Last year, the Charlotte City Council unanimously passed a civil liberties resolution that was supposed to prevent the kind of police encounter that ended Keith Lamont Scott’s life. The resolution, based on BORDC & DDF’s model Local Civil Rights Restoration Act, prohibits police from profiling based on race or immigration status, and mandates training on de-escalation, implicit bias, and encountering people with disabilities. It also protects demonstrator rights and the right to film the police.
Supporters had high hopes for a new day in Charlotte when the resolution passed with the support of the Mayor and the Chief of Police. The resolution will ensure that there are no “footnotes or asterisks” to the phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance “with liberty and justice for all,” City Manager Ron Carlee declared.
But it only works if police follow the rules. And last week, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) didn’t follow the rules. So Keith Lamont Scott became an asterisk.
We don’t have the full story of what happened last Tuesday, and perhaps we never will. But there are many questions about why police ended up killing a black man who was just sitting in his car when they arrived on the scene to arrest someone else. Even if Mr. Scott was rolling or smoking a joint, or if he had a handgun, neither of those activities were threatening the officers until they turned it into a dangerous situation. Even as Scott’s wife was informing police that he suffered from a traumatic brain injury, they did nothing to de-escalate, did nothing to accommodate his impairment.
Robert Dawkins, State Organizer for the SAFE Coalition NC which led the campaign to pass the civil liberties resolution is frustrated. In an email he pointed out that police had not followed the resolution directives regarding de-escalation, arbitrary profiling, implicit bias training and handling civil disobedience. “What good is it to pass policy that you don’t live up to?” he asked.
— SAFE Coalition NC (@SAFEcoalitionNC) September 25, 2016
Concerns have also been raised about the way police responded to the protests that erupted after the shooting. Many observers felt that police presence was militarized and heavy handed before any protesters began throwing objects. The civil liberties resolution is quite clear in this regard also, that police should actively work to de-escalate the situation, even “delaying or suspending enforcement actions” if circumstances warrant. Writing in the New York Times, William Barber II, the leader of North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement and president of the state’s NAACP says the police did follow those guidelines:
Yes, a few dozen provocateurs did damage property and throw objects at the police, after being provoked by the officers’ tear gas, rubber bullets and military-style maneuvers. But as we saw, thousands more have peacefully demonstrated against the institutional violence in their communities.
The civil liberties resolution passed by the City Council is “intended to foster trust between the CMPD and the community.” Unfortunately, police actions in the past week have shown that CMPD still has a long way to go.