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Gun violence in the US

State of emergency in US city of Charlotte, after protester is shot amid fresh clashes with police

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 September, 2016, 11:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 September, 2016, 5:07pm

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has declared a state of emergency in Charlotte as protests over a police shooting turned violent for a second night.

A protester in Charlotte was shot and critically wounded by a civilian during the latest unrest after the police killed a black man on Tuesday, officials said.

The city initially reported that he died, but later retracted that, saying he was on life support.

“Fatal shot uptown was civilian on civilian,” the southern US city had originally said in a statement on Twitter. “@CMPD did not fire shot,” it added, referring to the police.

An AFP reporter at the scene of the protests outside the Omni Charlotte hotel saw a man who was apparently shot falling to the ground, bleeding heavily. Witnesses said police brought him into the hotel.

Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said the victim was taken to the hospital, but did not provide a name or other details.

“It was confirmed not to be a police officer,” she told CNN, referring to the shooter. “We’re going to continue to try to get more of an update.”

The shooting came during clashes between protesters and riot police. Some protesters banged on windows, others threw objects at police and stood on cars.

Police fired tear gas, sending demonstrators scattering.

Violence first broke out Tuesday night after police shot to death Keith Lamont Scott, 43, in an apartment complex parking lot earlier in the day.

It was the latest in a series of fatal police shootings of black men that have left the African American community demanding law enforcement reforms and greater accountability.

City leaders had appealed for calm and promised a thorough investigation of the shooting of Scott that triggered hours of violent protest and shut down Interstate 85 on Tuesday.

But the unrest continued Wednesday night, with police using tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who blocked the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets in the heart of uptown, then occupied the EpiCentre entertainment complex.

Pockets of the city were on edge late Wednesday afternoon, with some uptown businesses apparently sending workers home early over uncertainty about further protests. The Charlotte Chamber urged businesses in uptown and University City to “remove or chain down all tables, chairs, signs or planters.”

At about 4.30pm Wednesday, a group of two dozen protesters stood in front of the Bank of America Tower at Trade and Tryon streets. They silently stood and held signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop Killing Us.”

Andrew Monroe said the protest was organised informally by a group of black professionals. “What we want to do is show we’re not dangerous,” he said. “We want to show the world it’s not thugs out here.” Monroe said black people deserve to be safe in the streets and don’t feel that way in the spate of recent police shootings. Across town at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, students gathered at the Union and laid down in protest.

Earlier in the day, authorities said they were reviewing video from body and dashboard cameras from the deadly confrontation in University City. Despite demands by some activists for that footage to be publicly released, police said they would not do so during an active investigation.

The officer who shot Scott, Brentley Vinson, 26, is also black. Sixteen Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers suffered minor injuries during a chaotic Tuesday night.

Word of the incident exploded on social media and drew national attention in the wake of police shootings of black men that led to protests from Ferguson, Missouri, to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and spawned the Black Lives Matter movement.

“This is a very difficult situation for everyone involved,” Mayor Jennifer Roberts said at a Wednesday news conference. “I’d like to ask people to wait until all information is available.” She expressed the city’s condolences to Scott’s family and concern for the injured officers.

The chain of events began around 4pm Tuesday, when police were conducting a search for someone who had an outstanding warrant at The Village at College Downs complex on Old Concord Road, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Kerr Putney said.

Scott was not the person they were looking for, but police saw him in his car in the apartment complex.

They saw Scott get out of the car, then get back in, Putney said. They saw he had a handgun, approached the car and ordered him to drop the weapon.

Despite the commands, he got out of the car with the gun as officers continued to tell him to drop the weapon, Putney said.

Within seconds Scott was shot. Authorities said Scott posed an imminent threat of danger.

Police do not yet know definitively if Scott had raised his weapon, Putney said. But he said that a person’s gestures, aggressive behaviour and other factors can also be interpreted as “imminent threats” under North Carolina law.

Police did not disclose how many times Scott was shot.

A woman who identified herself as Scott’s daughter said on a live-streamed video that Scott was unarmed, reading a book in his car and waiting for the school bus to drop off his son. The video, viewed more than half a million times, elevated the incident to a national stage within hours.

Putney said no book was found at the scene. He said he did not know if the gun found near Scott was loaded.

Some civil rights activists and neighbours questioned the police account of the shooting Wednesday, saying Scott was disabled and was waiting for his son’s school bus. Activists demanded answers from police and called on protesters to be peaceful.

The chief said he wanted to dispel false rumours and get as many facts out to the public as he could in the midst of the ongoing investigations.

“People are watching how we respond, how we react,” Putney said. “I’m optimistic that the results of our actions will be positive … but it’s time for the voices of the majority to stand up and be heard. It’s time to change the narrative, because I can tell you from the facts that the stories will be different as to how it’s been portrayed so far, especially through social media.”

Scott’s mother, Vernita Walker of Charleston, said her son had seven children.

“He was a family man … and he was a likeable person. And he loved his wife and his children.” She said she had just talked with her son on the phone that day.

Agence France-Presse and Associated Press