State of emergency declared in Charlotte amid calls for transparency

Governor Pat McCrory issued a state of emergency after violence erupted between police and protesters. But some say communication, rather than a crackdown, might be the best way to de-escalate the situation.

Jeff Siner/ The Charlotte Observer via AP
A man, center, walks between Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers and protesters in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016. Authorities in Charlotte tried to quell public anger Wednesday after a police officer shot a black man, but a dusk prayer vigil turned into a second night of violence, with police firing tear gas at angry protesters and a man being critically wounded by gunfire. North Carolina's governor declared a state of emergency in the city.

Less than two days after police fatally shot a black man in Charlotte, N.C., officials have declared a state of emergency.

On Wednesday, some protests turned to unrest for a second night, following the shooting of Keith Scott on Tuesday. A rally, which began as a prayer vigil, deteriorated to violence as some protestors threw rocks and bottles at police, who were in riot gear, and officers deployed rubber bullets, tear gas, and flash grenades in an attempt to break up the crowd. Looting was reported, and one civilian was seriously injured, city officials said, while 16 officers suffered less severe injuries. Several protestors were injured on Tuesday night, as well. 

In response, Governor Pat McCrory has deployed the National Guard and State Highway Patrol officers to the city. But some say communication, rather than a crackdown, might be the best way to de-escalate the situation.

According to police, a plainclothes officer wearing a police vest, who is black, shot Mr. Scott after he refused several officers' orders to drop a handgun. Civilian witnesses to the shooting say Scott was holding a book, not a gun. The officer in question, identified as Brentley Vinson, has been placed on leave.

"It's time to change the narrative," Kerr Putney, the chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, said Wednesday, "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."

Some organizations, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have urged police to release footage of the shooting. Three officers were equipped with body cameras during the incident, and most police vehicles also have a dashboard camera.

"We call for the full release of all facts available," William Barber, the president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, said in a statement.

Mayor Jennifer Roberts said she planned to view that footage on Thursday, but did not say whether she planned to release it to the public. 

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, similar tensions are playing out between police and community members, as they have numerous times around the country this year amid national debate about officers' use force and allegations of discrimination. On Friday, officer Betty Shelby shot and killed Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man. But in that case, officials moved quickly to release footage of the incident, as The Christian Science Monitor’s Jessica Mendoza reported:

… whether Tulsa will see a different result than other cities that have been the site of officer-involved shootings depends on at least two things, they note: 1) the transparency and speed of the investigations into Officer Betty Shelby’s actions before and during the shooting, and 2) how well local authorities continue to communicate with the public. If taken, they say, such steps would indicate that police leadership is learning from the lessons of violent interactions between police and the black community over the past few years.

In community talks, Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan has promised to “do the right thing.” So far, the community has avoided the kind of violent protests seen in Charlotte. But the communication can’t end there, experts say.

“They need to have a lengthy and in-depth sit-down with the community to let them know, ‘This is how we police. This is what we do and why we do it,’” Charles Wilson, the chairman of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers (NABLEO), told the Monitor on Tuesday.

This report includes material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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