CHARLOTTE – Authorities in Charlotte, North Carolina, braced yesterday for a possible second night of rioting triggered by the police killing of a black man who refused commands to drop a handgun that officers said he was brandishing.
Sixteen police were injured overnight on Tuesday and one person was arrested as officers in riot gear clashed with protesters who threw stones, set fires and briefly blocked an interstate highway.
The trouble in Charlotte unfolded as demonstrators in Tulsa, Oklahoma, demanded the arrest of a police officer seen on video fatally shooting an unarmed black man who had his hands in clear view at the time.
The deaths were the latest to raise questions of racial bias in US law enforcement, and they stoked a national debate on policing ahead of the US presidential election in November.
Police shootings in cities including New York, Chicago and Ferguson, Missouri, have sparked more than two years of largely peaceful street protests punctuated by days of rioting and arson and given rise to the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement.
US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton called for an end to such killings. Her Republican rival, Donald Trump, questioned what the Tulsa officer was thinking in shooting a man he said seemed to pose no imminent threat.
Seeking to soothe tensions, Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts called for calm and North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory offered prayers for the Scott family and local police.
“It’s very important that we all work together as a team to solve a very difficult issue and to bring peace and resolution,” the governor said in a statement.
Charlotte’s police chief, Kerr Putney, said 43-year-old Keith Scott was seen on Tuesday getting into a vehicle holding a handgun. Police surrounded the car, Putney said, and Scott was shot by a black police officer after he exited the car and did not obey orders to drop his weapon.
Police said Officer Brentley Vinson was in plainclothes when he shot Scott and was not wearing a body camera, but that colleagues on the scene were. Scott’s family said he was reading in his car and was unarmed, but the police chief disputed that.
“I can also tell you we did not find a book,” Putney told a news conference. “We did find a weapon.”
Protesters in Oklahoma, meanwhile, have called for the arrest of Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby, who is white, for the killing on Friday of Terence Crutcher, 40, whose sport utility vehicle broke down and was blocking a road.
Shelby’s lawyer has said she feared for her life, believing Crutcher was reaching into his vehicle for a weapon. Lawyers for the Crutcher family released still images from police videos showing the car window was shut and said the use of force was not justified.
Two police videos, one taken from a helicopter and one from a patrol car dashcam, show Shelby following Crutcher as he walked slowly to his vehicle with his hands up. Shelby shoots him as he puts his hands on the car, and he falls to the ground.
Speaking in New York City alongside relatives of Crutcher, civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton said his death was an outrage, and he urged both candidates to broach the topic of police shootings on Monday at their first head-to-head debate.
“Any debate that does not discuss this issue is a bogus debate,” Sharpton told a news conference. “This is a national crisis and it must be addressed.”