Wednesday night, just hours before Charlotte erupted for a second night of violence, the city’s mayor Jennifer Roberts spoke at length to The Washington Post about the police shooting that launched these protests, when body-cam footage of the shooting may be released, what is driving the anger on the streets and how the city hopes to defuse that anger.
ON BODY-CAM FOOTAGE:
The officer who shot Keith Lamont Scott on Tuesday was not wearing a body camera, but other officers on the scene were. The police can’t release the footage right now because the department’s policy is not to release that evidence while there’s an active investigation, Roberts said. But she’s working on a way to allow at least some leaders in the community, like the chairman of the local NAACP to view it.
“I’ve asked to see it. I’d like to invite some folks like the chair of NAACP to see it with me. I don’t know what’s in it. I don’t know how complete it is. There may be gaps including where other officers were,” she said. “Until I see it, I don’t know whether it could help.”
Sharply diverging accounts have emerged of the shooting. Charlotte police say that Scott had a gun and was posing an “imminent deadly threat” when he was shot. But Scott’s family says he was unarmed and reading a book in his car while waiting to pick up his child from school.
“A book doesn’t look anything like a gun. I think the community wants to see the gun and have the integrity of seeing that evidence because the stories right now are so different,” Roberts said. “And if we need outside investigation, we would be open to that. From state investigators or federal investigators, we could request that as well.”
ON A NEW STATE LAW FORBIDDING PUBLIC RELEASE OF FOOTAGE:
A new state law effective Oct. 1 forbids police agencies from making body-camera footage public without a court order.
Charlotte’s mayor, however, said she does not believe the new law will apply to the footage. She specifically has asked the city attorney about whether the new law applies in this case, and he said it does not because the shooting itself took place before Oct. 1. “It’s not subject to the new law,” she said.
WHY PEOPLE ON THE STREETS ARE ANGRY:
“Some of the anger is a cumulative effect of people seeing episodes around the country. They’re tired of seeing African American men being shot around the country,” she said. “I understand the anger. A family is now missing a brother, son, a dad. Some people see some white suspects who end up getting wounded or captured instead.”
The anger is driven by that larger national movement but also local problems, she acknowledged.
“We still have discrimination in our society. We still have disparity. We’re working really hard to ameliorate that. We have many different groups working on closing the economic gap in Charlotte, people working on the gap in schools and education. It’s the cumulative effect of people getting frustrated.”
“I think there are statistics that show we are not equal in racial treatment of people in policing, rent, hiring, a number of areas,” she said. “Yes, we still have a lot of work to do. But Charlotte is better than a lot of places. Our chief has been working really hard to eliminate those disparities.”
WHETHER CHARLOTTE HAS IMPROVED SINCE ANOTHER CONTROVERSIAL POLICE SHOOTING IN 2013:
“One of the big votes the city council took was to pay for body cameras,” Roberts said. “Every patrol officer now has a body camera. That has been very helpful in shedding light on incidents. It improves behavior on both sides. I think that was a big step.”
The police department also started training every officer in “implicit bias training, continuing education to officers about where they may have bias — racial, religious, ethnic. So that they treat everyone equally,” she said.
ON THE CONTINUING PROTESTS:
Roberts spent Wednesday shuttling from meeting to meeting — with NAACP leaders, a faith coalition on social justice, interracial dialogue groups, individual pastors. “Our top priority is the safety of the community. We’re putting resources in place for tonight, monitoring it closely,” she said. “We have high-level city staff working around the clock.”