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What We Know About the Police Killing That Sparked Riots in North Carolina

Protests broke out after cops looking for an unrelated suspect shot a black man they claim was armed.

by Allie Conti
Sep 21 2016, 2:24pm

A protester stands with his left arm extended and fist clenched in front of a line of police officers in Charlotte, N.C. on Tuesday, September 20, 2016. (Jeff Siner/The Charlotte Observer via AP)

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Just before 4 PM on Tuesday, police fatally shot Keith L. Scott at a Charlotte, North Carolina, apartment complex while attempting to serve a warrant to another man. The 43-year-old was killed just one day after cops in Tulsa, Oklahoma, released footage of a white officer shooting an unarmed black man on the side of the road.

By late Tuesday night, 16 Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers and at least 11 civilians had been injured as protestors shut down a portion of Interstate 85 and some engaged in looting and arson, the Washington Post reports.

The hundreds of demonstrators were reacting to what by now—and especially this week—is an inescapable fact of American life: Police officers frequently shoot and kill unarmed black men. At least 700 people have been killed by American cops this year, according to a tracker maintained by the Post, with the paper noting that at least 163 of them were black men. Tuesday's tragedy in North Carolina wasn't a prototypical Black Lives Matter outrage, however, as Brentley Vinson—the officer who shot Scott—is himself a black man, and officials are adamant the deceased was armed and dangerous.

Cops maintain they observed Scott enter a car and emerge with a gun, rendering him an imminent threat. At a press conference Wednesday morning, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief Kerr Putney said Scott was given clear instructions to drop his weapon, which detectives claim to have recovered at the scene.

As is typical in these cases, family members of the slain man are challenging the official account, insisting Scott represented no threat at all.

"The police just shot my daddy four times for being black," a woman who identified herself as Scott's daughter countered in a Facebook Live video. Scott's brother told a local TV station that Vinson was not in uniform at the time of the shooting, and the family contends that Scott was reading a book when he was shot, although Chief Putney has claimed a book was not found at the scene.

As is standard procedure in police shootings, Vinson is on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. He was not wearing a body camera during his encounter with Scott.

About three years ago, a white officer with the Charlotte Police Department was charged with voluntary manslaughter for killing an unarmed 24-year-old black man named Jonathan Ferrell. The former college football player may have been running toward the police in search of help after a car crash.

The jury in that case was deadlocked, and it was declared a mistrial. Protestors took to the streets, and two people were arrested for allegedly throwing rocks at cops.

The reaction to Scott's shooting death has been even more intense. Officers fired tear gas into a crowd after individuals began targeting police cruisers, and other people reportedly tried to break into a Walmart, only to be thwarted by the cops. At least five people have been arrested so far.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch, whose office has endured a busy week keeping tabs on police violence across America, is urging the people of North Carolina to demonstrate peacefully.

"Protest is protected by our Constitution and is a vital instrument for raising issues and creating change," Lynch said at a conference in Washington, DC. "But when it turns violent, it undermines the very justice that it seeks to achieve, and I urge those demonstrating in Charlotte to remain peaceful in their expressions of protest and concern."

Follow Allie Conti on Twitter.