Peaceful protests continued for a fourth night in Charlotte, North Carolina, after a video released by the family of Keith Scott revealed new details about the moments leading up to his death and raised a series of questions about the police account of the incident.
But despite ongoing anger at city officials, who continued to refuse to release their own video of Scott’s shooting, protests on Friday night were mostly somber and reflective, as protesters and residents grappled with the released video’s emotional content, and with the death of Justin Carr, a protester who was shot earlier this week.
Hundreds of protesters continued to defy the midnight curfew imposed by Charlotte’s mayor, and after rallying, and even dancing, near the city’s police department and marching through the city for a few hours, they gathered by the spot where Carr was shot in the head, where they paid tribute to his life with a minute of silence and took a knee in a gesture inspired by Colin Kaepernick that is quickly becoming a signature of this latest wave of protests against police violence.
Police have arrested a suspect in Carr’s murder — though several of those who were present have raised doubts about the official account of the shooting. Earlier in the evening, at a nearby church, his family and neighbors came together to try to grapple with the absurdity of his death.
“If Mr. Scott hadn’t been killed, then Justin would be here,” an uncle said, speaking from the altar. “He was a humble man.”
But while the service mostly steered clear of the polemics raging on the streets, those who took to the podium were quick to point out that Carr’s and Scott’s deaths were both unnecessary and reflective of a growing fear dominating the lives of black men.
“This feels very different,” said a speaker at the church, who talked about being profiled regularly throughout his life, being pulled over up to 15 times a year — “and once, twice in one day” — but never fearing for his life as much as in recent years. “I have been pulled over before, and I know to keep my hands visible on the wheel. But today that may not matter,” he said.
“We, as men of color, we don’t even have to commit a crime, and we know what the results can be. Look around you. Who’s next?” he asked, before joining the chorus of voices in Charlotte calling for police transparency. “We’ve gotta let them know they’re not serving the city by not releasing the videos.”
The video that was released on Friday — which was filmed by Scott’s wife and captures her begging officers not to shoot him — sparked renewed anger about the incident, but also made it even more imperative for police to release their own videos to try to fill in a picture that remains confusing, many agreed.
“I don’t understand why they shot, she was explaining everything, he doesn’t have a gun, don’t do it, he’s disabled and stuff. Why are they shooting? Did they not listen to her?” asked Desja C., a 17-year-old niece of Scott, who with her 14-year-old sister was selling signs to raise funds for his family. “He had a wife that loved him, and she was right there when it happened, screaming, ‘He better not be dead.’ And if she would have run up to him, she would have got shot, they would have thought she was trying to do something.”
The sisters were at an early evening rally that was more prayer circle than protest, where a church choir in all white sang “it will get better” and people carried signs saying “We are not filled with rage, we’re filled with righteousness.”
Earlier that day, the girls had staged a protest on their high school’s field track and talked with their civics teacher — a former police officer — about the wave of police violence across the country. “We asked him a lot of stuff, like why do they shoot first, why do they not spray? He said they’re trained to shoot,” said Desja.
But her sister Nevada wondered whether the protests would make a difference.
“Black people are just trying to get their point across, but I don’t know if it’s working,” she said. “It keeps happening, you have protests, and then someone gets shot in another city and it moves on to that city.”
Nearby, a group of young men had brought boxes of colored chalk and called on passersby to “say what you feel” on the sidewalk by the spot where Carr was killed. Soon the pavement was filled with his name, Scott’s, and those of dozens of victims of police violence across the country, as well as messages of anger and hope.
Brodie Mayes, one of the young protesters who was writing on the sidewalk, said they first started writing the names by the city’s courts, where a police officer walked over them trying to erase them.
“He was kicking the names, trying to smudge them up, then he looked at us and kept walking. What was the purpose of that?” he asked. “But it makes me happy that they’re mad that they can’t get under our skin.”
“It’s like the riot,” he added, noting that things on Wednesday had been peaceful until police started firing pepper spray balls. “It came from the police.”
During the last two nights, police mostly displayed a hands-off approach to the protests that many said contributed to keeping them peaceful. They did not enforce the curfew and allowed protesters to march through the city until most dispersed on their own a couple of hours after the curfew. Protesters themselves did much of the policing — encouraging people to keep walking and not do anything “stupid” when small groups separated and appeared intent on provoking conflict.
A police officer who walked alone through the crowd of protesters said the plan was to “let them walk and talk — it’s easier than butting heads.”
As the protest wrapped up, people pledged to come out again on Sunday, during a much anticipated Carolina Panthers game. Some lingered by, watching videos of Scott’s shooting on their phones. “The tape just brought what our minds were thinking happened to reality,” said Mayes. “Like when you’re having this nightmare, and now it’s reality and you can’t wake up.”
“For his wife to have to witness something like that, and go through that, that’s terrible man, to hear her say don’t shoot, it breaks my heart,” he added. “They killed an innocent man in front of his wife. And even if he had a gun, it’s legal, this is an open carry state.”
Then another protester pulled out videos of a protest in Atlanta, in solidarity with Charlotte’s, but apparently larger. “It’s already on to the next city.”