CHARLOTTE (AFP) - Protesters took to Charlotte’s streets for a third straight night and defied a midnight curfew in the US city early Friday (Sept 23), amid heavy security aimed at preventing more clashes over the fatal police shooting of a black man.
Hundreds marched to the city police station carrying signs saying “Stop killing us” and “Resistance is beautiful,” but the atmosphere was far calmer than the previous two nights.
Several hundred protesters remained on the street following the midnight (12 noon Friday Singapore time) curfew, but security forces took a hands off approach and did not enforce the restriction.
Pressure was growing on police to release video of the shooting of Mr Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old African American, whose killing on Tuesday sparked the unrest.
But members of his family watched the footage onThursday, raising “more questions than answers,” their lawyers said.
Mr Scott’s death was the latest in a string of police-involved killings of black men that have fueled outrage across the United States.
North Carolina’s governor has declared a state of emergency in Charlotte, and several hundred National Guard troops and highway police officers were deployed to reinforce local police protecting city infrastructure and businesses.
“We are going to be a lot more proactive,” Charlotte Police Chief Kerr Putney told a news conference. “We made 44 arrests last night because we are not going to tolerate the behavior.”
A protestor shot by a civilian in Wednesday night’s protests died in hospital on Thursday, local media reported.
Protesters held an impromptu vigil on the sidewalk where the man was struck by a bullet from a shooter who remained at large. They lit candles and offered prayers.
Mr Scott was shot and killed in an apartment complex parking lot on Tuesday during an encounter with police officers searching for another person wanted for arrest.
Conflicting versions of what happened – police say Mr Scott was armed with a handgun while his family says he was holding a book – fueled the angry protests.
The authorities have so far refused to release police video of the incident.
No gun is visible in the video, which shows Mr Scott stepping backward when he was shot, one of the lawyers told CNN.
“His hands are down by his side. He is acting calm,” Mr Justin Bamberg said. “You do see something in his hand, but it’s impossible to make out from the video what it is.”
Mr Putney has said a handgun was recovered at the scene, and that no book was found, contrary to the family’s assertion.
The video footage “does not give me absolute definitive visual evidence that would confirm that a person is pointing a gun,” he told CNN.
But the footage indicates the officer identified as having shot Mr Scott – Brentley Vinson, who is also black – was justified, he added.
“The officer perceived his failure to comply with commands, failure to drop the weapon and facing the officers as an imminent threat,” he told Fox News.
A handful of protesters confronted police on Thursday night. However, many marched past officers who posed a less intimidating presence on the streets despite their greater numbers.
“Black lives don’t matter in this country,” said a 34-year-old protester with a mask around his neck who identified himself only as Amen-Ra. “We’re coming together to make them matter, to force America to make them matter – either through violence or peacefully.”
Mr Scott’s shooting came on the heels of another fatal police shooting of a black man, Mr Terence Crutcher, in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Friday.
Tulsa authorities on Thursday charged the police officer who killed Mr Crutcher with first-degree manslaughter.
The troubles in Charlotte reverberated on the US presidential campaign trail, with Republican candidate Donald Trump suggesting that drug use in the inner city was somehow responsible.
“And if you’re not aware, drugs are a very, very big factor in what you’re watching on television at night,” he said during a speech in Pittsburgh.
Democrat Hillary Clinton discussed the unrest in calls to the Charlotte mayor and US congresswoman Alma Adams, her campaign said.
“Too many black Americans have lost their lives and too many feel that their lives are disposable,” the campaign cited her as saying.
While most protests remained peaceful, they turned ugly when several dozen swarmed onto an interstate and halted traffic.
Police fired tear gas and what appeared to be rubber bullets, according to an AFP reporter on the scene, at protesters who fled up an embankment on the side of Interstate 277.
Security guard Steven Miller, 24, said he ran onto the highway, swept up in the passion of protesters livid over what they argue has been unfair treatment of blacks by US police department, but scattered when he heard the pop pop pop as police fired pellets or rubber bullets.
“We can do this peacefully and I would prefer that,” he said.
“I was at the Omni (on Wednesday night) when everything went down over there, and my heart just shook. And I don’t want to see that ever again.”