Charlotte, North Carolina, convulsed on Tuesday night when local police fired tear gas on a crowd of aggressive protesters carrying “Black Lives Matter” signs. The protesters numbered in the hundreds; they had gathered in the University City neighborhood of Charlotte to express anger over the fatal shooting by a police officer of a 43-year-old named Keith Lamont Scott.
According to a statement from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, Scott was carrying a gun and “posed an imminent deadly threat to the officers” on the scene.
Scott was black. According to the Charlotte Observer, so is the police officer who shot him, Brentley Vinson.
Charlotte’s WBTV reported that 15 officers and one protester were injured after the demonstration on Tuesday night turned volatile. The Observer put the number of injured officers at 16, and said at least seven of them needed to be hospitalized. According to the paper’s chronology of events, the situation became tense shortly before 8 p.m., when police in riot gear began trying to break up the crowd, and escalated around 11 p.m., when officers fired tear gas. About a half-hour later, CMPD tweeted that “agitators” were destroying police cars and that one officer had been hurt when someone threw a rock at his face. Later, protesters poured onto the interstate, throwing rocks at cars and emptying two tractor trailers. By 3:30 a.m., the tumult had moved into a nearby Walmart.
At one point, a Charlotte resident attending the protest posted a photo of a black police officer who appeared to be crying behind her plastic face-guard—though it might have been sweat. According to the person who took the photo, the officer was crying because protesters had asked “whether this job was worth the Black lives they kill.”
Details are still sketchy about what exactly happened in the moments before Vinson made the decision to fatally shoot Scott. It’s unknown at this time whether video footage of the incident exists.
A police statement said officers were in the process of executing a warrant on someone else around 4 p.m. Tuesday when they saw Scott exit a vehicle carrying a weapon. According to the department’s version of events, officers approached Scott after watching him get back into his car and fired on him after he got back out, still carrying a gun. [Update, 10:34 a.m.: According to the AP, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said at a news conference that officers had told Scott to drop his handgun several times before he was shot. Putney also disputed claims being made on social media that Scott was reading a book at the time of the confrontation; according to Putney, no book was found at the scene.]
Scott was pronounced dead at Carolinas Medical Center. According to the New York Times, members of his family disputed the suggestion that he could have been armed. As many have pointed out on social media, it’s unclear how much it should matter anyway, since North Carolina is an open-carry state.
Tuesday night’s protest occurred only a few days the release of disturbing footage showing a white police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, shooting a black man who appeared to have his arms in the air.
The most recent high-profile police shooting in Charlotte occurred three years ago. In that incident, an unarmed black football player who had been in an overnight car accident was killed after running toward a police officer. After reviewing dashcam of the confrontation, Charlotte authorities moved quickly to bring manslaughter charges against the officer. The case ended in a mistrial last summer.