A week ago, our fellow North Carolinian Keith Lamont Scott, a disabled black man, was fatally shot by a Charlotte police officer while exiting his vehicle. Officers encountered Scott sitting in his vehicle, allegedly smoking marijuana, outside his apartment while waiting for his son to arrive home from school. Police officers claim that Scott had a firearm at the time, but recently released footage shows no evidence that Scott was holding a gun, and given North Carolina’s open carry laws, even if Scott were holding a weapon, this would be insufficient to warrant his forcible disarming and death. Protests have been ongoing in Charlotte since Scott’s death as part of the larger Black Lives Matter movement which has brought attention to the disproportionate number of police killings of Black Americans.
Critiques of the Charlotte protest have labelled the action as riotous and violent noting that protesters shut down I-85 in the early morning hours after Scott’s death, that 12 police officers were allegedly injured on the first day, and that property was looted. A protester was also killed Wednesday night shortly after police officers shot rubber bullets and tear gas canisters into a group of protesters and accounts differ as to whether police officers or an identified suspect are responsible for the man’s death. The executive response to these protests was aggressive with the national guard deployed on Thursday and maintained, even though protests have remained peaceful.
Acknowledging that the exact details of the incident are unlikely to become clear for some time, the more important question now is how these protests align with our priorities as Americans. First, the protesters have a right to be angry. A man is dead, and many others have died before him under similar circumstances. We must all be saddened and angered that our community members are killed in this way. Second, protest, even violent or destructive protest, has been a vital part of American culture since the founding of our society. Modern analysis additionally reveals that rioting, even with destruction of property, may actually be economically efficient as it allows swifter progress with therefore reduced losses. While now widely accepted as a positive force in changing American culture for the better, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was considered violent, and too demanding by more than 40% of Americans in its day. Today, just over 40% of Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement and many believe that the movement is progressing the causes of the Civil Rights Movement to their conclusion. Thus, while present reactions to perceived violence may be unfavorable, history is likely to view today's brave actions as progressive, necessary and laudatory.
Understanding this historical perspective, we encourage students to boldly support the protests in Charlotte as necessary commentary on a grave societal ill. Do not be afraid of the opinions of your contemporaries if you make the decision to take to the streets peacefully. History will judge you fairly. If physical protest is too bold for you, find other ways to support the cause by sharing supportive articles or updates from those on the ground and donating to funds to keep protesters safe or cover their legal fees.
Ultimately, police killings of civilians are an almost daily occurrence in the United States, with disproportionate slaughter of our black brothers and sisters. The question we must all ask ourselves is: Am I okay with this? If the answer is ‘no’, the time to take action is now.
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