Backlash to police shootings resonates beyond Charlotte, Tulsa
Tensions have resurfaced this week in the wake of another round of black men being shot by police.
The shootings of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have served only to fuel the simmering unrest seen nationwide since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
They’re not the only stories of police-related violence unfolding in the United States. Developments in stories out of Boston, Baltimore and St. Louis could serve to further stoke the nation’s anger.
Perhaps not since July — when police killed Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota (while gunmen killed police in Dallas and Baton Rouge in the following days) — have we seen the confluence of so many stories like these.
Old footage, new questions
Earlier this week, a dashcam recording of a police encounter in St. Louis made its way into the hands of a reporter with CNN affiliate KTVI, offering new evidence that an ex-St. Louis cop currently facing a murder charge allegedly planted a gun on the black man he killed.
When Officer Jason Stockley attempted to stop suspected drug dealer Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011, Smith led officers on a high-speed chase that ended with police cruisers surrounding his vehicle. Stockley fired five shots at Smith, prosecutors later said, and police said it was justified because Smith was armed.
Prosecutors later alleged the weapon didn’t belong to Smith. Why? There was only Stockley’s DNA on the weapon.
The former officer now faces a first-degree murder charge.
Stockley’s attorney, Neil Bruntrager, told KTVI that additional footage would show a different, fuller perspective of the incident.
Protect or profile?
In another case exemplifying the public’s mistrust in police, the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts tossed out a five-year-old gun conviction in the case of Jimmy Warren, a black man from Boston.
In 2011, Boston police investigating a home robbery received a report that three black men had left the home. As officers searched for the suspects, they tried to stop Warren, who fled. After catching Warren, officers took him into custody after finding a gun nearby. He was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm.
But the state’s highest court ruled that officers didn’t have a good enough reason to stop Warren.
“Such an individual, when approached by the police, might just as easily be motivated by the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled as by the desire to hide criminal activity,” Justice Geraldine Hines wrote in Tuesday’s unanimous ruling, which referenced the disproportionate rates at which Boston police stopped and frisked black men between 2007 and 2010.
Baltimore County police killed Korryn Gaines, 23, last month after a seven-hour standoff that Gaines attempted to live-stream on Facebook. The exchange of gunfire resulted in her 5-year-old boy suffering a gunshot wound to the arm.
The live-stream drew national attention as Gaines is heard asking the boy what the police are trying to do. He answers, “They’re trying to kill us.”
On Wednesday afternoon, State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger met with Gaines’ family’s attorneys to inform them no charges will be filed against any officers involved in the case, attorney J. Wyndal Gordon said. The family’s legal team told CNN it never had high hopes.
Gordon said shortly before the family meeting was scheduled to take place that he expected Shellenberger to tell him police had “investigated themselves and they found they did nothing wrong.” He said he had been “reasonably assured” of the outcome during conversations with police almost six weeks ago.
Shellenberger, in a statement posted by CNN affiliate WBAL, said his office determined the officer feared for his safety when Gaines was turning her shotgun toward him and was justified in shooting her.
Gordon’s team last week filed a civil lawsuit against Baltimore County and the officer who fired the fatal shot, alleging wrongful death and state civil rights violations. Police and county officials declined to comment, citing the pending case, officials said.
Gordon said he hopes to make sure witnesses who may have been excluded from the police investigation “have the invitation to come forward and speak to attorneys who are interested in what they have to say,” while the details are fresh in their mind, he said.
Calls for change
Following the death of Terence Crutcher — a police shooting that has spawned a heated “he said-she said” over whether the father of four was intoxicated and uncooperative before Officer Betty Shelby opened fire — protesters converged on the Tulsa, Oklahoma, City Hall early Wednesday.
They demanded justice for Crutcher, but according to CNN affiliate KOKI, they also demanded to know why the City Council had removed from its agenda a proposal for the creation of an African-American Affairs Commission. The mayor-elect’s office said it was not ready to be discussed, the station reported.
The Council canceled its Wednesday meeting so members could attend church services for Crutcher, CNN affiliate KTUL reported.
Amid the backlash to Crutcher’s killing, the Tulsa Police Department disabled its Twitter account “due to the overwhelming volume of violent and profane posts,” KTUL reported.
One Tulsa officer, however, made local headlines on social media when he posted to Facebook a promise to protect Tulsans and to never take the authority that comes with his badge for granted.
“I know you may be upset about the recent events all over the country and now here in Tulsa. I don’t have the answers that you are looking for, but I will continue to be the solution,” Popsey Floyd wrote.
‘It doesn’t make any sense’
Police encounters that end in the death of black Americans have led to the civil unrest in cities across the country, including Charlotte.
On Tuesday night, protesters took to the streets after Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Brentley Vinson fatally shot Keith Lamont Scott. Scott had been reading a book around the time of his death, his family told CNN. Police dispute that account, saying officers saw him carrying a gun.
According to police Chief Kerr Putney, Scott “posed an imminent deadly threat” to officers. Vinson opened fire, killing Scott.
Early Wednesday, activists struck a different tone from the peaceful demonstrations staged in Tulsa. At least 12 officers were injured during the protests. Demonstrators blocked part of Interstate 85 and torched items pulled from semi-trucks.
Protester Nichelle Dunlap questioned how Scott could die while officers served a warrant on someone else. She also asked how authorities managed to capture alive Ahmad Rahami, the suspect in the recent New York and New Jersey bombings, despite a shootout with police.
“So because you wanted to question him, does his life mean more than our black men across the nation? It doesn’t make any sense,” Dunlap told CNN affiliate WCCB.
The protests Wednesday night and early Thursday were markedly more violent, with one person on life support after being shot by a civilian, four police officers suffering injuries, looting, fires and widespread vandalism.
Across the nation, activists have demanded local law enforcement officers adopt reforms that include community policing tactics that rely less upon the use lethal force.
At the same time, local police place their lives on the line in the face of violent acts — something they did in responding to the Dallas sniper and most recently with bombings in New Jersey and New York.
“There is a new challenge,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, told CNN. “It is local police and public safety personnel responding to the incidents that took place in our state and across the river.”
Since last week, officers in two different New Jersey cities have had the unenviable job of responding first to bomb threats, a task once unthinkable in smaller towns like Seaside Park and Elizabeth.
While the public often thinks of federal investigators handling terrorist acts, Menendez noted it’s important to remember that local police are on the front lines helping to disarm potential explosives.
“The mere fact, that risk, who (responded) first?” he said.