Quiet returned to Charlotte streets Wednesday after a police-involved shooting of an African-American man ignited a night of anger and violence that left windows smashed, stores looted, trucks set ablaze and 16 police officers wounded in the melee.
The violence erupted hours after the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott, 43, who police say was armed and ignored several commands to drop his weapon.
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 added.
“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 said.
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 had 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.’’
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 Brently 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." Th 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 an 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.
Hours after the shooting, protests began. George Shears III, pastor at Greater Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte, said he joined the demonstration at 10 p.m. and it was still peaceful.
"It was very emotional, but it began to boil over very quickly," Shears said.
By the time he left at 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" set fires 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."
Mayor Jennifer Roberts appealed for calm.
"I am asking our community, asking the people here to please wait until all the information is available," she said. "We have a long history of transparency and accountability, which we remain committed to."
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