Anger mounts in Oklahoma and North Carolina after cops shoot two Black men dead in separate incidents.
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Violence flared Tuesday and Wednesday nights in North Carolina’s largest city after a Black man was shot dead under disputed circumstance by a Black cop, just a few days after a separate videotaped killing of a clearly unarmed Black male driver in Oklahoma – seemingly with car trouble – drew national attention.
Here’s a factual summary of the killings of two Black men by police as of the Florida Courier’s Wednesday night press time:
A fatal police shooting by a White female officer has reopened fresh wounds in this city with a fraught history among Blacks, White residents and police officers.
A graphic police video shows Terence Crutcher, 40, being fatally shot by a police officer Friday night as he walks with his hands up toward his SUV, stalled out in the middle of the road. The incident quickly became the latest flashpoint in a string of controversial police shootings of Black Americans.
An attorney for Officer Betty Shelby, who shot Crutcher after responding to a dispatch call about an abandoned car, said Crutcher failed to heed police commands and that she and another officer, Tyler Turnbough, felt threatened and fired nearly simultaneously. Turnbough used a stun gun.
The city’s police chief, who released helicopter and dash-cam video of the shooting, called the images “disturbing” and vowed to “achieve justice.”
Protesters quickly demanded that Shelby be fired, and the Crutcher family called for criminal charges against the officer, who has been put on routine administrative leave. The Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation and local authorities are independently investigating the shooting.
The last night of life for Crutcher, a father of four who was on his way home from a class at Tulsa Community College, began with a pair of 911 calls reporting an abandoned car with its engine running and doors open in the middle of the road.
“I got out and was like, ‘Do you need help?’ reported one caller, who said Crutcher “took off running” after asking her to “come here, come here,” and saying the car was going to “blow up.”
“I think he’s smoking something,” the same caller said.
Police videos show Crutcher walking toward his SUV with his hands up. Four officers, three male and one female, approach Crutcher as he walks to the driver’s side and seems to lower his hands and put them on the car.
The dash-cam video is blocked by officers, and Crutcher is partially blocked by his own car in the helicopter video, making it difficult to see his movements. A man in the helicopter video says, “That looks like a bad dude, too. Probably on something,” before suggesting it was “time for a Taser.”
Within seconds, Crutcher drops to the ground. “Shots fired!” a woman yells on police radio as officers slowly back away while holding their guns up. Officers wait more than two minutes before approaching Crutcher again. He was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Police say the videos did not capture Shelby arriving on the scene because she did not turn her dash cam on.
Suspects, not citizens
“When unarmed people of color break down on the side of the road, we’re not treated as citizens needing help. We’re treated as, I guess, criminals – suspects that they fear,” said Benjamin Crump, one of the attorneys representing the Crutcher family.
Police and the Crutcher family, which through attorneys has cautiously praised police for quickly releasing videos and audio of the shooting, have differed on key parts of Crutcher’s last moments: whether he disobeyed police or not, and whether he was reaching into his car.
In initial reports, police said Crutcher was not following officers’ commands. But speaking to media Monday, Tulsa police spokeswoman Jeanne MacKenzie said she wasn’t sure what Crutcher did that made police shoot.
Slow to help
Asked why Crutcher wasn’t given immediate medical aid, MacKenzie said she was unsure. “I don’t know that we have protocol on how to render aid to people,” she said.
Family attorneys said Tuesday that police found PCP in Crutcher’s car, but dismissed that discovery as playing a role in his death. A toxicology report is pending. Attorneys also contend that Crutcher’s driver’s side window was up and left smeared with blood after he was shot, suggesting that police had no reason to fear him reaching into the car for a weapon.
Cops seldom punished
Police tactics in Tulsa, the second-largest city in Oklahoma, have come under increased scrutiny.
The shooting comes four months after Tulsa County volunteer deputy Robert Bates was sentenced to four years in prison on a manslaughter charge after shooting and killing Eric Harris, an unarmed Black man, during an undercover operation in 2015. The White reserve deputy said he mistakenly reached for his gun instead of his Taser.
That kind of conviction is rare. According to a Tulsa World database, there have been 162 fatal police shootings – including 24 involving Tulsa police – since 2007. Only two, including the shooting by Bates, led to criminal convictions. Of deadly police shootings in Tulsa, 29 percent of victims were Black. The city’s Black population stands at 11 percent.
The scars of a 1921 “Black Wall Street” race riot in which White individuals attacked the Black community, destroying businesses and leaving many homeless, are also still felt in Tulsa, where schools still teach history lessons on the incident. The death toll was estimated to be between 50 and 300, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society.
City leaders appealed for calm Wednesday and promised a thorough investigation of Tuesday’s fatal police shooting of a Black man that triggered a night of violent protests. Authorities said they were reviewing video from body cams and dash cams
The dead man was Keith Lamont Scott, 43; the officer who shot him, Brentley Vinson, is also Black.
Sixteen Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers suffered minor injuries during the chaotic night.
Charlotte pastor Ray McKinnon said he went to the scene near the apartment complex when he heard about the incident. He found himself in the middle of an intersection where tear gas was sprayed.
“I was literally in the road praying,” he said. “What I saw on the faces of the protesters and police officers was similar – there was the same hurt.”
He said people “feel like they’re not being heard.”
McKinnon said that people are frustrated, and wanted police to release video footage.
An activist group, True Healing Under God (THUG), held a press conference Wednesday questioning the police department’s version of events and promising to hire a lawyer.
The group also called for African-Americans in the community to begin an economic boycott of the city’s White-owned businesses, specifically citing the largest malls in and around Charlotte. A representative from the Nation of Islam also urged an economic boycott of the city.
The chain of events began around 4 p.m. Tuesday, when police began searching in for someone who had an outstanding warrant at an apartment complex, Charlotte-Mecklenburg PD Chief Kerr Putney said.
Gun or book?
Officers saw Scott in his car. They say he got out, went back in and came out again, this time holding a handgun, Putney said. Officers say they yelled at Scott to drop the weapon and within seconds Scott was shot because he posed an imminent threat of danger.
A woman who said she is Scott’s daughter said on a live-streamed video that Scott was unarmed, sitting in his car reading a book and waiting for a school bus to drop off his son. Her video, viewed more than half a million times, elevated the incident to a national stage within hours.
Putney said no book was found at the scene. He said he did not know whether the gun found near Scott was loaded.
Some civil activists and neighbors questioned the police account of the shooting Wednesday, saying Scott was disabled from an accident and was waiting for his son’s school bus. Activists demanded answers from police and called on protesters to be peaceful.
Putney said officers began to encounter protesters at around 7 p.m. Tuesday. It took about an hour for the crowd to transform into “more aggressive agitators who began breaking the law,” Putney said.
Shortly before 11 p.m., police donned gas masks. Soon, clouds of tear gas bloomed in front of their lines. Protesters damaged at least two CMPD vehicles.
More officers were deployed to the scene throughout the night. At about 1:45 a.m., some people blocked nearby Interstate 85, broke into a tractor-trailer and set items on fire, Putney said.
More violence Wednesday
On Wednesday night, protests intensified in the city’s downtown center, with police firing tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets. Even after one person was killed, according to police, in a “civilian-on civilian” shooting, protesters refused to disperse.
Fox News Channel reported that the Ritz Carlton Hotel’s management locked the hotel down and was barricading the hotel’s doors with heavy furniture to prevent violent protesters from entering.
Adam Bell, Mark Price and Katherine Peralta of the Charlotte Observer and Kristi Eaton and Jaweed Kaleem of the Los Angeles Times / TNS contributed to this report.