurant and bar downtown. Some yelled "hands up, don't shoot." Police tossed out smoke bombs. Protesters running outside of the Omni Charlotte Hotel said someone had been shot but that could not immediately be confirmed Wednesday night.

Church services also were planned in the wake of the shooting death Tuesday of Keith Lamont Hill, 43, who police say was armed and ignored commands to drop his weapon. Scott's family says the father of seven had a book in his hand.

Sixteen police officers were wounded in the violence that erupted Tuesday night in this North Carolina hub after word of the shooting spread across the country.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney, at a news conference Wednesday, rejected claims Scott was holding a book, not a gun, and said the gun had been recovered by detectives. No book was found, Putney said.

“It’s time to change the narrative, because I can tell you from the facts that the story’s a little bit different as to how it’s been portrayed so far, especially through social media,” Putney added.

As the city tried to cope with the sudden outbreak of anger and violence, students gathered Wednesday afternoon on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte as part of a silent protest. The campus is about a 20-minute walk from Scott's home.

About 200 students gathered at the student union with an already planned administration meeting scheduled, said Justice White of the school's Black Student Union.

“We want to focus making others aware of police brutality,” she said. “This happened in our front yard and it’s important that we fight these stereotypes. People think we don’t care as students, that we are off in our own world, and black people are made out to be these thugs, which just isn’t true.”

Student protester Katrina Williams is a young African-American woman and big sister to four boys 8-years-old and up.

“I fear from my brothers who are younger than me, and the things I’ve gone through, I don’t want them to go through,” she said.

In addition to the Marshall Park gathering, special church services were also called at a half dozen places of worship.

The Charlotte Chamber of Commerce expressed its condolences to the Scott family, as well as to those injured in the protests, while calling on business owners to be prepared for any new violence. It said businesses should "keep everything as normal as possible," but also take care to remove or chain down all tables, chairs, signs or planters.

The shooting took place four days after a Tulsa police officer fatally shot an unarmed black man who was standing outside his vehicle. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch called for calm in both cities and across the nation. Lynch said the Justice Department opened a civil rights probe into the death of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa and was "assessing" Scott's death.

“These tragic incidents have once again left Americans with feelings of sorrow, anger and uncertainty,’’ Lynch said. “They have once again highlighted – in the most vivid and painful terms – the real divisions that still persist in this nation between law enforcement and communities of color.’’

Gov. Pat McCrory issued a statement pledging support for Putney and Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts in their efforts to "keep the community calm and to get this situation resolved."

In Charlotte, Putney said police dashcams recorded parts of the confrontation, and the videos were being reviewed. The African-American officer who shot Scott, identified as Brentley Vinson, was not wearing a body camera, Putney said.

The ACLU called on the police department to "promptly" release the videos "in the interest of transparency and accountability." The advocacy group also demanded an explanation for why Vinson was not wearing a body camera.

Putney said officers were searching for a suspect with an outstanding warrant Tuesday afternoon at The Village at College Downs when they observed a man — not the person they were looking for — inside a vehicle at the apartment complex.

Putney said the man, Scott, exited the vehicle with a gun as officers yelled at him to drop it. Scott ignored the command and was shot by a Vinson, a two-year veteran of the force, Putney said. Vinson was placed on administrative leave pending the investigation.

"It's a tragic event, and my heart goes out to the Scott family for their loss," Putney said.

Several residents at a condominium near the scene of the shooting said the neighborhood, which includes locals and University of North Carolina at Charlotte students, is quiet and safe.

Michelle Cooke, a resident, said she learned of the shooting when her 12-year-old daughter came home from school and asked about the police tape and helicopters.

“In this climate we’re living in, the job of law enforcement is to protect lives as well as it is to protect themselves. Unnecessary shootings should not take place,” she said. “If he did not point a gun, there is no reason to shoot him. This is why the issue of Black Lives Matter is important.”

“For non-marginalized groups, who have not faced oppression, it might be hard to understand why we protest and say that black lives do matter,” Cooke added.

Temako McCarthy, whose son LaReko Williams died in 2011 after he was tasered by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police, arrived at the complex Wednesday afternoon to show solidarity with Scott’s family.

“If an officer is scared behind the trigger of a gun, that’s scarier than a person who is walking down the street,” McCarthy said. “They need to have an outside sector come in, instead of taking care of this internally.”

Steve Knight, a white pastor at Charlotte's Missiongathering Christian Church, told USA TODAY he arrived at the scene about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. He said he talked to members of Scott's family as well as neighbors. All said Scott routinely sat in his car reading, waiting for his son's school bus.

Knight, 41, said he questions Putney's version of events.

"I find it difficult to believe, the story that the police are telling," he said. "Until we see video from the scene, and we see a gun, I for one am personally not going to believe that story."

George Shears III, pastor at Greater Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte, said the demonstration started out peaceful but "began to boil over very quickly."

By 11 p.m., some protesters were throwing rocks and bottles at police, who remained stoic, Shears said. He said he left when police began firing tear gas.

"That enraged the crowd," Shears, 34, said. "I didn't see any police cars burning, anything like that. I didn't expect that from the city. But people are angry and hurt and sometimes you just gotta let it out."

In the hours that followed, Putney said demonstrators, joined by "agitators," damaged at least two police cars, set fire to a trailer, looted a Walmart store and shut down part of Interstate 85. One arrest was made, he said.

"People are watching how we respond, how we react," Putney said. "I'm optimistic we will have positive outcomes, but it's time for the voiceless majority to stand up and be heard."

Nation of Islam representative B.J. Murphy, speaking later Wednesday, said the people of Charlotte were demanding justice. He called on "all black people to keep your money in your pocket. Let everybody feel the pain economically of what we are feeling physically when you kill us."

Maxwell reports for the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times. Eversley reported from New York. Contributing: John Bacon in McLean, Va.

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