Keith Lamont Scott was killed by a police officer on Sept. 20, in Charlotte, North Carolina. The officer, dressed in civilian clothing, said that Mr. Scott had a gun and that he did not follow verbal orders to put his hands up. While there is video that documents the interaction between Scott and Officer Brentley Vinson, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney had initially declined to release the videos because there was “no compelling reason” to do so. But days of public protest along with a disturbing video released by Scott’s wife provided a compelling reason. Still, Chief Putney released just two short snippets of the shooting and indicated that more video was being withheld.
The compelling reason for the Charlotte police to release all of the videos is because there is a significant difference between what they say happened and what the Scott family says. The police say that Scott had a gun; the family says he was in his car reading a book and waiting for one of his sons to come home from school. Having reviewed the videos, the family says it has more questions than answers. Allowing others to see the video will likely raise more questions, but it will also close the trust gap. Failing to release the full video suggests that the Charlotte police have something to hide.
Releasing video snippets seems like appeasement, like the drip, drip, drip of the police trying to make a case shooting Scott to death. The North Carolina NAACP, the ACLU, and many others have called for release of the entire, unedited videos, but the police chief has dug his heels in. Does he have something in common with Rahm Emmanuel, the Chicago mayor who claimed there was nothing to hide on the Laquan McDonald videos? Those were released more than a year after McDonald’s death, and they contradicted the police version of his killing.
We didn’t have the luxury of video during enslavement, yet we know that horrors were visited on black people. Slaveowner journals, along with some of the implements of torture that have been discovered (and may be displayed in our new museum), document the horrors, but imagine having video of it.
We don’t have video of lynching, although there are pictures of those lynched, though they are conspicuously absent in many history books. We don’t have video of Rosewood or of the evisceration of Black Wall Street. Indeed, the carnage that economically envious Whites visited on a successful African-American community is so shameful that white Tulsans have attempted to erase the record of their cowardly acts — the newspaper articles that recounted White cowardice went missing decades ago.
We don’t have video of the police brutality that caused so many black deaths in the early- and mid-20th century. We know the brutality existed, and we know police officers were never charged “back in the day” for killing or torturing black people. The fact that we didn’t have video then contributes to the urgency that we get video now. I don’t know what the video shows, but I know that I don’t want to leave it to my imagination, and I don’t want a minute here, two minutes there, when we know cameras should have been running for much longer. When another black man is shot and killed and the police version is that he had a gun, the public deserves to see if the video backs that version up.
If there is a video record of a police interaction with an African-American, it ought to be released, and it ought not to be edited. Failure to do so fuels the anger that spilled over onto Charlotte streets on the evenings of Sept. 20 and 21. Once the family saw the videos and shared their concerns, people were back on the streets on Sept. 22, but they were peaceful, and the atmosphere was much less tense than it had been.
There is a marked contrast between the behavior of the police establishment in Tulsa and that in Charlotte. In Tulsa, video was released just a couple of days after Officer Betty Shelby shot Terence Crutcher. Not a week had passed before the officer was charged with first-degree manslaughter, based on what prosecutors saw on the videos. People in Tulsa have been outraged, but peaceful. People in Charlotte feel outraged, but also hurt and betrayed.
It is interesting that Rakeyia Scott keeps telling the police that her husband has no weapon, even as the police keep insisting that he drop the gun. Is this a setup? An Amadou Diallo moment (when a wallet was mistaken for a gun)? Something else? There is a compelling reason to release all, not just snippets, of the footage of Kevin Scott’s killing. It is an opportunity to build trust and to show that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have nothing to hide from those they are sworn to “serve and protect.”
Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist. Her latest book, “Are We Better Off?: Race, Obama and Public Policy,” is available via www.amazon.com.