Editorial: Cops on TV


Maybe he had a gun. Maybe he didn’t.

How can it be that almost a week after the police shot Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte’s University City neighborhood, we still don’t really know what happened?

We have the official version of events — that Scott was brandishing a handgun, that he threatened the officers on the scene, that it was a black cop who pulled the trigger — and we have some video that has wisely been released by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the city, though their narrative doesn’t jibe with the images.

The released video seems to show that Scott was most certainly not holding a gun when he was shot, and it becomes difficult to tell if, as the CMPD claims, it was a black cop who shot him.

But it doesn’t matter: All cops are blue. It’s the victim’s race that makes this story national news.

This mistrust of the police, always extant in a big, Southern city like Charlotte, was exacerbated by Todd Walther, who, in speaking for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Fraternal Order of Police on live television, told CNN’s Erin Burnett that 70 percent of the protestors arrested the night of the shooting were from out of state. He recanted a day later, when Charlotte Observer reporters found that almost 80 percent of those arrested were from the Queen City.

When CMPD Chief Kerr Putney says that his department has no “definitive” evidence that Scott was holding a gun, how can he still have so much confidence in the actions of his officers? Every single cop on the scene, and every squad car, should have been recording footage of the event as well. Where is that footage? And why can’t the public see it?

As it stands, civilians have no legal right to see what their employees on the police force are doing on the job: Body-camera video is classified as evidence, or personnel info, labels that seem applied with the express purpose of shielding those charged with protecting and serving. And a new state law goes into effect next week that further hampers our ability to monitor the officers on our payroll.

This week, the city of Greensboro showed some courage in releasing footage of Officer Travis Cole using “excessive force” on an African-American man sitting on his mother’s porch in an otherwise quiet Greensboro neighborhood.

How can it be that almost a week after the police shot Keith Lamont Scott, we still don’t really know what happened?

Cole, who resigned in the middle of the department’s investigation, has already got a highlight reel: He was disciplined for his role in the infamous Scales brothers video two years ago, handcuffing Rufus Scales on a Greensboro Street for “blocking traffic” while his brother Devon recorded the encounter on his cellphone. The settlement cost the city $50,000.

When the final tally comes in Charlotte, the cost will be much higher.