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Monday, August 21, 2017

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Reuters) – The family of a black man slain by police in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week called for officials to release publicly video of the incident, disputing the police contention that it shows the shooting was justified.

Keith Scott, a 43-year-old father of seven, was shot dead by a black police officer in the parking lot of an apartment complex in North Carolina’s largest city on Tuesday, sparking two nights of street violence. Thursday night’s protests were much more peaceful.

Scott’s death was the latest in a long string of controversial police killings of black people by U.S. police that have stirred an intense debate on race and justice. A United Nations working group on Friday compared the killings to the lynching of black people by white mobs in the 19th and 20th centuries.

There was little trouble during the third night of protests in the city of 810,000 people. Officials said three people were injured in rallies that authorities let stretch past a midnight curfew Mayor Jennifer Roberts imposed a day after Governor Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency.

Police arrested a civilian on Thursday and charged him with the murder of a protester who was shot during Wednesday night’s protest and died on Thursday, Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Chief Kerr Putney told a press conference on Friday.

Scott was the 214th black person killed by U.S. police this year out of an overall total of 821, according to Mapping Police Violence, another group created out of the protest movement. There is no national-level government data on police shootings.

The UN working group recommended the U.S. create a reliable national system to track killings and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, as well as ending the practice of racial profiling.

DEBATE ABOUT VIDEO

Civil rights activists are calling for the release of videos showing Scott’s slaying. Putney said he supported the release of the video at a later date and with the consent of the lead investigators.

Scott’s family, who viewed the footage on Thursday and called for its release, said it does not show him acting in an aggressive manner towards police.

“There’s nothing in that video that shows him acting aggressively, threatening or maybe dangerous,” said Justin Bamberg, one of the lawyers representing the family, said in an interview early on Friday.

Police contend that Scott was holding a gun and ignored orders to drop it. Family members earlier asserted he had been carrying a book, and after seeing the video said in a statement that it was “impossible to discern” what, if anything, he had in his hands.

Putney has said the video supported the police account of what happened, but does not definitively show Scott pointing a gun at officers.

“I know the expectation is that video footage can be the panacea and I can tell you that is not the case,” Putney said, adding that he would eventually agree with the release of the video. “It’s a matter of when and a matter of sequence.”

McCrory, a Republican locked in a tight re-election race, signed a law last week that would require authorities to obtain a court order before releasing police video. Critics say it would prevent the sort of transparency that is needed to defuse public anger in the wake of police shootings.

POLITICAL BATTLES

The killing and its aftermath are playing out in a state that has been at the forefront of some of the nation’s most bitter political fights in recent years.

North Carolina’s Republican-dominated state legislature has tightened voting laws, slashed education spending and passed a law prohibiting transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice.

State officials who pursue these policies are partly to blame for this week’s unrest, civil rights leaders say.

“It’s somewhat hypocritical to cry out against violence when you pass violent policies,” said Reverend William Barber, head of the North Carolina NAACP.

A U.S. Congressman from North Carolina apologized after telling the BBC late on Thursday he believed the protesters were motivated by jealousy.

“They hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not,” Robert Pittenger said in a TV interview.

He later apologized on Twitter, saying, “What is taking place in my hometown breaks my heart. Today, my anguish led me to respond to a reporter’s question in a way that I regret.”

In contrast to the tension in Charlotte, the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was calm after a white police officer was charged with first-degree manslaughter on Thursday for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man that was also captured on video.

The officer involved in that shooting turned herself in early on Friday and was released on $50,000 bond.

(Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, and Laila Kearney in New York; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Grant McCool and Alan Crosby)

Photo: Protesters walk in the streets downtown during another night of protests over the police shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. September 22, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Blake

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