CHARLOTTE — After a second night of violent demonstrations here that left one man clinging to life and several businesses damaged, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency just before midnight Wednesday and sent the National Guard and state troopers to assist local police.
A march of a few hundred people turned chaotic after dusk, after protesters attempted to follow police in riot gear into the lobby of an uptown hotel. Officers used tear gas, and then a reporter heard a gunshot and saw a man lying in the street near the hotel entrance.
The man, who was not identified, was taken to a hospital with injuries that medics said were “life-threatening.” Officials announced on Twitter that the man had died, then later tweeted that he was on “life support.” No other information was given.
In the aftermath of the death Tuesday afternoon of Keith Lamont Scott, anger in the streets turned to looting, arson and other property damage in the swanky downtown, and North Carolina’s largest city joined the list of communities across the country that have erupted amid a growing debate on racial bias in policing.
On Wednesday night, some protesters ignited small fires as well as shattered windows to hotels. Other businesses were damaged and looted. Seven police officers and two civilians were taken to hospitals for injuries, officials said.
In Tulsa, meanwhile, protesters called for the arrest of the officer involved in a fatal shooting of a black man there on Friday. President Obama called the mayors of both cities to offer his condolences and pledge help, the White House announced.
To date, law enforcement officials have fatally shot 706 people this year, 163 of them black men, according to a Washington Post database tracking fatal police shootings. A growing divide in public rhetoric over that toll has been stoked by a summer of high-profile deaths captured on social media and the deadly assaults on police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. The latest encounters come as the presidential race has tightened, and both candidates have offered positions and solutions.
At a news conference Wednesday, Charlotte police insisted that Scott had a gun and was posing an “imminent deadly threat” when officers shot him outside an apartment complex near the campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Scott’s family, however, said he was unarmed when he was killed and was instead reading a book in his car while waiting to pick up his child from school — a detail that quickly went viral on social media and was seized upon by protesters here.
Officers were searching for another man, a suspect with outstanding warrants, when they spotted Scott emerging from a vehicle and armed with a handgun, police said.
“The officers gave loud, clear verbal commands” telling Scott to drop the weapon, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said. “Mr. Scott exited his vehicle armed with a handgun as the officers continued to yell at him to drop it. He stepped out, posing a threat to the officers.”
Putney said police recovered a gun and found no book at the scene.
“It’s time to change the narrative, because I can tell you from the facts that the story is a little bit different as to how it’s been portrayed so far, especially through social media,” the chief said.
The police chief also said the officer who shot Scott was in plainclothes, wearing a vest with a police logo, and was accompanied by other officers in full uniform. The plainclothes officer wasn’t wearing a body camera, but the other officers were.
Whether authorities can defuse the anger on the streets could hinge on that body-cam footage. The shooting has thrust Charlotte to the fore of a national debate about access to police body cams.
Putney said Wednesday that the department won’t release any footage until a police investigation is complete. A new state law effective Oct. 1 forbids police agencies from making body-camera footage public without a court order.
“At a time when you’re seeing other states becoming more transparent, North Carolina is taking this tremendous step backward,” said Mike Meno, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. The violent protests and conflicting accounts in Charlotte proves “just how misguided this new law is,” Meno said, and shows exactly why public access to such footage is crucial.
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, however, said she does not believe the new law will apply to the footage and said she’s asked the chief to show it to her and a small group of community leaders such as the NAACP chair.
The new legislation is just the latest national controversy over equity and civil rights to develop out of North Carolina. In recent months, progressive forces have clashed with conservative ones over black voting rights, bathroom use for transgender people, and now police shootings and body-camera access — and in response have carried out boycotts and protests.
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch pleaded Wednesday for protesters to remain peaceful, criticizing the violence that injured police and demonstrators alike.
“Protest is protected by our Constitution and is a vital instrument for raising issues and creating change,” she said at a Washington conference. “But when it turns violent, it undermines the very justice that it seeks to achieve.”
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) said Wednesday in a statement that his office “will do everything we can to support the mayor and the police chief in their efforts to keep the community calm and to get this situation resolved. It’s very important that we all work together as a team to solve a very difficult issue and to bring peace and resolution.”
In a Facebook Live video widely circulated leading up to Tuesday’s protest, a woman who identified herself as Scott’s daughter said officers used a stun gun on him, then shot him four times with their service weapons. She added that Scott was disabled.
“My daddy didn’t do nothing; they just pulled up undercover,” she said in the video.
It was unclear whether she was present and witnessed the event. By Wednesday afternoon, the video had been taken down.
Authorities said the officer who shot Scott is black, and they identified him as Brentley Vinson, who has worked for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police force since July 2014. He was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.
This city was the scene of another high-profile police shooting in September 2013, when Charlotte-Mecklenburg officers fatally shot Jonathan Ferrell, a 24-year-old black man who had crashed his car in a residential neighborhood several miles from the complex where Scott was killed.
Officer Randall Kerrick fired 12 rounds at Ferrell, who was unarmed, striking him 10 times. Police said Ferrell ignored officers’ instructions.
Last year, the jury deadlocked during Kerrick’s trial. While most jurors voted to acquit the officer, four voted to convict him. After a judge declared a mistrial, the state said it would not seek another trial. Ferrell’s family and the city of Charlotte settled a lawsuit stemming from the shooting for a reported $2.25 million.
But anger from the 2013 shooting never went away, lurking beneath the surface until Tuesday night, when it exploded again into the open.
Jibril Hough, a local activist who organized protests during Kerrick’s trial, said the current Charlotte demonstrations stem from lingering frustrations over Ferrell’s shooting death three years ago.
“I think what we went through with Kerrick here in Charlotte, even though it wasn’t as explosive, I think that weathered on us,” he said. “What happens is that 9 times out of 10, the cop will get off. He’ll get paid leave. He’ll get early retirement. He’ll basically get paid for the killing. Nothing is being done to really change anything.”
“What you’re seeing is people have been put in that situation for so long and they’re tired of talking,” he added. “They’re tired of talking and talking and candlelight vigils and dialogue and nothing getting done.”
Hough said he did not agree with the violent turn the protests have taken. But, he said, there’s a “boiling point” — and some people in Charlotte have reached it.
Derek Hawkins, Julie Tate, Adam Rhew and Sarah Larimer contributed to this story.