The big story that activists always face is one in which authorities tell them that their efforts are inappropriate, ill-considered, and ineffective–or even counterproductive. (And, sometimes, they are.) It takes a certainty that comes from courage, social support, and stubborness to keep at it. Sometimes persistence pays off all by itself. Sometimes, events vindicate and validate claims that previously seemed unimportant enough to generate protest.
So, once local and national activists learned of the existence of Charlotte, North Carolina police videos of the confrontation and killing of Keith Scott, it’s hardly surprising that they would demand their release. Scott’s family echoed that call, particularly after they had been allowed to view the police videos.
Rakeyia Scott released her own phone video of her husband’s death. It doesn’t show Keith Scott’s demeanor, nor whether he was armed, but you can hear Mrs. Scott imploring the police not to shoot her husband, then reacting to the shots and watching her husband die. It’s awful.
Demonstrations shook Charlotte, night after night. Most, but not all, demonstrators were peaceful each night. There’s an ongoing battle to control the story and control the images. Black Lives Matter activists wanted the peaceful demonstrations to represent the conflict in Charlotte. Their opponents wanted images of disruption, looting, and violence. It wasn’t hard for either side to find what they wanted.
The police announced they wouldn’t be releasing their videos until an investigation was complete–however long that took. (Understandably, it’s harder for people to do most jobs when audiences are watching and commenting. Public disclosure is a benefit–and a cost–of democracy.) The mayor then announced that the videos would come out some time–soon. She wasn’t very specific.
But after Mrs. Scott’s video came out and the demonstrations continued, the police released the videos the next day. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney explained that he’d been assured that the ongoing investigation would not be affected by their release–allaying his earlier worries.
The videos, as Chief Putney acknowledges, don’t show that Keith Scott had a gun or threatened the police, but the chief is confident that there is enough additional evidence to support the police version of the story.
I doubt that this will be resolved easily or quickly. But the impact of the protests, in spite of what authorities and pundits said, is pretty clear.
Meanwhile, a new law that takes effect in North Carolina next week will prevent future videos from disclosure.
Expect a challenge here as well.
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