The following editorial was published in The Fayetteville Observer.
The tale of the tape is unsatisfying. After seeing two videos of the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by Charlotte Mecklenburg Police last week, we still need answers.
After initially refusing to share any of the police video of the incident, Police Chief Kerr Putney relented and released footage from a cruiser’s dashboard camera and from one officer’s body camera. Neither showed conclusively whether Scott was carrying a gun. The police say he was, and that they recovered the weapon at the scene. Scott’s family insists he was unarmed.
In a perfect world, the video would have settled the argument. But this wasn’t a movie, with actors carefully taking direction and every movement documented by the camera. This was a real-life event where little happened predictably and Scott’s hands were mostly shielded from view or in deep shadows. It does not appear from the released footage, however, that Scott had his hands anywhere but by his sides. There is no indication that he raised his hands toward the police.
But by releasing the video footage, the police added transparency and made it harder for rumors to take on a life of their own. It was a smart decision that helped restore calm to a city that has been rocked by sometimes-violent protests in the aftermath of Scott’s death.
On Saturday, Gov. Pat McCrory released a statement praising the decision to make the video public. “As governor of North Carolina, I concur with the Charlotte police chief’s decision to release the tape,” McCrory said. “I have been assured by the State Bureau of Investigation that the release will have no material impact on the independent investigation since most of the known witnesses have been interviewed. We have appreciated the ongoing dialogue and teamwork between state and city officials to seek public transparency while protecting the integrity of the investigation and the rights of all parties involved in this case.”
McCrory characterized the decision correctly. It allowed public transparency and protected the integrity of the investigation – dual responsibilities of a good government.
What still puzzles and concerns us a great deal, though, was the governor’s decision to sign legislation that will make it even more difficult to make police videos public. The law has the virtue of declaring that the videos aren’t part of officers’ personnel records – which many departments used as an excuse to keep them secret. But now, police can share the videos, if they wish, with people who are on them. But full public release will, as of today, Oct. 1, require a court order. It’s another hurdle to leap, another way to keep the truth secret.
It’s a bad law, and what happened in Charlotte shows why. The General Assembly should change the law and make those videos accessible to the public.