In black-bordered white numbers, the footage shows the day and time it was taken. “2016-09-20 15:51:30,” the digits spell out. Officers hide behind a white pickup truck, alternating between taking cover and pointing their handguns at a car next to the truck. The car door opens as a man wearing a white baseball cap comes out of the car and, arms lowered, takes a few steps backwards. Without prior warning, a quick succession of four shots are fired. The man clutches his chests and tumbles to the ground. “2016-09-20 15:51:45,” showed the digits now. And just like that, in just under twenty seconds, Keith Lamont Scott’s life was taken away.
The news spread like wildfire and, in just a couple of hours, people swarmed the streets of Charlotte, North Carolina. To the activists, this was yet another case of unwarranted police violence against the African-American community. While the police claimed that Scott had a weapon and the officers had no choice but to defend themselves by firing first, Scott’s family claims that he was unarmed.
Activists demanded that the footage of the incident be released by the police through days of continuous protest and even a riot. At its climax, the rallies got to a point where the city had no choice but to enforce a curfew to control the scenes in the streets. It was not until after Scott’s wife Rakeyia released her own video recorded from inside the car that the police released the bodycam and dashboard footage of the shooting. In the footage, it’s not clear whether Scott was carrying a weapon at that moment. In the eyes of many, however, he was unarmed and they have continued their protests, now demanding an end to police violence.
Scott’s death and the fortnight of demonstrations have been under the media’s spotlight. Although I have previously condemned the media for their recklessness, in this case, their help is needed. Widespread media attention keeps the actions of the police under strict scrutiny and it is due to this scrutiny that police departments all across the US were forced to alter their methods. After receiving backlash over a series of incidents over the last few years, police departments decided to have closer supervision of their officers. One of the systems they implemented for this task is body-worn cameras.
In this system, police officers are forced to wear cameras, usually in the middle of their chests, whenever they are on duty. The point of the cameras is not only to provide reliable evidence for any type of incident, but also to deter officers from utilizing excessive force – as they know their actions are being recorded. However, some authorities are not too fond of the system.
In North Carolina, where Keith Scott was shot and killed, a legislation that would block the public from obtaining any type of recordings from police cameras was signed and passed. According to the governor, providing the public with one perspective of an event can lead to misinterpretation and can make the public further mistrust the authorities. The public has responded negatively to the legislation, demanding that the government should be as transparent as possible. As the US government itself has been telling its people when National Security Agency (NSA) documents were released, “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear.”