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Parking While Black: When Police Shoot As First Resort – OpEd

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Now that the Charlotte, NC Police Department has reluctantly released the body cam and squad-car videos in its possession of the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott, which make it clear that nobody knew whether or not Scott even had a gun in his SUV with him, and that he apparently didn’t have one in hand when he exited his vehicle, and did not appear to be threatening anyone, one thing is abundantly clear: Whether he had a gun or not, there wasabsolutely no reason for police to kill him.

Scott’s only “crime” — a common one for frightened or confused people when suddenly confronted, initially in this case by armed plainclothes officers who may not even have identified themselves as policeman, and later by a bunch of shouting, angry armed cops with weapons aimed at him — was to stay put in his vehicle with the doors locked when ordered to get out of the vehicle.

Let’s think about this scene for a moment. Police supposedly got involved in this tragic situation in the first place because Scott pulled up next to a car containing two plainclothes police officers allegedly about to serve a warrant on another man, and proceeded to roll what they thought was a marijuana “joint.” Those officers reportedly claimed that they also saw him holding a gun (how do you roll a joint while holding a gun?). They left the scene in their vehicle and reportedly donned bullet-proof vests and called for backup before returning to the scene. According to Scott’s family, far from posing a threat to police and the community, Scott was at the time doing what he did every school day: waiting peacefully in his car for a young son to return from school on the bus. According to his family, Scott owned no gun and was reading a book, as was his habit.

But let’s assume the worst. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that for one reason or other, Scott actually was sitting in his SUV fondling a joint and a pistol, as police claim. First of all, in North Carolina, courtesy of that state’s right-wing legislature which has made open carrying of sidearms legal, that gun would be perfectly okay. Except that Scott is black, and as far as police are concerned, the state’s law about it being legal to carry a weapon in public on one’s person doesn’t apply to black people. (For blacks in North Carolina, as in other states, having a gun on you, even licensed and holstered, is a capital offense justifying whatever actions police might take, including summarily executing you.)

Okay, so let’s go a step further. Say one of the cops who arrived on the scene actually saw Scott sitting in the truck with a gun in his hand. Nobody has made that claim, but there is the claim that when they came back armed and ready to go after him, he was ordered to step out of the vehicle and to show his hands. When he didn’t do that, an officer, according to the police department’s official account of what transpired, is said to have came up to he car with a baton and reportedly tried to break the truck’s window in order to get the door open.

Now ask yourself, if Charlotte cops honestly thought Scott had a gun in his hand in the car with him, would one of them have walked up to that car door armed with only a baton and tried to break the window? I think we all know the answer to that is a resounding no. One thing we’ve learned about cops in today’s America: They don’t take any risks with their own lives. Like the black officer Brentley Vinson who killed Scott, they shoot first and look later to see if the dead perp actually had a gun.

There are a lot of cars with their windows full of bullet holes and blood on their seats to prove that point.

In any event, the police video shows that Scott then exited the vehicle. Police continued to shout at him as he walked away from them facing backwards to “drop the gun,” though even Charlotte Police Chief Kerr Putney concedes that it is unclear from the video that the slain man was even holding a gun. At that point he is shot four times, fatally.

In the videos released by police there is no evidence of a gun on the ground around the dying Scott lying on the pavement, but MSNBC has shown a slow-motion version of a video taken by Scott’s wife of her husband’s shooting which appears to show the black officer who shot him tossing something on the pavement [2] nearby that looks like it might be a black pistol like the one later claimed by police to be Scott’s.

That shooting was all unnecessary. Sitting in the car as he was, and surrounded by a dozen armed policemen wearing bullet-proof vests, Scott posed no immediate threat to anyone. And get this: His wife was on the scene shouting at police that her husband had a “traumatic brain injury” (from a year earlier motorcycle accident) which should have right away made them more cautious about jumping to conclusions and about terrifying him needlessly, and she was also offering to try and convince her husband to get out of the vehicle as suggested.

Did the police pull back from their assault mode and try to let Scott’s desperate wife talk with him? No, they threatened her and made her stay away. Why?

Would they have done that to a wife if she and the person in the vehicle were white? Again we have to ask this, and my guess would be no. They would have more likely pulled back a bit and given her a chance to talk her husband out of a tough spot.

Again I want to stress that there was no urgency here. Scott wasn’t going anywhere. His vehicle was hemmed in by cop cars, he was locked in it and surrounded by armed police, and if he had tried anything aggressive he would have been shot instantly. So what was the urgency of getting him out of the vehicle? Especially when there was a relative there offering to help?

Unless Charleston’s police department is concerned about paying for unnecessary overtime, there was absolutely no urgency about this situation. It was a in fact an incident that should have been dramatically amped down. There should have been no yelling. Perhaps a trained psychiatrist or negotiation expert should have been called in. The wife of the victim should have been interviewed at length and offered a chance to talk to her husband. If there were fears for her safety, she could have been given a vest herself, or at least a bullhorn so she could talk to her husband from a safe distance. There are, in short, lots of things that could have been done that would have left Scott alive.

Scott wasn’t holding a hostage, and he wasn’t at any point in this whole event pointing a gun at anybody. He was just sitting in his SUV.

Now he’s dead, and Charleston’s Police Department is trying to make that killing look “justified,” by claiming that the mere fact that Scott was holding a joint and a gun — the former a minor infraction, not a crime, and the latter completely legal in North Carolina — together made him a potential threat to police life and limb.

They cannot justify the killing of Keith Scott because it was simply gratuitous. There was no need for him to die.

So now we have a new capital crime: Parking while Black.


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Dave Lindorff

Dave Lindorff

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. He is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective. Lindorff is a contributor to "Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion" (AK Press) and the author the author of “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press). He can be reached at [email protected]

2 thoughts on “Parking While Black: When Police Shoot As First Resort – OpEd

  • September 27, 2016 at 9:58 pm
    Permalink

    “My husband Keith Scott assaulted me several times by stabbing me in the back, almost puncturing my lungs, he sliced me [sic] ear and bruised my body…He hit my 8 year old in the head a total of three times with is [sic] fist…He kicked me and threaten [sic] to kill us last night with his gun. He said he is a ‘killer’ and we should know that.” – Rakeyia Scott (from Mrs. Scott’s 2004 filing for a domestic violence restraining order against Keith Scott)

    He has a 9mm and threatened to use it last night,” Ms. Scott wrote. “He does not have a permit, he is a felon.”

    On the complaint, she checked a box indicating that believed there was “a danger of serious and immediate injury to me or my children.”

    While living in South Carolina in the 1990s, Mr. Scott was charged with a number of offenses including check fraud, aggravated assault and carrying a concealed weapon, according to court records. Later, he moved to Texas, where he shot and wounded a man in San Antonio in 2002. He was convicted and sentenced, in 2005, to seven years in prison, records show. He was released in 2011.

    Gaston County records show that a deputy sheriff was unable to serve Mr. Scott with the October 2015 protective order before a court appearance, when a District Court judge extended it by one week. The judge, who concluded that Mr. Scott had “committed acts of domestic violence,” ordered him to keep away from Ms. Scott and forbade him to visit any schools where the couple’s children were enrolled.

    In a separate interview last week, Mr. Bamberg said Ms. Scott had been unaware that her husband owned a firearm.

    Reply
  • September 28, 2016 at 12:07 am
    Permalink

    It gets worse.

    So, various other sites have different bits, but suffice to say, one of the local TV stations synched up the three videos, other eyewitness evidence has come out, you can see the gun being pulled out of from under his body from his right hand, just above the visible ankle holster on the right ankle, they toss it to the side by his right foot (not what I would have done) and then the officer in the red shirt straddles it to secure it while the other officers administer first aid.

    Guess what, you’re still going to have those who will refuse to admit it wasn’t a vast conspiracy.

    So, Mrs. Scott and the daughter lied to criminal investigators about Keith, the guns, the book, violent behavior, etc., and essentially create a social media firestorm that burns out of their control. It burns to the point of millions of dollars in manpower, destruction, looting, burning, various injuries, assaults and death. A city/county of 800,000, mostly decent human beings, all adversely affected. Also, the Charlotte PD HQ was evacuated late today for suspicous package/bomb scare.

    Do you charge Mrs Scott and the daughter with inciting a riot and deepen the wounds? Do they get the benefit of civility in letting a grieving, although seemingly scheming, family go their way to be someone else’s nightmare? Or does the Charlotte city council make the same mistake in two years and promote suicide by cop to the tune of another $3 million in already lacking taxpayer funds, made worse by the actions of Mrs. Scott and her daughter.

    As I sit on my back porch, watching the police and media helicopters fly over uptown, and as I pause to say a prayer in thankfulness for those public employees that serve this city every day, I can’t help but wonder if Hillary is still planning on coming next week? As a Charlottean, Madame Secretary, I humbly beg that you give it another week. Round 2 just started and resources and nerves are still under heavy strain.

    Reply

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