In a conference room buzzing with reporters, the Rev. Raymond Johnson sat alone, over against the wall, dressed in a black suit, black hat, red scarf and white clerical collar.
Like the rest of us there, he had come to hear Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray announce his decision in the Keith Scott case. But Johnson, interim pastor at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church in Marion, S.C., had a secondary interest. He said he had come to Charlotte back in September, to join the first round of protests, so he was eager to see that justice was done.
Johnson listened for 45 minutes as Murray outlined, point by point, why no criminal charges would be brought against CMPD officer Brentley Vinson, the cop who shot and killed Scott during an armed confrontation. And when Johnson had seen and heard all the evidence presented, he stood and offered this: “I sat here,” he said, “and I listened to what you said, and I accept that. You gave me the facts, and that’s what we were asking for — the facts.”
Hard as it may be for some to accept, Murray was right; the weight of the evidence simply does not support criminal charges being filed against Officer Vinson.
And while I respect those who disagree, I, too, sat in that D.A.’s conference room this week, looking and listening for even the slightest indication of criminal wrongdoing. I found not so much as a hint.
What I did see and hear was an air-tight presentation that slammed the door on many of the rumors and speculation that we have all heard over the last two-plus months. And after seeing and hearing it all, I can say without reservation that no jury in America would – or should — send Vinson to prison for what he did that day.
Here are some of the things I now firmly accept:
• Keith Scott was armed with a semi-automatic pistol when he was confronted by police, and in all probability he was still holding that gun when he got out of his SUV. He was not holding a book, as some alleged eyewitnesses initially insisted.
• Scott, who had previously suffered a traumatic brain injury, was no doubt under the influence of some very powerful medications that clouded his thinking and slowed his reactions when CMPD officers yelled, numerous times, for him to drop the weapon. I don’t believe he ever intended to hurt anyone.
• Officer Vinson, who reasonably sensed a mortal threat, had no way of knowing about Mr. Scott’s brain injury, the medications he was taking or what his intentions may have been toward the officers who had surrounded him. Given the situation he faced, Vinson’s actions were not unreasonable, let alone criminal.
The tragic death of Keith Scott – yes, his death was tragic — was not like the one we saw in North Charleston, where an officer inexplicably fired rounds into the back of a fleeing man. It was not like the Philando Castile case near Minneapolis, where an innocent man with a legal weapon was doing everything he could to comply with an officer’s verbal demands. And it certainly was unlike the wanton slaughter of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed by a Cleveland cop almost before the officer’s cruiser could come to a complete stop.
None of this is to say, however, that CMPD is blameless in the death of Keith Scott. I have said on numerous occasions that police departments nationwide – including the one here in Charlotte — must find better ways to de-escalate conflicts before they turn deadly. And it certainly is not lost on me that while African American suspects are too often shot and killed, due process be damned, we see ample examples where white serial killers – Dylann Roof, Robert Dear and James Holmes, to name just three – were taken alive to have their day in court.
Just as police departments nationwide now generally prohibit officers from engaging in high-speed car chases (without any breakdown in law and order), they also must adopt policies and institute training that will de-escalate various types of violent conflicts.
Even with the imperfect knowledge they had that day, was it really necessary for CMPD officers to swarm Keith Scott so suddenly, or might a slower and more deliberate approach have resulted in a different outcome? No one can say for sure. That question will likely be addressed in a civil court – which is where this unfortunate situation belongs.
Glenn H. Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com. Email email@example.com, or share your thoughts in the comments section below.