Washington, DC – The Bill of Rights Defense Committee & Defending Dissent Foundation today called for the immediate release to the public of all videos showing the killing of Keith Lamont Scott that are currently in the possession of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
On Tuesday 20, 2016, Keith Lamont Scott, a forty-three year old father seven, died at the hands of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer. According to the officer who took Scott’s life, Scott was armed at the time of his death. However, witnesses dispute this claim and state Scott was reading a book when police shot and killed him. Scott’s death, like the killing of so many African-Americans by police officers, has sparked outrage and protests across the country. In Charlotte, community outrage has been met with police in riot gear, rubber bullets, and tear gas. The governor has declared a state of emergency and one protester has been killed. According to witnesses, he was killed by police, though the police dispute this.
Video from police dashcams captures Scott’s final moments. However, the Charlottesville police department has refused to release the video. Police Chief Kerr Putney has stated that he can see no compelling public interest in releasing the videos and gone so far to say, “I never said ‘full transparency.’ I said ‘transparency,’ and transparency is in the eye of the beholder.”
Transparency may be in the eye of the beholder, but refusing to release video footage that potentially documents police misconduct does not meet any serious definition of transparency. Given that police violence concerns everyone there is a compelling public interest in releasing the footage. This interest in only made all the more compelling when one considers the context in which the killing took place–America’s long, ugly history of racism and its constant culmination into unpunished police violence against communities of color. A community that has been constantly under siege from the very forces that supposedly exist to “protect” and to “serve” them has every right to know if the latest act of violence against them is part of this pattern of law enforcement abuse. The Black Lives Matter Movement has forced the public at large to talk about the very long term and deep rooted problems of both police violence against communities of color and impunity for those who carry it out. Finding out what happened to Scott and making sure there is no impunity for misconduct is of the utmost compelling interest.
While the Police Department has refused to make the video public, they have allowed for it to be selectively viewed. We do not oppose the decision to let Scott’s family see the video; we believe they have every right to see the video. Yet, this selective viewing of the video has allowed for conflicting depictions of what it shows to surface. Scott’s family maintains they cannot tell what he is holding, but that he was shot while walking backwards. The Charlotte Police Chief concedes there is no “absolute, definitive, visual evidence that would confirm that a person is pointing a gun” on the videos. Yet, spokesman for the Charlotte Fraternal Order of Police, who also seen the video, has claimed it positively depicts Scott with a gun and as a threat to police. Despite the fact that his interpretation of the videos skews wildly from what others who have seen them have relayed to the public, without having seen the video for itself the public at large cannot directly refute his claims.
As an organization that seeks to fulfill the promise of the BIll of Rights for everyone, we oppose systemic racism and police violations of the people’s rights. We have long supported transparency into government abuses of power, whether it be at the level of local police accused of killing an African-American who did not pose an imminent threat, or high level federal officials accused of overseeing torture. We believe that those who violate people’s civil liberties must be held accountable and that such accountability is not possible without full transparency. As such, we support the demands for making all videos of Scott’s killing public.