The following editorial appeared in The Charlotte Observer.
Did Keith Lamont Scott have a gun in his hand when officers confronted him in a Charlotte apartment complex parking lot Tuesday afternoon?
Or was it a book?
Police say the former. Relatives and protesters say the latter.
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What we know is that, as Charlotte-Mecklenburg police resist disclosure of the body camera and dashboard camera footage, their narrative of a justified police shooting is getting elbowed aside by the social media livestreams and posts of angry relatives and protesters.
To bring clarity, police should release the footage now.
The protesters insist Scott is the latest unarmed black man victimized by police violence. Their social media posts, viewed by people across Charlotte and around the country, intensified the anger undergirding Tuesday night’s stomach-churning images of violence, looting and arson in the city’s University City area.
It’s the same protest-related violence that marred Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, and other cities. As we all hopefully understand by now, America faces an urgent problem, one that cries out for solutions.
Peaceful protesters have helped raise awareness. But the looters, arsonists and rock-throwers in University City crossed the line separating righteous anger from nihilistic rage.
As Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement Wednesday: “Protest is protected by our Constitution and is a vital instrument for raising issues and creating change. But when it turns violent, it undermines the very justice that it seeks to achieve.”
The police videos could bring much-needed clarity. Some protesters, for instance, even insisted Wednesday that a white officer shot Scott, not the black officer identified by police.
But Chief Kerr Putney insists he can’t make the videos public.
“The law is pretty specific, especially around evidence for an investigation. I cannot release that,” he said at a press conference Wednesday.
A reporter noted how Tulsa, Okla., police, aiming for transparency, quickly released videos of the shooting of black motorist Terrence Crutcher.
Putney replied that N.C. law allows him to show the videos to Scott’s family, but not to the general public.
Putney was referring to a new state law that shields such recordings from the general public’s view unless a judge orders disclosure. However, the new law doesn’t take effect until Oct. 1.
Putney can legally release the videos now. After Oct. 1, he could do so with a court order.
We must rebuild trust between police and minority communities. The videos, whatever they show, can help roll back the uncertainty that feeds mistrust.
We applaud the restraint shown by officers during Tuesday night’s protests, which produced injuries to 16 officers.
We appeal to protesters to demonstrate peacefully going forward, and to purge their ranks of the kind of belligerent provocateurs who were caught on a livestream spewing threats of “head shots” directly in police officers’ faces.
We are surely better than that, Charlotte.
Let’s pull together now, and prove it to the nation.