Photo Credit: Adam Rhew/Charlotte Magazine
Keith Lamont Scott. That's the newest name to become a hashtag after due process was abandoned by a police officer.
Around 4 P.M. on Tuesday, September 20th, Keith was sitting in his vehicle. He was soon killed by Officer Brentley Vinson. Those two facts are the only things police and Keith's family agree on.
According to statements made by the police, they had entered the area to arrest someone with an outstanding warrant. While Keith was not the person they were searching for, they supposedly took notice when he exited his vehicle with a visible firearm. He's alleged to have gotten back into the vehicle before exiting again. It was then, police claim, he was perceived as a threat. Vinson fired one shot, killing Keith. Investigators declared later that they had recovered a gun from the scene.
Listen to the family and an entirely different picture is revealed.
Keith's daughter was at the scene during or immediately after the shooting. She streamed live video of the situation via Facebook, stating three or four shots could be heard when police approached her father's vehicle. A gun being present with Keith is impossible because, she says, he doesn't own a gun. In fact, the only thing he had on his person was a book—because he was sitting in his vehicle and reading while waiting for his son to come back from school.
Her description of Keith's activities at the time match other witnesses' statements seen in interviews and self-uploaded videos. One other thing is common in these statements:
Keith is disabled with some form of brain damage.
These are two wildly different scenarios. They've also become divisive, as an endless stream of white people, self-described Trump supporters, and people with Nazi or white supremacist imagery in their Twitter profile have sided with the police's account of what went down. Unsatisfied with simply giving their opinion, the users have been directly replying to any black person mourning this tragedy; racist slurs, celebration of the murder, and comparisons to various primates litter Keith's hashtag, preceded by a username containing 'deplorable' and likely a red 'Make America Great Again' hat.
Anyone distrusting the police's account has good precedent to justify skepticism. After all, police have been known to plant guns or fabricate possession as recently as 2013, and officers were caught on camera just this year planning to bring false charges against an individual protestor. There's also the case of Terence Crutcher's death by police where he was claimed to be a threat despite being unarmed, hands up, and immobilized by a taser.
The response is consistently non-violent.
Keith and Terence are the rule, not the exception. They're the latest in a long line of black people who have been summarily executed without any chance at due process—which very much would've found them innocent of any wrongdoing. They're the latest in a long line of black people who become celebrated in death which came far too early. They're the latest in a long line of black people who become polarizing solely because the worst elements of the internet have felt a lack of consequences for so long that they feel the best use of their time is to antagonize mourners and mock the dead.
But Keith is one of the exceptions to the rule of a peaceful, non-violent response. Protestors stayed active throughout the night; they were met by SWAT, police in riot gear, and canisters of tear gas. The chants turned to a group assault on an unoccupied police vehicle, followed by the shutting down of a freeway where freight was pulled from at least two semi-trailers and set alight.
Throughout the next few days, you'll likely see this footage used on the news. The footage will probably be accompanied by someone who is far more outraged over the loss of inanimate objects than the loss of a human life. When the next loss of life occurs, a soulless group of people will post pictures of the riot—accompanied by more slurs—into the next hashtag to feel they're fighting for western culture or against whatever concept of liberalism they've learned from Breitbart.
And another protest will go unanswered by action.
A famous quote attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr., states that riots are the voice of the unheard. Tonight's riot—quite tame compared to those perpetuated in predominantly white cities by predominantly white sports fans—takes place in a state where officials have done their damnedest to silence dissenting voices.
North Carolina is the state that people remember existed when House Bill 2 was introduced and passed in record time. The law removed an anti-discrimination ordinance Charlotte had created to protect LGBTQ residents, followed by disallowing the city from legislating a higher minimum wage than the one set by the state. It was a quick and painful legislative attack that doused the wound in salt by also placing restrictions on which bathrooms transgender people are allowed to use.
Soon after, North Carolina was told by a federal judge that their voting laws were unconstitutional; in fact, the judge stated, "The new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision[.]" The laws had been rolled out immediately following a Supreme Court ruling which stripped a key requirement out of the Voting Rights Act which dealt with changes to voting laws in historically racist states.
In other words, North Carolina has tried hard to disenfranchise specific citizens.
Disenfranchisement occurs when a citizen is given unfair and sometimes insurmountable obstacles regarding life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness outlined in one of the United States' most celebrated documents. A state working hard to keep potential voters from earning a living wage and having access to a ballot cannot be said to embody anything other than disenfranchisement.
Critics of rioting—a loosely applied term in most debates—encourage people to take their complaints to the polls. "Vote!" says the anonymous Twitter user who's never experienced hardship. "Change the system with your words!" (Note: In this example, we are being very kind in our presentation of the most common critic found on the internet.)
Never does the critic consider voting to be out of reach.
Voter ID laws do well to keep the poor out of the booths. Areas where Voter ID has come into usage are generally the same places where black people make up a disproportionate amount of those in poverty. Offices to obtain an ID may be difficult to find and have hours so inconvenient they're only open the fourth Thursday of each month. Requirements to obtain an ID may include documents difficult to obtain, such as your original birth certificate—no copies allowed. And prices may be involved, immediately making a impoverished voter choose between casting a vote or eating for the week.
Never does the critic consider voting engineered to not count.
More states participate in gerrymandering than voter ID. When gerrymandering occurs, it most frequently succeeds at dividing districts so each contains the highest majority of white, republican voters possible. Say, for example, a city has an area that is almost 100% black: if that area had too much of a single district drawn around it, there's a good chance it would result in a poll favoring democrats. Gerrymandering fixes this thing republicans consider to be a problem; the area is divided up by districts so the smallest number of black people is included in each. You could be in one district, your neighbor in another, and their neighbor drawn into a third. This division ensures that the majority in each district remains white, red, and rude.
Never does the critic consider who creates these obstructions.
An impoverished, black voter in a gerrymandered district usually owes much of their troubles to the people elected by republicans in those districts. Term limits are generally set rather high, so the person elected can expect to stay elected for possibly decades at a time. Yet, peaceful, non-violent protests occurring throughout their entire career have done nothing to sway them into improving the lives of their constituents most in need.
A riot is the voice of the ignored.
When decades of protest, federal investigations, elections, and media coverage have done nothing to change the lives of your family, what options are left? The critic will say moving, but the critic has likely never investigated the costs of uprooting a single life from one place to another—let alone a whole family. The critic will say campaigning, but the critic doesn't consider that campaigns take money the ignored do not have and campaigns require majorities which gerrymandering has prevented.
The critic might want to see the problems fixed.
The critic just doesn't like feeling uncomfortable with the solution.
Months ago, I was ardently against anything more than an organized chant and a well-made sign. Rioting is bad optics! Rioting distracts the media from the real story! Rioting can never be responsible! Rioting will hurt an innocent person!
No longer can I stand against rioting when it's become a necessity, a reaction to the endless state-sponsored murder of people never afforded due process; a reaction to the state excusing the murderers when they kill mothers and fathers and husbands and wives and sons and daughters; a reaction to media broadcasting the criminal record of the deceased but never finding time to feature politicians putting their career on the line to reform the taxpayer-funded murderers.
And neither should you.
Rioting has splash damage and can be used for propaganda. But rioting can't be ignored. It's the explosion of righteous emotion that has been suppressed by legislation peddled with the catchphrase of being Common Sense™ in state after state. Racism in the United States never died, instead taking the shape of arbitrarily low wages and inflated interest rates. Social media showed white people like myself the actions we've considered isolated incidents ever since the 70s. The vehement denial of black people as humans hasn't increased out of nowhere, it's been empowered by our political choices.
We cannot criticize justified riots when we're demanding more of the oppressed than we are of the oppressors. Only when we can look at the white majority in the United States and feel confident saying it has its own majority standing up with the marginalized, can we have any standing to say rioting is an overreaction that ignores available options.
Until the critic stands up, they need to sit down and listen.