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US city under state of emergency after protests turn violent

22 September 2016, 11:36

Charlotte - Authorities in Charlotte tried to quell public anger on Wednesday after a police officer shot a black man, but a dusk prayer vigil turned into a second night of violence, with police firing tear gas at angry protesters and a man being critically wounded by gunfire. North Carolina's governor declared a state of emergency in the city.

The man was not shot by police who had massed in riot gear to keep the marchers outside an upscale downtown hotel, Charlotte officials announced on Twitter. City officials originally announced the man was dead but later reversed that statement and said he was on life support.

The second night of violent protests added Charlotte to the list of US cities that have erupted in violence over the death of a black man at the hands of police.

With officials refusing to release any video of the Tuesday shooting of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott, anger built as two starkly different versions emerged: Police say Scott disregarded repeated demands to drop his gun, while neighbourhood residents say he was holding a book, not a weapon, as he waited for his son to get off the school bus.

From prayers to protests

The killing inflamed racial tensions in a city that seemed to have steered clear of the troubles that engulfed other places.

Gov. Pat McCrory announced late on Wednesday he was accepting a request from Charlotte's police chief, declaring a state of emergency and calling in the National Guard and state troopers to help restore order and protect downtown.

Destructive protests on Tuesday that included shutting down eight-lane Interstate 85 and burning the contents of a tractor-trailer turned violent on Wednesday. Along with the man critically injured, paramedics said two other people and six police officers suffered minor injuries.

Wednesday's protest started as a downtown prayer vigil, but an angry group left the peaceful event and marched through downtown Charlotte.

They shouted "black lives matter" and "hands up; don't shoot" while cursing at officers with bicycles blocking intersections in Charlotte's flashy and vibrant downtown. As the protesters approached the Omni hotel, officers in riot gear lined up outside arm in arm and a few marchers threw bottles and clods of dirt.

Video evidence crucial

Immediately after the shooting, police began firing flash grenades and protesters threw fireworks. Police then fired tear gas, and the crowd of hundreds dispersed.

But not all the marchers left. Police in riot gear then began marching arm in arm through downtown Charlotte intersections, shooting tear gas at people who charged them. At least one protester knocked down a television reporter during a live shot and several other media outlets said on Twitter they had employees taken to hospitals.

There were hints earlier on Wednesday that Charlotte would suffer a second night of destruction. As Charlotte's white mayor and black police chief stood at City Hall and appealed for calm, African-American leaders who said they were speaking for Scott's family held their own news conference near where he was killed on Tuesday, reminding the crowd of other shootings and abuses of black men.

John Barnett, who runs a civil rights group called True Healing Under God, or THUG, warned that the video might be the only way for the police to regain the community's trust: "Just telling us this is still under investigation is not good enough for the windows of the Wal-Mart."

"My daddy is dead!"

On Tuesday night, dozens of demonstrators threw rocks at police and reporters, damaged squad cars, closed part of Interstate 85, and looted and set on fire a stopped truck. Authorities used tear gas to break up the protests. Sixteen officers suffered minor injuries. One person was arrested.

The violence broke out shortly after a woman who appeared to be Scott's daughter posted a profanity-laced, hourlong video on Facebook, saying her father had an unspecified disability and was unarmed. In the footage, she is at the cordoned-off shooting scene, yelling at officers.

"My daddy is dead!" the woman screams on the video, which has not been authenticated by The Associated Press.

On Wednesday morning, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said: "It's time to change the narrative, because I can tell you from the facts that the story's a little bit different as to how it's been portrayed so far, especially through social media."

The police chief said officers were serving arrest warrants on another person when they saw Scott get out of a vehicle with a handgun. A black plainclothes officer in a vest emblazoned "Police" shot Scott after the officer and other uniformed members of the force made "loud, clear" demands that he drop the gun, the chief said.

Putney was adamant that Scott posed a threat, even if he didn't point his weapon at officers, and said a gun was found next to the dead man. "I can tell you we did not find a book," the chief said.

Neighbours, though, said that the officer who fired was white and that Scott had his hands in the air.

The three uniformed officers had body cameras; the plainclothes officer did not, police said. But the chief said he cannot release the video because the investigation is still underway. No cellphone video has emerged on social media, as happened in other cases around the country.

The plainclothes officer, identified as Brently Vinson, a two-year member of the department, has been placed on leave, standard procedure in such cases.

- AP


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