Sunday, September 25, 2016

Charlotte -- More Fog Than Sunshine

News report from Charlotte

I'm not impressed with Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Chief Kerr Putney. He's been obfuscating from the beginning of the controversy over the police shooting of Keith Scott, and he outdid himself yesterday when announcing the immanent release of partial police video of the incident -- an incident which has understandably been interpreted by many as police murder.

Putney has said that his "job" is protecting his officers, and so much of what he has been doing since Scott's death is trying to divert attention from what his officers did.

This has been standard protocol for most police departments for many years; officers are presumed to be blameless by their departments. The victims are always and fully at fault for what happens to them.

That's been slowly changing in some cities where protests have followed some of the more egregious killings, but any change in the assumption of police blamelessness and victim fault is strenuously resisted by police unions, officers, and often by chiefs themselves. They simply cannot accept the idea that they are capable of doing anything wrong, particularly when they kill people.

Part of that blameless attitude is due to (Lt. Col.) David Grossman who travels the country promoting his "Killology" concepts to police officers and departments in lectures and trainings which assert that police kill when they have to, only when they have to, and there is no dishonor in doing so. Even, apparently, when they kill the innocent (I guess it's just "collateral damage," too bad so sad) they are serving a higher calling as "sheepdogs" protecting the "flock." This is literally insane, and yet it is the grounding philosophy of much of the policing in this country. (If you've ever seen Grossman speak, it's obvious he's not too tightly wrapped.)

In Charlotte, the police chief attempted to stonewall the public after his officers seemingly arbitrarily shot and killed Keith Scott last Tuesday. He refused to provide more than a very sketchy and incoherent outline of what happened. It was not backed up with any evidence, and he adamantly refused to release police video of the killing, claiming -- absurdly -- that he didn't want to violate the family's privacy and grief.

Not too surprisingly, this stonewalling -- as well as the killing itself -- led to protest. Some of the protest turned violent which got a lot of attention in the media, but overall the protests were non-violent and specific. The protesters wanted the video evidence of what happened, and they wanted accountability by and from the police. Simple, straightforward honesty was what they were and are still after.

Putney refused, citing the ongoing investigation which he said would be compromised by premature release of information and evidence. He promised "transparency" but not "full" transparency. Of course this led to more and more boisterous protest. WTF? Right?

Ultimately, on Friday, Keith Scott's wife Rakeyia Scott released her own video of the incident. Until that time, I don't think anybody outside her circle knew she had video of the police killing her husband.

Stonewalling and misdirection and withholding information is not limited to the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department it would seem...

Pressure mounted on Putney to release police video as well, but he continued to refuse until yesterday.

Mrs. Scott's video does not show her husband until after he has been shot and is lying on the pavement, but it is graphic in that her pleas to the police not to shoot her husband go unheeded. She tells them he is not armed, that he has suffered a TBI (traumatic brain injury) and has just taken his medication. She pleas with her husband to be cooperative, get out of his vehicle and do what they say. The police keep screaming at him to "drop the gun," but Rakeyia Scott keeps telling them he doesn't have one, "he has a book."

All this is happening apparently while Mr. Scott is sitting in the passenger seat of a white pick-up SUV while police with guns drawn shout at him, and Mrs. Scott pleas with the police and Mr. Scott. When the video was released, there was no indication of where Mr. Scott was, and he is not visible -- so far as I can tell, anyway.

Nor -- until yesterday -- was there any indication of why  the police were confronting Mr. Scott at all. It was a complete mystery, largely because of Putney's stonewalling and refusal to provide basic information about what the hell was going on. It was all under investigation, and he would not "compromise" that investigation.

Nevertheless, he insisted that Keith Scott was to blame for what happened to him because he refused to obey commands to "drop the gun," a gun which Putney acknowledged could not be seen in any of the police videos he had reviewed -- videos he refused to release.

He did, however, release a photo found on the internet which he said showed a gun, purported to be Scott's, lying on the pavement at his feet after he had been shot and police had established a perimeter.

Not helpful. In fact, the photo merely inflamed matters more. It was not clear that the object in the photo identified as a gun was in fact Scott's gun, or even that it was a gun at all. There was no way to tell. The photo was too blurry. No such object appeared in Mrs. Scott's video of the scene mere seconds after Keith Scott was shot in any case. What does appear is what looks like police officers on scene repeatedly dropping and picking up black gloves which led to speculation that the black object in the photo released by the police department was a glove not a gun.

As it stands, there is still no way to tell.

Why Putney thought it was appropriate to release that photo under his department's name and cite it as "proof" that Scott had a gun is unknowable. It's part of the bizarreness of this incident and the behavior of the police department in the face of scrutiny and demands of the public for information.

Scott's family insists he was not armed and did not have a gun at the time he was shot. They insist that he had -- if anything -- a book, the Koran as it happens, which he liked to read while waiting for one of his children to get home from school. He was innocently waiting for his child to get home, reading a book in his truck while he waited, when he was set upon by screaming police with guns drawn.

According to Putney, the police were on site to serve a warrant on someone else. He would not say why, instead of serving that warrant, they turned their attention to Keith Scott, ultimately killing him.

Again, Putney's stonewalling caused intense speculation and a widespread belief that the police had no business confronting Mr. Scott at all, that it was in essence a random and arbitrary execution of yet another black man.

That is what Rakeyia Scott's video seemed to confirm. The police were out of bounds and out of control, and they shot and killed Keith Scott for no reason at all -- except that they could and would be almost certain to get away with it.

While Keith Scott is not shown in his wife's video of the incident until after he has been shot and is lying on the pavement surrounded by police still yelling at him, he is shown very briefly in one of the police videos released yesterday. He is seen slowly and cautiously getting out of the passenger side of the pick-up truck SUV and slowly backing away from the truck with his arms at his side. Within seconds, shots ring out and he falls to the ground.

There is no apparent reason for the police to open fire. Mr. Scott may not be doing exactly as they say, but he is not visibly threatening (such as raising a gun toward police as some reports said he did.) He is simply walking slowly backwards with his arms at his side. It is clear that there is nothing in his right hand. His left hand is not visible in the video. At any event, no gun is visible in Scott's hand.

The other video released by police yesterday does not show Scott being shot, though one does hear the shots, but it shows the aftermath of the shooting from an officer's point of view. At one point, while officers continue to shout at Scott and handcuff him, he is heard moaning and a police officer's hand is briefly in view. It is covered with blood -- we can assume it is Scott's blood -- and the officer asks for his bag in the back of his own truck. He needs gloves and equipment to staunch Scott's wound.


Particularly interesting due to the claim that Scott's blood, DNA and fingerprints were found on a gun recovered at the scene, and that is claimed to be proof that Scott was armed at the time he was shot. Unfortunately for police, that is not proof due to the fact that an officer is seen seconds after the shooting with blood (presumed to be Scott's) all over his hand, and at no time is there any visual evidence that Scott had a gun in his hand -- or anywhere else on his person.

Police assert it, but they cannot show it.

Later yesterday, Charlotte police released a photo of a gun lying on pavement, a blood smeared holster and an alleged half-smoked blunt. They claimed that these were Scott's.

During his press conference yesterday announcing the imminence of the police video release, Putney for the first time stated why the police confronted Keith Scott rather than serve the warrant they were there to do.

It was, he said, because the police observed Scott with marijuana, saw him rolling a joint in his pick up truck SUV and saw a gun. They claim they saw him "waving" the gun.

Putney claimed that the presence of marijuana and a gun was criminal, and therefore the police had to act for "public safety" reasons.

According to some reports, they left the scene to put on their bulletproof vests and then returned to confront Mr. Scott.

According to Scott's wife, he did not have a gun, but the police on scene insisted they had seen one in the truck.

According to police, the photos they released yesterday of a gun, a holster, and a blunt were Keith Scott's and they presumably were presented as the evidence that justified the shooting.

But absent any visible linkage between these items and Mr. Scott, and given Putney's propensity to stonewall and obfuscate, who knows whether these items are in fact Mr. Scott's, and further, who can say whether mere possession of such items is justification for a summary execution?

That's the problem here. That's the problem in many police killings. While they may eventually be ruled "justifiable" -- or "within policy" -- and the victim may be blamed, the killing itself indicates again and again that the officers involved have no interest or concern for the sanctity of human life; their only interest is in neutralizing a perceived threat, whether on not there is any objective threat to themselves or anyone else.

In this case, it appears that Mr. Scott was not at any time threatening the officers in any way. It is not certain that he had a gun, nor if he did, is it clear that he "brandished" it or threatened the officers with it. There has been an unconfirmed claim that he "pointed" it at officers, but there is no proof, and it has not been claimed by the police that he threatened them with a gun.

What has been claimed is that Mr. Scott disobeyed the officers' repeated commands to "drop the gun."

He may or may not have disobeyed. It's impossible to tell. There is no visual evidence he had a gun in his hand when he exited the pick up truck SUV. Even Putney acknowledges that. There is no visual evidence that Scott pointed a gun at police or that he threatened them in any way.

There is visual evidence that he attempted to comply and was shot down as he did so.

There is testimony from his wife and others that Keith Scott was involved in a road accident (motorcycle?) about a year ago in which he sustained significant injuries including traumatic brain injury. Whether that affected his response to police "commands" is worth considering. At any rate, there is no sign at all that Mr. Scott was threatening or aggressive or even particularly defiant.

In other words, there was no objective and visual reason for the police to shoot him, even though the shooting may eventually be ruled "justified."

This goes on all the time, essentially every day, throughout the country and it is long past time for it to stop.

I've claimed and I continue to claim that 90% or more of police killings are unnecessary. They happen because police are scared out of their wits by their contact with the public -- fear and loathing which is partly due to their training and conditioning -- and they are expected to shoot when they are so frightened they "fear for their lives and the safety of others."

So long as they make that claim, they're almost certain to be absolved of criminal liability -- and they will often be praised and promoted for "keeping us safe." So what if some Negro is dead?

That's the commonplace attitude among officers and their commanders, and that is wrong. It is a moral abomination.

It must change.

Right now, I'm more involved in activism from a distance over the killing of Joseph Mann in Sacramento, and step by step, I and others are taking action (me mostly by writing) to try to ensure that nothing like that happens again.

The killing of Keith Scott in Charlotte is catalyzing similar activism, and hopefully the police culture that allowed that killing will change -- and sooner rather than later. I have zero confidence that Kerr Putney will be the change agent, but you never know.

In Tulsa, the killing of Terence Crutcher has led to the arrest of his killer, but whether that will significantly affect police culture in Tulsa is hard to say. She may be a scapegoat, and nothing will change. We'll have to see.

Meanwhile, here are the videos so far released of the shooting of Keith Scott: (Via NYT)

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