Issues Under Fire: How Long Can Charlotte Police Stonewall Public Over Video?
While awaiting a vehicle inspection at Pep Boys this Sunday, I passed the time with other customers flipping between CNN and the NY Giants vs. Redskins game. Since it was the only flat screen TV available, I was thankful it was mostly guys in the shop. But then again, this is New York, and it’s hard to get anybody to agree on anything related to sports or politics, so I knew at the very least there’d be some lively conversation. I wasn’t disappointed.
Considering the Giants Redskin game remained tight through all four quarters, at every commercial break, whoever had the remote flipped back to the news. It was obvious, these people were more interested in the row over the Charlotte Police’s refusal to release all body and dash camera video of the Keith Lamont Scott killing, than Eli Manning’s three interceptions. Whenever Charlotte-Mecklenberg’s Police Chief Kerr Putney appeared on the screen, essentially attempting to explain why a thorough investigation has to take precedence over the public’s right to know, that’s when the sarcastic remarks would begin.
“Bull shit” one guy said. “Ditto my friend” another chimed in. “Can you believe this Mother-fuc…?” still another asked aloud. Hey, in New York, people speak freely like that. To say this was not a law and order crowd would be an understatement. These people were pissed. And Chief Kerr Putney didn’t win any converts for himself, his department or law enforcement, when he had to admit the few short clips being released wouldn’t answer the most significant questions about the Scott killing. Did Mr. Scott have a gun? And did Mr. Scott point a gun at the police?
Considering the state will be doing all it can to blame Mr. Scott’s actions for his fatal encounter with the police, one would think the police would’ve released the most damning evidence it has against him. One would think the police would want to get that evidence into the public sphere without delay. But failing to show any aggressive or threatening movements, let alone a gun, in the hands of Mr. Scott in the videos released thus far, will only exacerbate the situation. What an F-ing joke, was the general feeling among the small, but diverse group.
But it was when one of the mechanics from the service bay asked the most obvious question lingering on most curious minds that took the conversation where everyone knew it was heading. “What’s the point of having body and dash video if the cops control it?” From his angle, the reason police officers are being required to use these technologies is because they can’t be trusted. And neither can internal investigations or prosecutors.
Time and again, law enforcement officials and supporting cast will hurriedly assemble a press conference to give the police’s account of a fatal encounter with a citizen. Without exception, they’ll go on and on about how their officers performed admirably, professionally and let’s never forget, heroically. You’ll hear how some dangerous criminal (usually Black) had been taken off the streets and we should all be eternally grateful to the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep us safe. And then they’ll take questions.
If those questions involve the existence of body and dash cam video, generally, the police are reticent about releasing them. To be fair, in many cases police departments have yet to even provide the majority of their officers with this technology. But in other cases, we get unbelievable explanations like, the camera malfunctioned, the camera wasn’t turned on, the camera fell off during a struggle or while in hot pursuit. And if all that fails, we get the old standby, “…until we’ve completed our investigation, all evidence must and will remain sealed.” Translation: Until the public loses interest and the media moves on, we ain’t releasing shit.
Bottom line: If the Charlotte-Mechlenburg Police Department was as transparent as Tulsa Oklahoma’s department after the Terence Crutcher killing at the hands of police officer Betty Shelby, they could’ve saved Charlotte and the state of North Carolina a fortune in resources used to protect local businesses from protesters gone wild. And as long as the Charlotte Police and other local government officials continue to appear to be stonewalling the public, the longer the protest will go on and the louder demands for justice will grow.