Roughly 1,000 protesters marched through portions of the University area Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning in response to a police shooting death of an African-American man.
The victim is 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott. Police say he had a gun when the shooting occurred shortly before 4 p.m. at the Village of College Downs apartment complex off Old Concord Road, near UNC Charlotte. A woman who says she’s Scott’s daughter said in a Facebook Live video that her father had a book and was waiting to pick up his son at a bus stop.
It was an hour-long video in which she’s yelling and cursing at officers. The video quickly went viral, and protesters started arriving as the night wore on.
CMPD says a 2-year veteran of the force, officer Brentley Vinson, shot Scott. Vinson is African-American. Police were at the apartment complex to serve an outstanding warrant on someone. CMPD has not identified who was the subject of that warrant.
Quina Jones was parked on the perimeter of the protest with her six children leaning out the backseat windows.
"Don’t kill blacks! Don’t kill blacks! Don’t kill blacks!" chanted Jones's children.
"I was watching it live at home, sitting in bed, and I was so rageful, I just decided, I was like, we have to get up, everybody grab your shoes, let’s go down, I know y'all got school tomorrow, we’re gonna stay for a minute, but as you can see, I probably been here about a hour. So, it’s just disappointing to me, and I’m glad that they’re finally doing something about it," Jones said.
But as the night wore on, more protesters arrived, and the mood turned more aggressive. They forced the shutdown of Old Concord Road, right next to the rail tracks.
Overhead, a police helicopter was swinging its search light over the crowd, which stretched all the way down the street.
Just as the 11 o’clock freight train passed, protesters began throwing rocks and water bottles at police, and smashing in the windows of police cruisers, some so badly they had to be towed from the scene. Then, at once, police in riot gear, donned gas masks and helmets,and began shooting rounds of tear gas into the crowd.
The protesters retreated down the street, rubbing stinging tears out of their eyes. One woman, Yolandi Heigan-Hubbart was hit directly.
"My whole face burns. My legs burn because I got hit with one of the tear gas things."
But protesters wrapped t-shirts around the faces, and returned to face the line of police officers. Some kneeling with their hands over their heads. As police fired more rounds of tear gas, protesters began grabbing the canisters and throwing them back. And a new wave of rocks and bricks were hurled at the officers, and a cloud of gas rose over the intersection, glowing green in the light of the traffic signal.
By midnight, the protesters had moved on. They set off down the ramp to W.T. Harris Blvd., where they stopped traffic and smashed another police cruiser. They banged on the hood of the car in time to chants of “no justice, no peace.”
And over the course of the night, they moved to I-85 and blocked traffic there and started a bonfire in the middle of the highway.
But for all the police dressed in riot gear carrying billy clubs and riot shields, there was also one who spoke directly to a crowd of protesters around 1:00 in morning. Deputy Chief Vickie Foster, herself a black woman. She spoke with protesters and listened quietly their concerns. And when one protester asked her if he could ask her a question,
"Yeah. Of course you can," Foster replied.
"What would it take for me to sign up for a ride along? I wanna see what these officers see," the protester asked.
"I can make that happen."
"I want to go on a ride along and I want to see what these officers see. I want to see both sides of the tracks."
"I can make that happen," Foster repeated.
It was a rare sign of police and protesters talking face to face with one another, in what otherwise was a chaotic, and at times violent, night of protests.