On Thursday, Charlotte was the focus of around-the-clock national news, depicting the protests-turned-riots that occurred in the Uptown streets the night before.
In our city (as I’m sure it was around the country), this was the topic of conversation in every office building, from University City to SouthPark; at every coffee shop and barbershop, from Eastway Drive to Wilkinson Boulevard. News coverage and conversations (and debates) will continue through this weekend, undoubtedly.
But unless you live or work in Uptown, it’s almost as if the rioting, torn-up buildings, looting, and tear gas happened somewhere else. That’s part of the problem (but more on that later).
The first tragedy is that a man, Keith Lamont Scott, is dead at the hands of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, when it has been confirmed that he wasn’t the person law enforcement were visiting his apartment complex for in the first place. What happened during the encounter between Scott and CMPD is still unclear.
Did he have a gun in his hand as the police have said, or was he only holding a book, like his neighbors have alleged? I don’t speculate on matters as serious as this – literally matters of life and death.
What took place Wednesday night in Charlotte is the result of, just that: speculation. Speculation turned to protests, which morphed into violence and destruction. In this 24-hour-cable-news, soundbite-infused, social-media-fueled, must-know-and-share-everything-now society we live in, we don’t even allow time to get answers. In fact, we want answers before we know the questions.
Citizens of Charlotte are right to demand that the authorities release all video evidence of what happened leading up to and during the time Scott was shot. But at the pace that the protests began, did you expect that the police would post a video via Facebook Live as soon as they got back to their precinct?
It’s your right if you don’t trust the police. But justice takes time. It doesn’t have to take too much time, but it needs to be reasonable and fair. But that’s no longer the age we live in, sadly.
Scott, 43, was killed Tuesday afternoon, and less than eight hours later protests were erupting. Tuesday night when the protests were building on the north side of the city, I was oblivious to it, inside the Spectrum Center in Uptown enjoying one of the best concerts of my life (the Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour). Twenty-four hours later, I was, like you were, watching news networks such as CNN and MSNBC, witnessing windows get smashed in at and around the arena and police in riot gear, along the same streets I’d walked the night before.
Riots were going on and Scott’s body hadn’t even left the coroner’s office yet.
Riots were going on and everyone was taking sides on social media.
Riots were going on, and Scott’s family was asking for peace. Clergymen were asking and praying for calm.
The rioters, many of whom were young black males, didn’t care about the wishes of Scott’s family. Because they didn’t care that their unruly actions were going to shift the focus away from the fact that Scott was killed.
And they certainly weren’t going to listen to the pastors, when African Americans know that the black church, while still very important, no longer has the impact on civil rights and influence on the community it once held. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a reverend, remember?
So on Thursday, the focus was on how Uptown Charlotte had been ransacked. I saw countless posts on Twitter and Facebook, by friends and colleagues: “I can’t believe this is happening in my city,” was a common refrain.
Some of my black friends seemed more concerned with how the rioting was going to make them look in Charlotte.
Some of my white friends seemed more concerned about how Charlotte was being made to look around the country.
As I watched national TV news coverage Thursday morning, and listened to National Public Radio during my drive to work, I realized that, of course, Charlotte was the lead story, but Keith Lamont Scott wasn’t being mentioned until about two minutes into the stories, which is a long time in broadcast. His death was no longer the primary focus.
Soon, I assume, we’ll get more answers to what happened when Scott was killed Tuesday afternoon. Whether you believe what the investigation reveals or whether you believe use of lethal force by police was justified, has probably already been decided by yourself. When tragedies like this occur, what’s additionally troubling is how people already have their minds made up.
Oh, and about my earlier notion that the destruction probably felt like it “happened somewhere else.” When we’ve seen protests over police shootings of black males turn violent in other cities, it happened somewhere else. And when we can’t believe this happened in our city, it’s because we tend to only see the part of the city we choose to see.
I didn’t know that #KeithLamontScott would become a trending hashtag, when the article I wrote was published this week: “Where are they not: lives taken too soon are more than hashtags.” When I wrote and sent it in to Axios Charlotte, Scott was still alive.
So was Justin Carr, 26, who was shot during the protest Wednesday and, reportedly, died Thursday evening.
Look how quickly things change.
But then they don’t.
Cover image courtesy of Bruce Clark