Charlotte erupts a 2nd night over police killing of black man

Businesses large and small in the protest zone closed for the day and told employees to stay away. 

“Those were independent decisions made by those businesses,” said Michael Smith, CEO of Charlotte Center City. “Their priorities are to protect their associates and I completely respect that.  We encouraged businesses to stay open.”

City officials said this morning they're considering imposing a curfew but will not make a final decision until later today. At a press conference at midmorning, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said he will not release a video that shows the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, the black man whose death sparked the two days of protests. But Putney said Scott's family will be permitted to see the video today.

Hours earlier, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency in the city and called out the National Guard. Chief Putney said "you will see a heavy presence" of Guardsmen Thursday night.

On Wednesday night, Charlotte police were on their own, but they were out in force.

The demonstrators arrived in Uptown — Charlotte's name for its downtown business and shopping district — after marching from Marshall Park about 8 p.m. Wednesday.

A brief occupation of Trade and Tryon streets — the South's financial heart with the Bank of America tower and others looming — was rebuffed by police. Protesters gathered a block away at College and Trade streets, where a stalemate ensued: police in riot gear blocking Trade northbound; protesters filling surrounding streets.

It was chaotic but not particularly dangerous outside the Omni Hotel. At 8:30 p.m., though, when protestors entered the nearby EpiCentre restaurant and retail building, things turned ugly. Doors were shuttered hours earlier as merchants feared the worst. Little damage was done, at first, to the four-story, atrium-filled center.

Protesters turned their fury to the streets where one man was shot in the face. Officers scooped him up, ran into the Omni and placed him in an armored vehicle, which sped to the hospital. Police later labeled the shooting "citizen on citizen," though in the hyper-tense atmosphere few protesters believed it.

Soon, more officers arrived. Tear gas was fired; some canisters were lobbed back. People ran, screaming and coughing from the intersection only to return 10 minutes later. For an hour it continued thus.

Police fired rubber bullets into the crowd around 9:45 p.m. Within 15 minutes, it was mayhem.

Protesters returned to the EpiCentre smashing windows and looting the CVS. Police charged in. A flashbomb exploded. People ran. The CVS was looted; windows were smashed at a steakhouse and two other shops at the EpiCentre. The nearby Charlotte Hornets NBA team store was later looted, too.

The crowd dispersed, heading east and west, on to Interstate 277, where they temporarily blocked traffic, and over to the Nascar Hall of Fame, where windows were broken.

Reporters became targets with at least four injured. WLTX in Columbia reported on Twitter that its chief photographer and a reporter were taken to the hospital after being assaulted but were expected to be OK. Likewise a photographer and reporter from WCNC. WCCB reported that a protester tried to throw a still photographer into a fire in uptown, according to the Charlotte Observer.

No damage estimates from the city were immediately available.

Chief Putney said at the press conference today that five officers were slightly injured Wednesday night. Forty-four protesters were arrested.

Earlier Wednesday, Charlotte’s mayor and police chief had called for calm and promised a thorough investigation of the wildly divergent accounts of the shooting of Keith Scott, 43.

Chief Putney insisted that Scott posed an “imminent deadly threat” to police officers who descended on the apartment complex to serve a warrant on somebody else. Putney said Scott was brandishing a gun when police fatally shot him. But witnesses, including a woman who said she was Scott’s daughter, said Scott did not have a gun, but rather a book. They said he was sitting in his car waiting for the school bus to drop off his son when officers approached.

“He did have a weapon when he exited the vehicle,” Chief Putney said. “Officers were giving loud, clear verbal commands. The suspect exited the vehicle with a handgun, threatening officers.”

The officer who shot Scott was identified as 26-year-old Brentley Vinson, who is also black. According to the Charlotte Observer, Vinson joined the CMPD in 2014, following in the footsteps of his father, Alex Vinson, a retired cop. Vinson has been placed on administrative leave. Putney said officers did not find a book. But considering that Scott is not the person police were looking for, and that North Carolina is an open-carry state, many wondered why police saw fit to shoot him.

The Rev. Claude Alexander, a community leader and local pastor, said Thursday he was conflicted by the police department's refusal to release the video of the Scott confrontation. The community is arguing to see the video, which Putney refuses to do, citing a recently signed law.

In July, Gov. McCrory signed a controversial bill that prevents law enforcement agencies from releasing video footage to the public without a court order. The law doesn’t take effect until October.

“To the degree that they are able to release info that is pertainent to the commutuy to give a full accurate account of what happened . . . I would hope that whatever that is, comes sooner, rather than later,” Alexander said. “I realized they have an investigation. So we are talking about competing interests. That is where patience and trust is needed.”

Scott's killing on Tuesday came on the heels of Friday’s fatal police shooting of Terence Crutcher on a Tulsa, Okla., interstate. And those killings echo the successive July deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, not to mention rage in Ferguson, Mo., Staten Island, N.Y., Baltimore, metro Atlanta and elsewhere over police shootings of unarmed black males.

It was the second night of violence in Charlotte. On the first night, protesters shut down I-85 during a violent demonstration in which police officers resorted to using tear gas. At least a dozen police officers reported injuries.

Wednesday was then tense but nonviolent for much of the day. A memorial grew at the complex where Scott was shot, the Villages of College Downs, in the vicinity of the University of North Carolina – Charlotte.

“This is becoming a national epidemic,” said Michelle Cooke, who lives in a neighboring apartment complex. “Although it doesn’t include all people. Just people who look like me.”

Cooke, a native of Brooklyn, said it all seemed unnecessary and deliberately excessive.

“I understand the warrant, but this was not even the man they were looking for,” Cooke said while standing at Scott’s memorial. “He should have been home having dinner with his family, instead of lying in the parking lot dead.

At an impromptu news conference Wednesday afternoon near where Scott died, Charlotte civil rights activist John Barnett said he found it odd that the man would be waiting for his son with a gun.

“Did he intend to really sit in a vehicle, waiting on his son to get home from school and then plot to shoot a cop if they pulled up on him?” Barnett said.

Barnett and other civil rights leaders in Charlotte, the largest city in North Carolina, are calling for an economic boycott.

Whitney Skillen, a recent graduate of UNCC now living in Raleigh, drove back to Charlotte on Wednesday to mourn. She didn’t know Scott, but lived nearby when she was a student.

She lit candles and prayed.

“I was asking God for healing,” Skillen said. “To overcome fear and to provide forgiveness and restoration. But I don’t know if we will get there in my lifetime.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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