More than two months ago, the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott sparked thousands of protesters into the streets of Charlotte. His death led to days of demonstrations including some that turned violent. They wanted justice for a black man who they felt lost his life due to excessive police force.
On Wednesday, a more subdued scene played out following the announcement that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Officer Brentley Vinson would not be charged for fatally shooting the 43-year-old man in an apartment complex parking lot. The decision concluded a two-month long investigation into whether the shooting was justified.
In response, about 100 protesters marched through downtown’s streets Wednesday night to share their disappointment. Though they carried signs continuing to express outrage — containing messages like “How to get away with murder: become a cop” — the rally was tamer. Police and the press outnumbered protesters, according to CNN’s Ryan Young.
“If we don’t get no justice then you don’t get no peace,” they chanted.
Police officers arrested at least four protesters as they were attempting to corral them off the streets. Three were taken into custody for obstructing traffic — a far cry from the dozens of arrests made during the last round of rallies.
“We support right to lawful protest,” CMPD tweeted. “[The department] asks those involved to simply obey the laws.”
Setting the record straight
For months, Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray studied evidence cobbled together by state investigators, which he ran by 15 other prosecutors for extra opinions. They all agreed with his decision.
After meeting with Scott’s family Wednesday morning, Murray told reporters he rejected a series of “erroneous claims” that were made in the days after the shooting. The claims fueled widespread misconceptions about what actually happened, he said.
Murray said that “all the credible evidence” led to the conclusion that Scott was armed. After the shooting, Scott’s relatives said he didn’t have a gun, but investigators found his DNA on the grip of a gun found at the scene.
Shortly before the shooting, Scott visited a local convenience store where surveillance video showed a bulge around Scott’s ankle. Officers later described it in a way that was consistent with the shape of a holster and gun, Murray said.
Protesters had initially repeated the remarks of a woman who claimed to have seen a white officer shoot Scott. Later, however, the woman told investigators she hadn’t actually seen the shooting, according to Murray. He noted that Vinson, who is black, was the only officer who shot Scott. He said an analysis of the other officers’ guns showed those guns were fully loaded, while Vinson’s gun was missing several bullets.
Likewise, Scott’s daughter posted a video on Facebook Live after the shooting that said her father was reading a book inside his car. But the daughter wasn’t a witness and no book was found at the scene, Murray said.
The prosecutor said that officers told Scott at least 10 times to drop the weapon before Vinson opened fire.
Murray said that while criminal charges are not appropriate, “I know some are going to be frustrated.”
Scott’s family attorneys: Our work isn’t over
While Vinson won’t face charges, Scott family attorney Charles Monnett said the decision “doesn’t end our inquiry.”
“We still have concerns,” Monnett said. “We still have real questions about what decisions were made that day,” such as whether police could have used better de-escalation techniques that may have prevented Scott’s death.
Another Scott family attorney, Justin Bamberg, acknowledged that “it’s safe to say he did have a gun on his person,” but there was no definitive proof that he had the gun in his hand.
The district attorney said while police reported seeing Scott with both marijuana and a gun, there was no evidence to show Scott raised the gun. Regardless, Murray said, Scott “could have raised his gun at any point” to shoot officers.
Two months of tensions
Scott’s death sparked massive protests — sometimes violent — and fueled the national debate about whether police are too quick to use deadly force, particularly against black men.
The fact that the officer is also black doesn’t matter, some Charlotte residents said.
The deadly encounter started when police said they were looking for a person with an outstanding warrant at an apartment complex. That’s when Scott, 43, exited a vehicle with a gun.
After widespread demands for the release of dashcam video, officials released the footage in October. But it didn’t tell the complete story, such as whether Scott was holding or raising a gun.
The police footage shows an officer in plain clothes with his weapon drawn on Scott. As Scott exits an SUV, he begins walking backward, prompting Vinson to fire four times.
Video taken by Scott’s widow shows a different perspective of what happened — but also doesn’t tell the complete story.
In that video, a man repeatedly yells for someone — apparently Scott — to “drop the gun.”
“He doesn’t have a gun. He has a TBI (traumatic brain injury),” Rakeyia Scott says, referencing an injury Scott suffered in a motorcycle accident. “He’s not going to do anything to you guys. He just took his medicine.”
Tests of Scott’s blood indicated the presence of diazepam, amantadine, babapentin, nicotine, nordiazepam and promethazine. Scott’s family attorney said the drugs were being used to treat Scott’s traumatic brain injury.
“We ask that everyone work together to fix the system that allowed this tragedy to happen in the first place,” the Scott family said in a statement.
Closed investigation, open ears
Back in September, Charlotte police officers had a major revelation following the death of Scott: Protesters perceived them as indifferent or apathetic to their concerns. CMPD does not allow officers who perform crowd control to hold conversations as they hold formation.
To help change that perception, CMPD formed groups known as “Constructive Conversation Teams” that meet with protesters in the streets to answer their questions and talk with people who they’re sworn to protect. They hope the effort reduces the level of police tensions throughout the city.
“These teams are listening to concerns, answering questions and engaging in constructive conversations with people,” a police statement said.
On Wednesday night, a handful of protesters mingled with police officers wearing bright yellow safety vests, making small talk in an attempt to build trust in the community. It was a start. For at least one night, protesters didn’t need a megaphone to be heard.