Last year, a police officer shot an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, in my hometown of North Charleston, S.C. Watching the video — as the entire country did — you see Scott gunned down in cold blood as he runs away from the officer.
That cop was promptly fired and charged with murder.
There were no violent protests in North Charleston. When people think about the killing of Walter Scott, to this day, they don’t think about looting, vandalism or street violence — but the indefensible images of a police officer essentially murdering an unarmed man. The focus is all on that tragedy. Few, if any, think that officer was justified. It showed America, unequivocally, that police brutality is real and that it’s a problem.
When most of us saw the video in Tulsa, Okla., this week of Terence Crutcher being shot by police, there was a similar reaction — the man had his hands in the air and was doing nothing. Unarmed, his car broken down, he was shot and killed by police for seemingly no reason at all.
It was one of the clearest examples of law enforcement abuse since the Philando Castile shooting in Minnesota in July, and is probably the most explicit video of police brutality we’ve seen, with the exception of Walter Scott.
Most Americans were horrified.
Within the context of this public mindset, Keith Lamont Scott was shot and killed by police in Charlotte the day after the Tulsa video was released. This video hasn’t been released and may never be. The details aren’t as immediately clear as cases like Walter Scott or Terence Crutcher.
People, understandably angry, began to protest. Some — too many — became violent. Then, for 24 hours or so, you couldn’t turn on cable news or view social media without seeing violent protesters saying and doing indefensible things.
That behavior took away from what happened to Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott. I’m not saying people don’t have a right to be angry, only that the practical effect is that what protesters are angry about will inevitably and unavoidably be undermined the moment they become violent.
Most Americans are probably sympathetic to Terence Crutcher. Most are not sympathetic to street violence.
Why do — or why should — people protest to begin with? To raise awareness. To cry out for help. To demand justice.
To gain sympathy for their cause.
On Thursday night, the protesters put on their best face, for their cause and for the city of Charlotte, demanding justice.
That’s the way you do it.
I’m not naïve enough to believe you can bottle up the rage that follows in the wake of these types of police shootings, or that some doing the looting and vandalizing property even give a damn about Keith Lamont Scott or even Terence Crutcher. Some “protesters” really are just criminal opportunists.
I also recognize that the city of North Charleston immediately firing the police officer who killed Walter Scott and charging him with murder might have immediately pacified any violent backlash. These cases aren’t the same, and some video evidence is better than others.
Still, if protesters want to shine a light on police violence in the wake of such tragedies, they will never get the sympathy they need by committing violence themselves.
I grew up three hours from Charlotte, and that city is better than what we saw Wednesday night. Thursday reminded us of that.