For those who haven’t been following the news, there was a police shooting in Charlotte the night before last. The facts of the case are still being investigated: the police claim that the black man who was shot had a gun; his family says he had a book. I’m not sure the distinction matters, as North Carolina is an open carry state, so “he had a gun” isn’t obviously relevant. There were violent protests both last night and the night before. Yesterday afternoon, I put the following statement on the Ethics Center’s webpage (including the italicized portion marking it as my own). I woke up this morning to an email ordering me to take it down, and to call my dean. I am not going to die on this hill, so I removed the post. But we live in a world where University Ethics Center directors are not allowed to attempt to exercise moral leadership in the communities they serve, even as those universities claim to commit and recommit to their communities. And where Ethics Centers are forced to be strangely silent on moral issues like HB2 and police violence.
I reproduce the statement in its exact form below, in case someone may find it useful. Systemic violence against people of color is worse than the loss of our universities - including public ones, as I was sternly informed UNC Charlotte is - as places of intellectual engagement. But the latter is not trivial or insignificant, as the steady collapse of meaningful public discourse is a disaster for any viable understanding of democracy.
UPDATE (9/22): There is dashcam footage of the shooting, which the CMPD has. The family has seen the video, and wants it made public. Earlier in the day, the CMPD chief had declared that the video would not be made public, because "The video does not give me absolute, definitive visual evidence that would confirm that a person is pointing a gun." Unless this is a misstatement (but this is the exact quote I have seen, in several sources), this means that the CMPD Chief has essentially refused to release the video on the grounds that it does not clearly exonerate his officer. Someone please show me how I am misreading this statement! In any event, there are already too many issues to discuss here, but the national conversation has to include discussion about what to do with video footage of shootings. North Carolina has passed a law that generally suppresses the public availability of that video. It takes effect Oct. 1. I do not know what the legal situation with the footage is now, but the conflict between the CMPD Chief and the family on whether the video should be released is important.
[Please note: The following statement represents my response to the shooting. It does not represent the views of the Center, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, or the University]
I had the privilege of being able to attend some of the community gatherings at lunch today on campus, and will say something about last night’s shooting, in University City, of Keith Lamont Scott. I want to extend my condolences to his family: especially to his wife, who has lost her husband, and to his children who will now have to grow up without a father. With the Chancellor, I hope there will be a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident.
But much more needs to be said. At the gathering, I heard one person after another – mostly African-American women – speak to an incredible sense of fear: fear not just for themselves, but for their brothers, their cousins, their fathers, their children, or their future children. They also spoke of despair. One woman sitting next to me pointed out that in the face of systemic injustice, it seems to have become impossible to protest or even to be heard: both non-violence and violence are condemned loudly in the mainstream media. And several people spoke of difficulty sleeping at night and of recurring trauma.
I do not have very many solutions, but I think minimally that it’s very important that white people hear this (and there were few other white people in attendance, at least at the session I was in). Consider the following. In the past week, there was the Friday shooting in Tulsa of Terence Crutcher, who appeared to have his hands in the air and whom even the Tulsa police have conceded had no weapon. The candidate for a major political party, who has spent the last several years proclaiming (or questioning, or insinuating with a wink) that the country’s first African-American President wasn’t eligible to be President on account of his supposedly being born in Kenya, suddenly declared not only that he believed Obama was born in the United States, but falsely claimed that his opponent started the smear campaign. Then, in a stunning display of gaslighting, he and his spokespeople denied that he had said otherwise since 2011, even when shown video evidence refuting him. On Monday, that candidate’s campaign released a video showcasing the support of Ted Nugent, who is one of the most racist individuals to have set foot on a stage in a long time. Then on Tuesday evening, the national Fraternal Order of Police endorsed that candidate. This is just in less than a week. In the meantime, the regime of mass incarceration (that the other candidate facilitated a generation ago) continues: although the rate is dropping a bit, Black Americans are incarcerated at six times the rate of White Americans, a situation that legal scholar Michelle Alexander calls the “New Jim Crow,” because being convicted of a crime can permanently disenfranchise someone. Even a study that seemed to find that Black Americans are shot (it did not distinguish fatal and non-fatal shootings) at a frequency similar to white ones, also found they are subjected to routinized non-lethal violence at a much, much higher rate than white Americans. Any society ought to find this state of affairs intolerable.
In the face of a steady drumbeat of news like this, how could any person of color not feel despair and desperation? The national background frames how we interpret last night’s shooting in Charlotte: even if it turns out that CMPD did nothing wrong, it is impossible not to think about Mike Brown or Kajieme Powell when we hear that another Black man has been shot by police. That impossibility fuels both anger and despair, and the national-level problem makes both police and members of minority communities less safe, here and elsewhere.
I do not know exactly what happened last night, but even more than I hope that the CMPD will conduct a thorough and transparent investigation, I hope that something triggers white America to care about the deep structural racism that permeates so much of our society, and about the incalculable damage that racism does to real people, real families and real communities, every day.