Protesters in Charlotte are calling for the resignations of Police Chief Kerr Putney and Mayor Jennifer Roberts, charging them with what they say was a lack of transparency and the protection of city police officers at the expense of the family of Keith Lamont Scott, who was killed in a confrontation a week ago.
A number of speakers at the first city council meeting since the shooting demanded they step down.
“I’m here to ask for Chief Putney’s and your resignation, mayor,” said Henry Lee at the meeting Monday, according to The Charlotte Observer. “The way it was handled, the secrecy, the lies. We don’t deserve this. People are losing their lives, and you are backing these people with these policies. You don’t deserve to be mayor of this fine city. You are on the verge of bringing this fine city to its knees – step down.”
Demonstrators that gathered at a nearby church the same night also urged Mr. Putney to resign because they said they no longer trust him and his department, according to The New York Times.
These calls show the growing tension between the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the city’s black community that have come to a flashpoint with the death of Mr. Scott on Sept. 20. Chief Putney, who is black, has tried to bridge the mistrust between police and the black community, speaking about his own fears of police and their inherent bias. As in other cities, however, the situation in Charlotte shows how difficult this trust is to achieve as allegations of police mistreatment of blacks surface all over the country.
One driver of this tension has been video of the shooting of Scott. Scott’s family and protesters demanded the city release the footage. In a news conference Friday, Putney and Roberts initially said they couldn’t because it could jeopardize the State Bureau of Investigation’s probe, and the SBI must decide if the video should be released, according to The Charlotte Observer. But the SBI said later that day that the city was free to release the video, and Scott’s family released their own cellphone video of the shooting captured by Scott’s wife.
Putney and the city then changed their position, amid days of protests, nightly demonstrations, and candle vigils. Putney said the protests didn’t sway the city's decision. Rather, his department was assured the two videos it released – body camera and police dash camera footage – wouldn’t affect the SBI investigation.
The video does not show whether Scott had a gun. But police said other evidence does.
The fatal shot fired by a young black officer was not part of the video, since the officer was not wearing a body camera. But the remaining footage will likely not be released because a new state law takes effect Saturday, Oct. 1, that will block the release of police video without a court order.
Some supporters of Putney told The New York Times the uncertainty caused by the release of the video supported Putney’s argument to keep it private. “Now you have the whole city trying to draw their own conclusions,” Shaun Corbett, a barber and former felon who turned his life around and has become close to the chief.
Others commended the chief for handling this difficult situation.
“It’s a delicate balance between allowing people to vent and keeping the rest of the community safe,” said Kenny Smith, a member of the City Council who represents some of Charlotte’s wealthiest neighborhoods. He added, “I think he’s struck that very well.”
Mayor Roberts has also come under criticism for her handling of the situation. In addition to facing calls to step down from demonstrators, the North Carolina Republican Party has criticized her for the way she handled the shooting and the protest, according to The Charlotte Observer. The party criticized her, saying she didn’t call a curfew soon enough and declined additional law enforcement support. These decisions, the party said, led to the most violent night of protests, which have since calmed down.
The party did not, however, criticize the mayor for the city’s reluctance to release video of the shooting.
Roberts conceded the situation could have been handled differently. In an op-ed she wrote the city’s “lack of transparency and communication” about the video “was not acceptable.”
“Our city must be more open, honest, and transparent in investigating police shootings if we are to restore trust,” she wrote.