Forty-four hours after the police shot and killed another person of colour, Charlotte (North Carolina) is under a state of emergency. One man is on life support and the mayor is raising the possibility of imposing a curfew amidst calls for peace and demands fo22-09-1r answers.

It all started Tuesday with a despairingly familiar scenario: a police officer fatally shot a 43 year old black man named Keith Lamont Scott for questionable reasons. Police claim that the man had a handgun that he was refusing to drop. Eyewitnesses claim that Scott was only holding a book and that he tried to get out of his truck with his hands up.

Tuesday: Shooting and Mass Protests

One thing is undisputed: it ended with Keith Lamont Scott being shot four times at 3:54 PM. The shots were fired by Brentley Vinson, a black officer of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police.

Family and eyewitnesses soon took to social media to spread their version of the events. Three hours later, people were already taking to the streets and demanding justice.

Three hours and 45 minutes after the shooting, police stated that the protest was turning violent, and that one officer was injured while trying to de-escalate a situation.

The Mayor of Charlotte, Jennifer Roberts, issued a first statement urging the community to stay calm. A few minutes later, she issued another one to announce a full investigation into the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, saying that the community deserves answers.

Around 11 PM, police ordered the crowd to disperse and deployed tear gas. Clashes with police continued throughout the night. A group of protesters shut down Interstate 85. Different sources report rocks thrown at police cars, two trucks looted, and two fires started.

However, even the Mayor said that the mass protest, in a park, was peaceful. The rioting and looting that happened near the interstate and downtown was the doing of a small group of agitators.

Wednesday Morning: A Gun or a Book?

On Wednesday morning, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney held a press conference to share the police’s conclusion. Officers approached Scott while they were trying to execute an arrest warrant for someone else. Putney said that Scott exited his vehicule, then got back into it before coming out with a gun in his hand and ignored orders to drop it as he advanced towards police officers.

“The officers gave loud, clear verbal commands that were also heard by many of the witnesses […] to drop the weapon,” claimed Putney. “Despite the verbal commands, Mr. Scott exited the vehicle as the officers continued to yell at him to drop it. He stepped out, posing a threat to the officers, and Officer Brentley Vinson subsequently fired his weapon, striking the subject.”

The CMPD (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department) recovered a gun at the scene and insists there was no book. Later in the day, a photo of the crime scene where a gun can be seen reached the media. The source of the photo is unclear, but the initial tweet of a local reporter says it’s from CMPD.

The family of the victim is convinced that this is not how it happened. They say Keith Lamont Scott was a disabled father of seven children, well-known and liked in his community. They believe he “wouldn’t have it in him to hurt a policeman.” According to them, he was sitting in his truck and reading while he waited for the school bus to drop his kids off.

Witness Tahesha Williams says she saw Scott get out of the truck unarmed with his hands up.

Wednesday Night: State of Emergency

Peaceful protests rapidly degenerated. One man ended up on life support and the city was put under state of emergency.

Around 7 PM, on Wednesday, Scott’s wife addressed the protesters, encouraging them to keep the peace: “Please do not hurt people or members of law enforcement, damage property or take things that don’t belong to you.”

Two dozen people reportedly sat silently for a while in front of a Bank of America building, holding up Black Lives Matter signs. A peaceful crowd of men, women and children gathered in Marshall Park before marching through the city. You can read a detailed account of the night in Charlotte Magazine. However the atmosphere easily tipped into chaos. Tear gas and explosives joined the game before 8 PM.

At 8:30 PM, someone was shot somewhere near North College and East Trade streets. The city soon tweeted that the shooting was “civilian on civilian. CMPD did not fire shot.” The victim is currently on life support.

One eyewitness, Minister Steve Knight of Missiongathering Christian Church in Charlotte, shared his skepticism: “It was an ambush. The victim was shot while he stood between two ministers, and we believe he was shot by police. We would like to see surveillance video from the surrounding area that may have captured the shooting to determine who was responsible for the shooting.”

Later that night, while police used rubber bullets to disperse protesters, the Governor Pat McCrory declared a State of Emergency. He dispatched the National Guard and State Highway Patrol troopers to help local law enforcement.

Gov. McCrory had very harsh words for the protesters since the first night. Incidentally, he also recently passed a law to restrict viewing of police body cam and dash cam recordings. Essentially, he signed off on a bill to take police recordings off public records, effectively allowing law enforcement to keep them from media or citizens.

Now

Thanks to this, the dash cam footage of Scott’s death will probably never be publicly released. Chief Putney said that they would try to accommodate the family’s request to see it, but that he had no intention of releasing it “to the masses.”

“Transparency’s in the eye of the beholder,” he said on Thursday. “If you think we should display a victim’s worst day for public consumption, that is not the transparency I’m speaking of.”

He also warned that the recording did not definitely show Scott holding a gun.

Also on Thursday, Mayor Roberts appeared on ABC news to convey three messages: the city is fine and open for business (do not panic), the majority of protesters was peaceful (we’re on your side) and the possibility of imposing a curfew will be discussed (yes, we can do that because of the State of Emergency).

“A peaceful protest, and many folks do want to express their views peacefully, turned into something else last night,” said Roberts.

The Department of Justice just sent four members of their Community Relations Service to Charlotte. Attorney General Loretta Lynch gave a press conference this morning, assuring that they were “monitoring the matter” and that they were looking into the circumstances of Keith Lamont Scott’s death.

* Featured image: CNN screengrab

A few years ago, following the Michael Brown shooting, FOX News host Sean Hannity explained that he never has problems with police because when he gets pulled over, he simply informs the officer that he is licensed to carry a firearm and it’s in the car. Philando Castile did just that and was murdered by a police officer in front of his girlfriend and her young child.

Castile, by all accounts, was a pillar of his community, well loved by hundreds of children at the school where he worked, not to mention their parents, his colleagues, friends, family and, of course Lavish Reynolds, his girlfiend. A woman who, after witnessing her boyfriend get shot, was able to muster the strength to go live on Facebook and show the world what had just happened.

Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who shot Castile probably didn’t know what the public now knows about him. All he had to go on was that Castile had a busted tail light, was riding with a woman and a small child, had informed him that he was carrying a licensed firearm and was reaching for something.

Could it be his registration? It would make sense. That is what you’re supposed to show the police when they pull you over, after all.

Could it be his gun? Why? Why would someone take the time to inform an officer that they are carrying a legal firearm if their plan was to whip it out and shoot? Why would someone riding with a small child be likely to kill over a busted taillight?

Why would a police officer jump to this unlikely conclusion and shoot before even telling the person to freeze? Truth is they wouldn’t if it was Sean Hannity in the car, or if it was me or most white people.

Castile, though, was a black man. When it comes to black men and sometimes black women and children, it’s sadly all too common for police to shoot first and hope nobody asks questions later.

Not Close to an Isolated Incident

There would have been significantly fewer questions when Baton Rouge police murdered Alton Sterling just a day before Yanez shot Castile in St. Anthony, Minnesota. However, a group called Stop the Killing had caught the whole thing on video and had the forethought to wait for the police to tell their side of the story before showing the world what really happened.

Sterling was selling CDs outside of a convenience store and allegedly pointed a gun at someone who called the police. According to the convenience store owner who witnessed the shooting, the police were aggressive from the start and quickly escalated the situation. Sterling was complying with them and never went near his weapon which he was licensed to carry.

The cellphone video shows police yelling at Sterling to get to the ground and then tackling him almost immediately. One officer shouts “he’s got a gun!” This was in reference to the firearm the officer had found in his pocket, not a weapon Sterling was brandishing or even going near. Hearing this, the other officer shot Sterling in the chest.

Two black men murdered by police in two days. A record? Hardly. Two black men murdered by police in two days and the public has video proof. That is new, and a reminder that filming cops is not just a right but a civic duty.

NRA Double Standard

Both victims were also legal gun owners. After much pressure the National Rifle Associaton (NRA) released this statement, which didn’t even reference what happened to Sterling:

“The reports from Minnesota are troubling and must be thoroughly investigated. In the meantime, it is important for the NRA not to comment while the investigation is ongoing. Rest assured, the NRA will have more to say once all the facts are known.”

The NRA’s reluctance to rush to the defense of black men who legally owned firearms when we all know that they would have been all over the stories if the gun owners had been white is not at all surprising. While I’m not a fan of open carry laws in general and think no one has a legit reason to own an AR-15, this video shows just who the Second Amendment applies to and doesn’t, at least in the eyes of law enforcement:

Dallas Doesn’t Change Anything

As I was writing this, Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests against these two most recent murders were happening in cities all across the United States (and still are a few days later). In Dallas, Micah Xavier Johnson, an Afghanistan War veteran with sniper skills who was not a part of the march turned the peaceful protest into a bloodbath shooting twelve police officers, killing five.

According to Dallas Police Chief David Brown:

“The suspect said he was upset about Black Lives Matter. He said he was upset about the recent police shootings. He was upset at white people. He wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”

While Johnson did attain his goal of killing white police officers, he also shifted mainstream media focus away from the recent police killings he claimed he was upset by. Instead of simply chalking this up to the work of a spree killer with easy access to firearms, the training to use them properly and a likely case of PTSD, quite a few people in the media, online and at least one former politician decided to use this to attack BLM, despite this statement that they do not support murder:

This is already being used by some and will undoubtedly continue to be used to push a #bluelivesmatter agenda. There are three huge problems with this.

First, cops choose to be cops, people don’t choose to be a particular race, so the comparison is nowhere near valid. Second, the hashtag was created specifically to reinforce the notion that police are entitled to murder black people, despite being disguised as some sort of BS equalizer. Third, according to politicians, the media and mainstream thinking, police lives do matter and to some, matter more than others.

The shooting in Dallas is being treated as a national tragedy. Prominent voices on the right and even the supposed left equate an attack on police with an attack on everyone. The President is even cutting his trip short to visit Dallas, something he didn’t do for any of the black victims of police shootings.

Police were attacked by one spree killer who is now dead. Black people are under constant attack by an officially sanctioned paramilitary force that has killed and continues to kill them with impunity. Systemic racism is a real thing that’s alive and well in police forces across the Western world.

No, All Lives Are Not Dealing with this Right Now

If you think we should be saying #alllivesmatter, then you’re missing the point entirely, either intentionally or because you just don’t get it. This kitchen table analogy should explain how you’re basically the person railing against a cancer fundraiser by screaming that other diseases matter, too or this cartoon dude:

all houses matter

I’m white and I don’t think for a second that my life doesn’t matter because I say #blacklivesmatter, I know that my life mattering is not in dispute. I know that if I had been driving that car with a busted tail light instead of Philando Castile, I’d probably still be alive right now.

Sure, police kill white people without a valid reason, too, but they do it nowhere near as frequently as they murder black people. 26% of Americans killed by police are black, though only 13% of the population are. The ratio of unarmed black men killed by police versus unarmed white men in the US is six to one (and I got those stats from a right-wing website trying to argue, badly, just the opposite point while doing their best to misinterpret Washington Post numbers).

I know my life matters, I don’t need to scream it. I know that Black Lives Matter and I feel it’s important to let everyone know. It’s not an either-or situation. It is a dire situation that needs to be addressed and fixed now.

Now, sadly not now more than ever, it’s important to keep saying Black Lives Matter.

People in crisis die at the hands of police officers too often and it’s not because those officers don’t follow the rules. “It’s because they do,” concluded Ontario’s ombudsman Paul Dubé after a three year long investigation.

In a 90-page report released on Wednesday, Dubé asserted that many deaths could be avoided if Ontario’s officers were taught when and how to de-escalate situations instead of drawing their weapons. He urged the provincial government to use its “legal and moral authority” and take action.

“We don’t need another study that too many people in crisis died at the hands of police,” Dubé declared while presenting his report in Queen’s Park on Wednesday, “we don’t need another study or consultation to determine that police training on de-escalation is inadequate. What we need is recognition by the government that the status quo is unacceptable.”

The document, called A Matter of Life and Death, includes 22 recommendations mostly focused on changing police culture and reshaping training.

sammy yatim
Sammy Yatim (image: YouTube)

The ombudsman’s investigation was prompted by the highly publicized 2013 case of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim, the Toronto teenager who was yielding a knife in an empty streetcar when police officer James Forcillo shot him eight times. Last January, the court ruled that Constable Forcillo did not break the law by firing the first three shots that incapacitated and probably fatally wounded Yatim. Firing six more bullets on a clearly incapacitated person, however, was ruled attempted murder.

Yatim’s parents are convinced their son would be alive if Forcillo had chosen to use his words instead of his gun. After the judgement, his mother told the press: “I believe if Forcillo asked my son, ‘What is your name?’ — just this question — he will not shoot him, he will calm him.”

A claim now supported by Dubé’s findings.

“Ontario officers have plenty of training on how to use their guns, but not enough on how to use their mouths,” said the ombudsman during Wednesday’s speech. “The majority of their training focuses on exerting authority and establishing control over armed or hostile subjects, principally by drawing their weapons and yelling commands.”

Nineteen more people were killed by Ontario police forces since then. Dubé underlined that many of them were in crisis.

According to the documentary Hold Your Fire, although the number of people killed by police remained fairly constant during the last decade, the proportion of mentally ill persons among them is growing alarmingly. They estimated that currently 40% of people killed in police actions across Canada are mentally ill.

The Very Blurry Bigger Picture

The lack of reliable data makes it very difficult to compare Ontario’s situation with the rest of the country. There are no official records of civilian deaths during police interventions at the federal level and provincial statistics are rare. In fact, citizens and media are left to rely on civil organisations to keep track of police shootings.

CRAP (French acronym for Coalition Against Police Repression and Abuse) keeps a non-extensive record of civilian deaths at the hands of police. In the three years since Yatim’s death, it recorded 18 cases in Ontario (compared to the 19 mentioned in Dubé’s report) and 17 in Quebec. Dubé deplored that Ontario’s mandatory police training lasted only 12 weeks, less than anywhere else in the country. Quebec’s only lasts 15 (although it should be noted that, in both cases, a majority of applicants have also completed a collegial diploma in general police work).

Quebec’s police dealings with people in crisis has also been criticized, notably in the Alain Magloire case in 2014. Last March, the coroner, while refraining from outright blaming the police officers, critiqued their communication among themselves as well as with Magloire and recommended added training for intervening with mentally ill people.

Alain Magloire (image: Facebook)
Alain Magloire (image: Facebook)

Since 2013, the Montreal police department (SPVM) has around 223 officers specially trained to handle people in crisis. “Why not all of them?” suggested the coroner.

A commission investigating the handling of the 2012 student protests in Quebec also blamed police culture for favouring repressive tactics and unnecessary use of weapons.

Piecing together the information paints a worrying picture, albeit an incomplete one. Above all, it underlines the importance of keeping reliable and comprehensive records.

There is no valid excuse for the number of police killings in Canada to be further than a Google search away.