Victim had book, not gun: Neighbours

Family members of Keith Scott assemble near a press conference, held after protests against the police shooting of Scott, in Charlotte.
Family members of Keith Scott assemble near a press conference, held after protests against the police shooting of Scott, in Charlotte.PHOTO: REUTERS

CHARLOTTE (North Carolina) • Was the victim carrying a gun or a book? Was the officer who opened fire black or white?

In the North Carolina city of Charlotte, two conflicting accounts of the police shooting of an African-American man have taken hold.

City officials appealed for calm after a night of violence triggered by the shooting, with Charlotte's police chief saying that Mr Keith Lamont Scott, 43, was shot after officers saw him with a gun and posing a threat to their safety.

Community members said Mr Scott was doing what he regularly did on a school-day afternoon: reading a book as he waited for his young son to step off the school bus at the Village at College Downs housing complex.

Police chief Kerr Putney - who is black - identified the officer who fired the shots as Mr Brentley Vinson, also African-American.

But neighbours and people claiming to have witnessed the incident disputed the official account, convinced the shooting is just the latest example of police brutality that has impacted black communities.

A climate of distrust has descended on the largely black neighbourhood where Mr Scott died, in the wake of several incidents in recent years of African-American men being killed at the hands of white police officers.

Community members said that Mr Scott was doing what he regularly did on a school-day afternoon: reading a book as he waited for his young son to step off the school bus at the Village at College Downs housing complex.

Two women who claim to have seen the shooting said police leadership lied about the circumstances of the deadly encounter.

Others who gathered at the site of the shooting were also quick to insist that Mr Scott was holding a book, not a firearm, and that the officer who opened fire was white, not black. Police stated that no book was found at the scene.

But it was a narrative that began taking hold among members of the black community.

"A white officer with a bald head shot that man," insisted Ms Taheshia Williams, whose daughter goes to school with Mr Scott's son.

 
 
 

Another black woman, who asked not to be named, also insisted that it was a white officer who opened fire, and that Mr Scott had no weapon.

"I saw it from my balcony," she said, pointing to a third-floor apartment within view of the spot where Mr Scott was shot.

"The chief is lying" by saying that officer Vinson fired the shots, she said.

As for Mr Scott holding a gun in the encounter, "it's a lie", said Ms Williams. "They took the book and replaced it with a gun so they can look like that man did something that he didn't do."

She believed that Mr Scott had complied "exactly" with specific police orders to exit the car and walk to the back of the vehicle.

"Obviously, complying is going to get you murdered," said Ms Williams. "Because that is what happened."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2016, with the headline 'Victim had book, not gun: Neighbours'. Print Edition | Subscribe