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Family Sees Video of Charlotte Police Shooting Black Man Dead

By Andy Sullivan and Greg Lacour

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Reuters) – The family of the black man whose shooting death by police in Charlotte, North Carolina, triggered two nights of riots viewed video of the episode on Thursday, but a lawyer for the family of Keith Scott said it was unclear if Scott was holding a gun when killed.

Scott’s family called on police to immediately release the two police videos that they saw, adding pressure on police to make them public. The call came as Charlotte braced for a possible third straight night of violence.

Scott, 43, was killed on Tuesday by a black police officer as part of a police search for another man. Police contend Scott was carrying a gun when he approached officers and ignored repeated orders to drop it. His family previously said he was holding a book, not a firearm.

His death is the latest to stir passions in the United States over the police use of deadly force against black men. The family’s viewing of the video came on the same day that a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was charged with first-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man whose car had broken down and blocked a road.

In Charlotte, Scott’s family said it still had “more questions than answers” after watching two police body camera videos of the officer shooting him dead in the parking lot of an apartment complex.

“While police did give him several commands, he did not aggressively approach them or raise his hands at members of law enforcement at any time,” Justin Bamberg, an attorney for the family, said in the statement.

“It is impossible to discern from the videos what, if anything, Mr. Scott is holding in his hands,” the statement said, adding that Scott’s hands were by his sides and he was slowly walking backward.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney has said the video supported the police account of what happened but does not definitively show Scott pointing a gun at officers.

PROTESTERS GATHER AGAIN

The rioting in Charlotte in response to Scott’s death led North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory to declare a state of emergency and call in the National Guard.

Nine people were injured and 44 arrested in riots on Wednesday and Thursday morning. One man was critically wounded by a gunshot.

Protesters began gathering again on Thursday after nightfall, with some 200 people marching to chants of “release the video” and “Whose streets? Our streets.”

Helicopters circled overhead and about 15 National Guard troops in camouflage stood around a Humvee outside the Omni Hotel, where much of the violence took place on Wednesday.

Many of the protesters dispute the official account of Scott’s death, but Putney told reporters he would not release the video at this time, in part to protect the investigation.

The decision to withhold the video from the public was criticized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and members of the clergy from the Charlotte area.

“There must be transparency and the videos must be released,” the Rev. William Barber, who sits on the national board of the NAACP, told a news conference.

Charlotte’s reluctance to release the video stands in contrast to Oklahoma, where officials on Monday released footage of the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher by police after his vehicle broke down on a highway.

A long series of controversial fatal police shootings of black men across the United States has sparked more than two years of protests asserting racial bias and excessive force by police and giving rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.

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

(Additional reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, and Dan Freed and Laila Kearney in New York; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Leslie Adler)

 

PHOTO: A masked protester walks 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

Darren Seals: Ferguson Activist Found Dead In Burning Car With Gunshot Wound

(Reuters) – Missouri detectives have not determined a motive or identified any witnesses in an investigation into the death of a man who led protests in the city of Ferguson following the fatal 2014 shooting of Michael Brown by a law enforcement officer, police said on Wednesday.

Protest leader Darren Seals, 29, was found shot inside a burning car in the village of Riverview, about five miles east of Ferguson, early on Tuesday, St. Louis County Police said in a statement.

Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, gained national attention because of rioting after the August 2014 shooting of Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, by white police officer Darren Wilson. Most protests were peaceful, but violence erupted again when a grand jury decided not to bring charges against Wilson.

A federal investigation later found patterns of racial discrimination by Ferguson police.

The demonstrations helped to coalesce the civil rights movement Black Lives Matter.

“I don’t recall anyone having a longer protest, a more productive protest, a more creative protest than what we did,” Seals said in an interview with MTV released in November 2014. “I don’t think people will ever really appreciate what we did until years from now.”

Hours before Seals‘ death, he posted on Twitter about Colin Kaepernick, a San Francisco 49ers National Football League quarterback who protested racial injustice and police brutality by declining to stand for the national anthem, and the U.S. presidential election. In his Twitter profile, Seals described himself as a “businessman, revolutionary, activist, unapologetically BLACK, Afrikan in AmeriKKKa, fighter, leader.”

Police have not determined a motive for the crime or identified any witnesses, Sergeant Shawn McGuire said. McGuire declined to say in which part of Seals‘ body he was shot.

County police said officers were first called to investigate a burning vehicle in Riverview. “When the fire was extinguished, a deceased male subject was located inside of the vehicle,” the department said in a statement.

Seals, whose last-known address was in St. Louis, was identified as the victim.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney in New York; editing by Grant McCool)

Photo: An undated photo of Darren Seals from his facebook account. Darren Seals via Facebook/Handout via REUTERS

Not Every Police Shooting Is Unjust

If the violent eruptions in Milwaukee earlier this month were familiar, it’s because they seemed to follow a script that, by now, has become numbingly routine. A Milwaukee police officer shot and killed a young black man. Protests and condemnations followed. Police were accused, once again, of treating black citizens as target practice.

In the last two years, police violence against unarmed black Americans has rightly claimed public attention, launching a new civil rights movement by a loose-knit collection of young activists cooperating under the banner of “Black Lives Matter.” Aided by ubiquitous cellphone cameras, they have helped to bring much-needed scrutiny to police tactics that are dangerous, unfair and probably racist. Their calls for greater police accountability have echoed through this political season.

But that familiar script — the one in which citizens appropriately protest a needless police shooting — may not be the one that played out in Milwaukee earlier this month. (And rioting and arson are never justified, in any event.) According to city officials, 23-year-old Sylville Smith, who fled police after a traffic stop, had a gun in hand when he turned to confront a police officer. The officer, in turn, shot him dead.

There were no bystanders to record the episode, no eyewitnesses coming forward to claim Smith had his hands up. There is no independent video footage available. But Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett told reporters that a still image from the police officer’s body camera shows Smith holding a gun as he turns toward the officer. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the officer reacted by firing his weapon.

Not every police shooting of a black man is unjustified. Sometimes law enforcement authorities have no choice but to shoot a criminal suspect who behaves in a way that poses risks — both to police personnel and to civilians.

There are plenty of cases wherein police officers have escalated confrontations, threatened violence needlessly, and even killed black men and boys who posed no risk. Those victims deserve to be held apart from the street thugs whose confrontations with police necessarily end violently. They deserve the protests and demonstrations, the news conferences and demands for new tactics that have come from Black Lives Matter activists. Think Eric Garner and Alton Sterling. Think Tamir Rice and John Crawford III. Think Walter Scott and Samuel DuBose.

Don’t think Michael Brown. I still chafe at the mention of his name. Brown’s 2014 shooting death, paradoxically, became the cause celebre that fueled the birth of Black Lives Matter, but he was no innocent. A U.S. Justice Department investigation found that Brown, who had just stolen cigars from a convenience store, likely struggled with the police officer who tried to arrest him. Forensic evidence suggested that he didn’t have his hands up when he was shot, despite witness testimony that he did.

Yes, yes, civilians have every right to hold law enforcement officials to a higher standard, to insist that police officers learn to de-escalate conflicts, to demand that police who recklessly target unarmed civilians are not only prosecuted but also convicted.

Citizens in places such as Milwaukee, where systemic racism still thrives, also have every right to demand better schools, equal employment opportunities, and a criminal justice system that does not disproportionately incarcerate black men and women. Those unjust conditions — and crushing poverty — helped fuel the rage that lit fires in the wake of Smith’s death.

But those of us who insist on reforming a criminal justice system still plagued by racism must also acknowledge that even police officers who do everything right will sometimes end up firing their weapons. That’s the nature of their work. And much of that work takes place in dangerous neighborhoods, where the law-abiding citizens are most at risk.

Sylville Smith was no Philando Castile, the well-liked cafeteria worker shot dead in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, during a traffic stop in July — killed, his girlfriend said, as he reached for his ID. It stretches credibility to act as if their deaths were equally unjust.

(Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

Photo: A burned down gas station is seen after disturbances following the police shooting of a man in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S. August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo

Sylville Smith, Racial Martyr

As racial martyrs go, you could hardly do worse than Sylville Smith.

He was no Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice, no unarmed innocent gunned down. No, Milwaukee police say Smith was an armed 23-year old with a lengthy arrest record — drugs, weapons, robbery — who bolted from a traffic stop Saturday afternoon. They say he ran a short distance, then wheeled around, gun in hand, refusing orders to drop it. Whereupon the police officer shot and killed him.

“I’m not going to say he was an angel,” Smith’s godmother, Katherine Mahmoud, told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

The officer who killed him was a year older than Smith and black, like him. Though perceptions are obviously subject to change once body-cam footage is released, there is at this writing no reason to believe the officer acted improperly and, indeed, no serious allegation that he did. As such, this incident seems an unlikely focal point for public outrage.

That it became one anyway, that Smith’s death sparked two nights of arson, shooting and general unrest, is an ominous sign. It suggests the rise of a species of anger inimical to any hope of racial reconciliation in Milwaukee — and cities far beyond.

A certain amount of anger in the face of injustice is not necessarily a bad thing. Such anger — defined as a passionate impatience with unfair status quo — is often a necessary catalyst for progress. But when there is no progress even after long years, anger can intermix with frustration and despair and become something much less constructive.

It can become something that doesn’t listen, doesn’t reason, doesn’t even hope. Something that simply explodes.

African Americans in Wisconsin’s largest city say Smith’s death was the last straw after years of racially stratified policing. It is hardly immaterial that an officer was not charged just two years ago in the controversial shooting death of a mentally ill black man. Or that the department is under Justice Department review which, to its credit, it requested.

Who will be shocked if that probe finds what other probes have found in cop shops around the country: patterns of institutionalized racism that corrode public trust and impinge the ability of police to do their jobs.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency, when such probes are done, to treat the affected department as unique, an outlier. Think of the person who sees a drop of water here, a drop of water there, another drop over there, yet somehow never perceives the storm.

It’s worth noting, too, that Mike Crivello, president of the Milwaukee police union, issued a statement after the shooting to “denounce” the idea of racism in the department’s ranks. Of course, no institution of any size can credibly make a blanket claim of freedom from bias, but that didn’t stop him. That should tell you something.

Here’s the thing: You get tired of being treated as an unreliable witness to your own experience. You get sick of not being heard. Black Milwaukee has complained for years about biased policing. Yet the police chief pronounced himself “surprised” by this uprising. Apparently, he hasn’t been listening.

The rest of us would do well to avoid that mistake. If this unrest is an omen, it is also an opportunity — for civic self-examination and accountability, for giving the people a voice, for listening to what they have to say. For making change.

This violence, following what might well have been a justified shooting, was tragic and troubling. But it also made one thing starkly clear. African Americans have been demanding justice a very long time.

And they’re getting tired of asking nicely.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

Photo: Kimberly Neal, sister of Sylville Smith, speaks at a vigil after disturbances following the police shooting of a man in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S. August 14, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein