Editorial: Release Charlotte police videos as quickly as possible
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The top priority in Charlotte, N.C., after a controversial police-involved shooting Tuesday, should be a thorough investigation and fair legal proceedings. Above all, the officer’s right to a fair trial must be protected.
But take it from Chicago, Charlotte. As our city learned after 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot by police, it would be irresponsible to delay the release of police videos of the encounter even a day longer than necessary. That would only feed distrust between the police and the community; and once trust is lost, it is so hard to regain.
A long delay in the release of the Laquan McDonald video led voters here to oust Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in the Democratic primary election last March and created a rift between City Hall and angry citizens that has yet to heal.
A cellphone video of the fatal encounter between Charlotte police and Keith Lamont Scott was released by Scott’s family on Friday. But Charlotte authorities say they are not ready to release their dashcam and bodycam police videos, even after three nights of protests and riots. Police say they don’t want the release of the videos to hamper their investigation.
Sometimes, there are good reasons for delaying the release of videos during an investigation. For example, if some witnesses are still being interviewed, police want the witnesses to base their accounts on what they recall, not on what they saw on police videos that were made public.
But sometimes what starts out as reasonable caution becomes stonewalling. Many critics of the Charlotte police believe that point has been reached already. Roy Cooper, the North Carolina attorney general who is running for governor, is calling for the police videos to be released.
What makes the case controversial is that police say evidence, including eyewitness accounts, indicates Scott was holding a handgun when police — there to serve a warrant on someone else — shot him after he parked his truck at an apartment complex. But some witnesses and family members say Scott, who had suffered from a previous traumatic brain injury, did not have a gun and instead was holding a book. Police say no book was found at the scene.
The 2½-minute video released by the family on Friday did not show whether Scott had a gun. Authorities say their videos do not clearly answer that question, either.
Police-involved shootings of black men have sparked protests in city after city. This is an emotional issue, even in this case where the police chief, the police officer who fired the fatal shot and the victim all are African Americans.
Take it from Chicago, Charlotte: Stonewalling will not work. Release the video as quickly as possible.