The lessons of Charlotte and Tulsa: There is no one “truth”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers begin to push protesters from the intersection near the Epicentre in Charlotte, N.C. Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016. Authorities in Charlotte tried to quell public anger Wednesday after a police officer shot a black man, but a dusk prayer vigil turned into a second night of violence, with police firing tear gas at angry protesters and a man being critically wounded by gunfire. North Carolina's governor declared a state of emergency in the city. (Jeff Siner/The Charlotte Observer via AP)

Police officials in Charlotte, N.C. have refused to publicly release video of this week’s controversial shooting of Keith Scott. Without knowing what is on the video, let me hazard a guess: If the video clearly exonerated  the police or strongly supported their official narrative, it would have been released in hopes of calming tensions. Unfortunately, based on accounts from law enforcement as well as from representatives of the Scott family, it does not provide many clear answers.

There are problems in the case beyond the video. Police officials have said that they came to Scott’s apartment complex to carry out an arrest warrant against another individual, a person to whom Scott had no known ties. When officers saw Scott enter a nearby vehicle with a handgun, they confronted him and ordered him out out of the car. What happened next is still in dispute.

But North Carolina, like Georgia, is an “open carry” state.  It is perfectly legal to carry a firearm on your person, and police have no authority or reason to confront you or question you for doing so. You can argue the wisdom of such laws, but that’s the situation that state legislators have chosen to create. In Georgia, thanks to gun activists, state law specifically forbids law enforcement officers from asking someone with a weapon whether they have a permit to do so.

Yet by the police department’s own description, they confronted Scott because he was carrying a firearm. Was Scott brandishing the weapon in some threatening fashion? We don’t know. But there’s a real question about whether that alleged Second Amendment right to carry a gun in public extends to black Americans as well as white, and whether the National Rifle Association even cares.

What we do know is this:

  • Here in Atlanta in June, Police Officer James Burns shot and killed Devaris Rogers, claiming that Rogers had attempted to run him down with a car. Video proved that story to be a hoax, that Rogers posed no threat to Burns when he was shot in the head. As a result, Burns now faces felony murder charges. Given the record of such cases in Georgia, it is highly unlikely that charges would have been filed without the existence of video.
  • In Minnesota earlier this year, Philando Castile, 32, was pulled over by police on a traffic stop, one of 52 documented times in which he had been pulled over by police. He had his girlfriend and a child riding in the car with him. When officers approached, Castile told them that he was licensed to carry a firearm and had a weapon with him, which is precisely the procedure that a responsible gun owner cooperating with officers should follow in such circumstances. Yet when Castile reached in his back pocket for license and registration, he was shot four times.  No video of the actual shooting has surfaced, and the case is still under investigation.
  • In Chicago in 2014, official police reports justified the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times by saying that McDonald had lunged at an officer with a knife, forcing him to defend himself. Yet during the subsequent investigation, more than 80 minutes of surveillance video of the incident taken from a nearby Burger King mysteriously disappeared after it was accessed by police officers. Police audio also mysteriously disappeared, and a later investigation found that police audio equipment had been intentionally damaged. For more than a year, police officials fought release of dashcam video. Only after they lost that fight in court, only after it was clear that the video proved officers had been lying, was the officer arrested and charged with first-degree murder. He became the first Chicago officer charged in a shooting in 35 years.
  • In North Charleston, S.C. in 2015, Walter Scott was shot down from behind by Officer Michael Slager, who then retrieved and planted a Taser near Scott’s dead body, apparently to bolster a claim that he had been shot in midst of a struggle. Without a civilian video of the shooting and planting of evidence, it’s uncertain and probably unlikely that Slager would today be facing murder charges.
  • In Tulsa, Officer Betty Shelby was arrested and charged with felony manslaughter this week in the shooting of Terence Crutcher. Extensive video documenting the killing was so troubling that even Donald Trump was taken aback by it. Again, without that video, I doubt charges would have been filed.
  • In Cleveland, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, playing in a city park with a play gun in 2014, was shot down and killed by officers almost immediately upon arriving at the scene, an event extremely unlikely in the case of a white kid in a suburban park. Despite video demonstrating that young Tamir was never given a chance to drop his toy weapon before officers opened fire on him,  no indictments were returned.

None of the above cases tell us anything about what happened in Charlotte, but they have absolutely had an impact on the public response. For decades, black leaders have complained about unjustified killings and police abuse and had complained that law enforcement always managed to evade responsibility for its excesses. For decades, few outside the black community gave those complaints any credence. Only now, with the ubiquity of video, has the evidence emerged that on too many occasions, their complaints have been tragically valid.

It is also worth noting that under a law due to take effect Oct. 1 in North Carolina, police video can no longer be released to the public unless ordered by a judge. Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed the law, claims that it is necessary to protect the constitutional rights of police officers, but it is hard to understand how those rights can be threatened by release of video documenting their performance of public duties.

Six other important points:

  • Police officers have a dangerous job and are sometimes forced to make quick decisions under significant duress, and most officers take their responsibility seriously. In many cases — in a significant majority of cases — video evidence of shootings has actually substantiated police actions.
  • Across the country, and particularly here in Georgia, police pay is grossly inadequate. If we want to recruit officers from among the best and brightest, if we want good, well-trained officers to make law enforcement a career, then we ought to pay them as if we appreciate their work. We do not come close to doing so. Gov. Nathan Deal’s recent announcement of significant pay hikes for state law enforcement is good news, but it does nothing to address the problem at the local level, where most law enforcement happens.
  • Even in unjustified shootings, officers typically act out of bad judgment or fear rather than malice. In the Tulsa case, for example, prosecutors have been criticized by some for not charging the officer with murder. Given the circumstances, though, the lesser charge of manslaughter is probably appropriate.
  • The culture of coverup and self-protection that has long existed within much of law enforcement was always wrong, but with today’s technology it is also no longer sustainable.  Public demand for credible civilian oversight and for law enforcement professionals willing to demand accountability within their own ranks is only going to increase.
  • Prodded by deep cultural memories of shootings and coverups, sometimes local communities have overreacted to police shootings that later prove justified. And as we’ve seen in Charlotte, peaceful demonstrations are sometimes hijacked by a relative few seeking an excuse for violence, destruction and theft, and innocent lives have been endangered as a result. But in Tulsa, where officials quickly released available video and acted appropriately to what the video contained, no such violence has occurred.
  • Some in the law-enforcement community have contributed to the emotionally wrought atmosphere by exaggerating the threat against them. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which tracks police deaths in the line of duty, “Firearms-related fatalities peaked in 1973, when 156 officers were shot and killed. Since then, the average number of officers killed has decreased from 127 per year in the 1970s to 57 per year in the 2000s. The 42 firearms-related fatalities in 2015 are 26 percent lower than the average of 57 per year for the decade spanning 2000-2009.”

 

Reader Comments 0

1218 comments
dbm1
dbm1

A very provocative headline, Jay, but you don't make it clear what it has to do with the body of your post.


It might be better to say that the truth can be hard to find, and sometimes people are too quick to think they've found it.

omark
omark

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/07/police-shootings-traffic-stops-excessive-fines

From Mother Jones,

“ In 2014, Ferguson's bottom-line-driven police force issued 16,000 arrest warrants to three-fourths of the town's total population of 21,000. Stop and think about that for a moment: In Ferguson, 75 percent of all residents had active outstanding arrest warrants. Most of the entire city was a virtual plantation of indentured revenue producers.

Donald suggest that we need more law and order. Many American communities are already getting as much law and order as they can stand. If you live in an affluent neighborhood, you may feel neglected. After all, it’s likely been decades since you’ve received any personal attention from your local police department. In Ferguson, they’re practically on a first name basis. The articles cites the example of one dangerous predator, an elderly black lady, who was fined 151 dollars for a minor traffic infraction. Not having the money to pay her fine, they put her on a payment plan. When she failed to make her payments they placed her in jail. Years later, she owes the city over 5 hundred dollars for her original 151 dollar fine. Did I mention that she’s already paid the city over 5 hundred dollars in interest?

We all assume that our police are brave men, and women, that serve and protect us. This is often the case. However many Americans never met those policemen. They know a bunch of sleaze balls that view them as an endless source of revenue.

It’s a bit of a mess isn’t it? Well helps on the way. Donald’s going to give his fellow billionaires generous tax breaks, and deregulate everything. After all everybody knows that the real problem facing America, is too much clean air and water.

JayBook
JayBook moderator

Saturday sheets

JamVet
JamVet

 "Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America," Khizr Khan said, addressing Trump. "You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one."

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@OriginalProf

How could he use that to his advantage?

He's willing to sacrifice his business empire in order to make America great again.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

Are you that gullible in real life, felicia, or only when trolling here?

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@Eye wonder

I'm a strategy buff.

Unfortunately for dems theirs have been the same for decades upon decades with little progress to show for them.

I cannot, for them, fix that which they believe is not broken.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

Word salad response = yes, I, felicia, am that gullible in real life, too!

honested
honested

@FIGMO2 @OriginalProf 

What an excellent opportunity to point out he could PROVE that vacuous assertion by releasing his TAX RETURNS.

JamVet
JamVet

@FIGMO2 @OriginalProf

Bust a gut laughing out loud!!!

That selfish pig sacrifice???

Anything???

Ever???

To funny! (hat tip the KSU kid.)


In his first response to a searing charge at the Democratic National Convention from Khizr Khan, the father of a Muslim soldier killed in Iraq, that he "sacrificed nothing" for his country,Donald Trump claimed that he sacrificed by employing "thousands and thousands of people." 


OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@FIGMO2 @OriginalProf 

Read the article. I really doubt he thought he was "sacrificing" it, given the Trump logos all over everything in the hotel. I think he figured that the campaign improves his "name recognition." (His Spanish chef cancelled out at the last minute when Trump made his statements about Mexicans.  No reservations in the hotel itself.)

honested
honested

@OriginalProf @FIGMO2 

Not withstanding that he has used very 'creative' and questionable methods to finance his campaign through charging himself for use of his properties.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

Is this Ramirez clown your grand wizard?

JamVet
JamVet

I wonder if the brilliantly qualified Drumpf has figured out where the Ukraine is yet...

honested
honested

@JamVet 

As soon as he has a project that is hard at work losing somebody else's money, then he will know.

JamVet
JamVet

"Our republican communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they've ever been in before. Ever. Ever. Ever," Trump said.

honested
honested

@JeffreyEav 

Too bad they never spent any time on analysis and correction.

That leaves them stuck with doubling down on proven failure.

JeffreyEav
JeffreyEav

I think you're on to something. There has to be a reason they're so scared of everything.

JamVet
JamVet

 "Trump brands himself as an outsider untainted by special interests, but we see a man utterly corrupted by self-interest. His narcissistic bid for the presidency is more about making himself great than America," the board said. "Trump tears our country and many of its people down with his words so that he can build himself up. What else are we left to believe about a man who tells the American public that he alone can fix what ails us?"

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@JamVet

Purely speculation on my part but I think Trump is arguing that he can fix the government that ails us.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@honested @FIGMO2 @JamVet

Presidents, more often than not, become victims of circumstances that befall them, not creators of better circumstances. Politicians will promise but rarely deliver anything short of promises for a better tomorrow.

honested
honested

@FIGMO2 @honested @JamVet 

IS that why ray-gun doubled the debt and shrub BROKE THE WORLD?

Funny, I don't remember the massive public outcry to start a WAR OF CHOICE, deregulate the financial industry, cut taxes at the top and turn schools into test factories..

So what were those 'circumstances' to which they were victimized?


Still, it would be nice if chump made at least a few statements that vaguely suggested he had some idea what the job of the President actually is.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@honested @FIGMO2 @JamVet

If I were to ask you to create a piece of pottery, would you know what clay to use to render a smooth and flawless product? Would you how to wedge the clay? Fire the clay? Glaze the clay?

Would you know how to center the clay? Open the clay? Work the clay? Calibrate a top for your your vessel? Make a handle and attach it?

Or would I need to guide you through the process.

I've been turning pots for years and have yet to master a plate. They always collapse from the outside in. I'm fairly certain it has something to do with the speed of the wheel and centrifugal force.

I'll master it one day, I will.

I've no doubt you could do flatwork, honested.

honested
honested

@FIGMO2 @JamVet 

A legitimate candidate might spend some time elucidating how that would work.

honested
honested

@FIGMO2 @honested @JamVet 

Accidentally, you have demonstrated why one should not turn to a person with absolutely no concept of State Craft to govern the United States.

Especially someone who might try to eat the clay or bathe in it.

ByteMe
ByteMe

@Philo_Farnsworth She's winning Hispanics bigly, though.  That will more than make up for the loss of the younguns.

Gmare
Gmare

Another from Borowitz: Endorsement of trump to play key role in Chritie's insanity defense.

newsphile
newsphile

Thank you for an article that is factual and unbiased. 

Gmare
Gmare

Wow! Thanks for posting, CC.

CherokeeCounty
CherokeeCounty

@Gmare

I really thought it was interesting - as the guy says, the cops were polite, and respectful.  But he knew that - as a black guy with a 'thug' knit cap on - he could not allow himself to be sitting in the back of a cop car and judged by a white woman.  

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@CherokeeCounty

It's a shame Mr. Locke had to endure that or even feel the way he did but he dealt with the situation appropriately.

About his hat?

Barbara Sullivan made a knit cap for me.  She knitted it in pinks and browns and blues and oranges and lime green.  No one has a hat like this.

I disagree. People from the Greater and Lesser Antilles wear those kinda hats all the time. Ziggy and his dad, Bob wear/wore 'em all the time.

honested
honested

@FIGMO2 @honested @CherokeeCounty 

The 'cap' was incidental, although being a symbol to a subset of knuckle draggers.

The clear and present danger posed to those in the American population finding themselves likely to die as a result of encounters with law enforcement strikes me as the focus.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@honested @FIGMO2 @CherokeeCounty

You think rastafarians are knuckle draggers?

GOOD GRIEF, honested! Where do you come off thinking that way.

Whatever you do don't tell St. Simons, mon!

I focused on the topic in my first paragraph but for Mr. Locke to claim nobody had a hat like his was wrong.

honested
honested

@FIGMO2 @honested @CherokeeCounty 

Improve your reading skills. The 'symbol' reference was to the American Redneck who equates anything primarily attached to African American culture as 'thuggish'.

The topic remains to question why law enforcement obviously (as proven clearly over the last week or so) has a 'special treatment regimen' for African Americans.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@honested @FIGMO2 @CherokeeCounty

All things being equal, they shouldn't.

Direct enough for you?

And my reading skills are just fine. Rastafarians wear their rastacaps as a symbol of who they are and where they come from.

honested
honested

@FIGMO2 @honested @CherokeeCounty 

Then why the incessant attempt from wrong-wingers, whether they be the low-information teaklan types to the ever diminishing number of pseudo-intellectuals to pretend the treatment is currently EQUAL?

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@honested @FIGMO2 @CherokeeCounty

I'd be willing to bet that LE in parts of the Appalachians suspects everyone they stop is on methamphetamine.

jay's crew sure does.

According to jay's crew, they all live in trailers, they're all missing teeth, they're all uneducated, and they're all a bunch of meth heads.

honested
honested

@FIGMO2 @honested @CherokeeCounty 

Experience!

As well as much of northern, rural Ohio where the Heroin consumption rate is even higher than Sandy Springs!


Time to set aside that "Stanley Brothers", "Coal Miner's Daughter" version of the past. Things have changed very much for the worse.

honested
honested

@FIGMO2 @honested @CherokeeCounty 

I bet you believe that 'supply side' will set us free and that the First Amendment lets us pick a church but requires us to pick at least one.

Starik
Starik

@CherokeeCounty @Gmare The real culprit in this scenario is the black guy with a knit cap who attempted a burglary.  You do realize that it's quite proper for the police to stop and talk to black males with knit caps in the vicinity, correct?