Do North Carolina Police Have Something to Hide?
October 4, 2016 (Fault Lines) – Back in July, I wrote an article on police video and transparency in North Carolina. I talked about state House Bill 972, which would prohibit the release of video after October 1, 2016, unless a judge ordered the police to release it. I really thought that would be the end of my interest, but the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by the Charlotte police and the presence of both body cams and dash cams put an end to that idea.
Fault Lines has covered the shooting and the aftermath, with posts by Scott Greenfield, Josh Kendrick, and Thomas Johnson. Charlotte police, after the shooting, stood up and promptly announced that it was a good shooting, that the officer was justified.
Based on what I’ve seen and read, yeah, that’s probably right. Scott was wearing an ankle holster that held a Colt Mustang .380 semi-auto pistol. Now that I’m not a cop any more, I often carry a similar gun, a Walther PPK .380 semi-auto pistol. The .380 is about the smallest caliber that I would trust as a self-defense weapon, and only then if it were a quality pistol like the Colt, the Walther, and several other makes. I carry it because it is light, but still able to get the job done if stuff hits the fan, although I’m not really interested in testing the theory out.
You hear the officers repeatedly telling Scott to drop the gun, and they finally had to shoot him. Yeah, I know all of the internet experts are claiming that this was a drop gun—that claim is crap. And this is on video!
So of course the police administration decides not to release the video, apparently assuming that the public will believe them, because they are, you know, the police. Brilliant move! What the police do not understand, what they simply cannot comprehend, is that a large portion of the community doesn’t believe a word that comes out of the police mouth about an officer-involved shooting.
Why, you may ask? Because no one ever gets charged, no one ever is held accountable, much less criminally charged, unless the evidence is overwhelming. So the black community, the group that is suffering the most from police shootings, doesn’t believe police spokesmen and women. They especially don’t believe police union reps, whose adherence to the truth is somewhat suspect, as Thomas Johnson pointed out.
Eventually Charlotte released partial videos, but by then it was too late. The part of the community that you are trying to influence has already been in full-scale riot mode for days. You’re not going to win them back to your side at this point. Even if you tell the public on September 30th that you intend to release the full videos in the coming week, after the Scott family has had an opportunity to view it.
Plus, I’m not sure that I believe that the full videos will be released. You see, it is now after October 1st, the date that the new law went into effect. In my opinion, you now have to have a court order to release it—and sometimes judges, particularly state judges, have no more of a clue than the police administration. I’m not sure about how standing will work in North Carolina, but I can see the union seeking to block the release on behalf of its officers. I can also see them succeeding, at which point the police and city administration will hold up their hands and ask the public to trust them. Which won’t work at all, and the police will scratch their head and blame the protestors. They won’t have a clue that the lack of trust starts at the police station.
In future incidents all over the state, police will claim that the video needs to be withheld to protect citizen privacy, to protect potential litigation, to protect the officers. State judges will go along with that, the media will be pissed and write an editorial or two, or have a short clip on transparency, and nothing will change, except that the lines between the two will become more defined, and more volatile.
They could look at the Tulsa shooting for an example on how to handle this. There, the police administration released the video within days. The District Attorney had just prosecuted and convicted a deputy of manslaughter. The police were open with the community and the community decided to give the police the benefit of the doubt. No riots, and the protests were peaceful.
It’s going to be tough on the officer, and even if acquitted, she may be done in law enforcement. That’s a shame in a way, because the idea of innocent until proven guilty is supposed to protect defendants, but in the real world there is always a cost. And this may very well turn out to be a justifiable shooting too, but this time it will be decided by a jury and a court, instead of by the police themselves.
The New York Times ran a story on the announcement that Charlotte would release the video. Their headline read:
Video of Charlotte Police Shooting Could Be the Last Released in North Carolina
Sadly, they may be right.
Even more sadly, the police there won’t understand why there is no trust.
 And although I have an another holster that I used to use on a regular basis, now that I’m a bit rounder in the waist, I don’t use it much any more.