The mood in the streets of uptown Charlotte remains relatively peaceful amid calls for justice in the police shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott, but for some protesters, there's a palpable sense of distrust, especially of mainstream media.
“Walk by their cameras!” a man on a bullhorn shouted Thursday night, cautioning protesters against speaking to journalists. Five people trailing behind him nodded their heads in agreement.
There was an all too familiar outrage after Scott, a 43-year-old black man, died on Tuesday at the hands of a police officer. But after reports surfaced that it was another black man, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officer Brentley Vinson, who had pulled the trigger, some residents told me they became suspicious and were questioning the media’s coverage of the incident.
“I don’t believe it was a black cop,” said Josh Word, a 24-year-old black resident who has lived in Charlotte for eight years. “That’s just what they’re telling us.”
Word, a barber originally from Delaware, added that the media’s focus on Vinson’s race distracts from Scott’s death. Alexis Funderburk, a 22-year-old Charlotte native who is black, agreed.
“It doesn’t matter what race the police officer is; it just matters that an unarmed man was shot,” said Funderburk. “The media thinks Black Lives Matter is gonna feel a different type of way because the cop might be black … which is kind of demeaning and insulting to our intelligence.”
Toussaint Romain, a public defender in Charlotte, told me that the narrative surrounding Vinson’s race isn’t important to the bigger picture.
Scott’s death “doesn’t fit the narrative of white cops killing black people,” Romain, 39, said over the phone. “This is really about force used against [black] people and how that force isn’t held to the same standard with everyone.”
“It doesn’t matter who it is,” he said of Vinson. “They’re killing our people.”
Romain, who has been a state public defender for more than eight years added, “There’s no crime to openly carry a gun or book; neither of those are illegal.”
Police claim Scott was carrying a gun, but his family maintains that the father of seven was actually holding a book while waiting for his son to arrive home from school.
On Friday, Scott family’s attorney released a video taken by Scott’s wife Rakeyia moments before the shooting; it shows how quickly Tuesday's altercation escalated. In the video, Rakeyia tells police, “He doesn’t have a gun. He has a T.B.I. [traumatic brain injury]. He's not going to do anything to you guys. He just took his medicine," while responding to an off-camera police officer who demands that Scott “drop the gun.” Rakeyia pleads with her husband to get out of the car, and tells him not to let police break their car’s windows. Four shots then ring out, after which Rakeyia repeatedly asks "Did you shoot him?" and runs over to her husband, where his body is lying limp on the road.
Bizzy Bailey, a 22-year-old lifelong resident of Charlotte, said there was “something fishy” about the sequence of events that media have reported so far. Bailey, who has family in the same apartment complex where Scott lived, believes a white police officer shot Scott and that a black officer showed up to the scene 15 minutes later (though widespread reports say Vinson killed Scott).
“They tell you what they want to tell you,” he said. “That’s why it was so outrageous.”
“To everyone else, it appears like we were just wildin’ out. But the truth is here, not there.”
Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.