All lanes of Interstate 85 was reopened early Wednesday but still littered with debris after a night of protests over an officer-involved shooting of an African-American suspect in the University City area.
A dozen police officers were injured Tuesday night in a series of clashes, and reports were coming in early Wednesday of motorists on Interstate 85 being hurt and their vehicles damaged when protestors threw rocks and other debris off interstate overpasses onto traffic below.
One of the officers was hit in the face with a rock, and among at least seven hospitalized due to injuries, officials said.
The Walmart on North Tryon Street was among the sites attacked and looted by protestors and it was closed early Wednesday with wooden pallets piled in front of the doors.
Three or more tractor trailer trucks were stopped and looted and at least two fires were started on the interstate, as the protestors burned items from the trucks.
The shooting follows a high-profile spate of police shootings of black men, which has led to protests from Ferguson, Mo., to Tulsa to Chicago and started the Black Lives Matter movement.
In Charlotte, a crowd of several hundred shouting protesters continued to block streets well after midnight, despite the use of tear gas by police in riot gear. Clouds of tear gas drifted over the crowd on Old Concord Road, and people coughed, hacked and fell back before walking towards police lines again multiple times.
The protesters also walked to nearby thoroughfares and disrupted traffic: By shortly before 3 a.m., the demonstrators had shut down all lanes of Interstate 85 northbound and started a fire on the highway, before being dispersed by police with nightsticks.
Throughout the night, protesters chanted slogans and held signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop Killing Us.” The scene was sometimes chaotic and tense, with water bottles and stones chucked at police lines, but many protesters called for peace and implored their fellow demonstrators not to act violently.
“Accountability!” one man shouted repeatedly at CMPD officers. “You don’t get to murder us and get away with it!” yelled another.
The protests began on Old Concord Road at Bonnie Lane, where a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer fatally shot a man in the parking lot of a University City apartment complex Tuesday afternoon.
The man who died was identified late Tuesday as Keith Lamont Scott, 43, and the officer who fired the fatal shot was CMPD Officer Brentley Vinson, a police statement said. Both men were African-American, a police source confirmed.
Police said they had been searching for someone who had an outstanding warrant at The Village at College Downs complex on Old Concord Road when they saw Scott leave his car holding a gun.
Officers approached Scott after he got back into the car. He emerged from the car again armed with a firearm “and posed an imminent deadly threat to the officers, who subsequently fired their weapon striking the subject,” police said in a statement. “The officers immediately requested Medic and began performing CPR.”
Medic took Scott to Carolinas Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Scott was not the person officers were searching for to arrest on the outstanding warrants, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney told reporters later.
Police said they recovered the firearm Scott was holding. But a woman who said she is Scott’s daughter claimed on a live-streamed video on Facebook that Scott was unarmed when he was shot. The video went viral, with more than 521,000 views by 9:30 p.m.
In the video, the woman said her father was sitting in his car reading a book and waiting for the school bus to drop off his son. She claimed that her father was Tasered and then shot four times, and that he was disabled.
“IT WAS A BOOK” one protester’s sign read.
Police declined to respond directly to the woman’s accusations.
The protesters began to gather as night fell, hours after the shooting. They held signs that said “Stop Killing Us” and “Black Lives Matter,” and they chanted “No justice, no peace.”
A CMPD helicopter circled very low over the crowd, shining a bright searchlight on the protesters. Old Concord Road was shut down. Some protesters began to throw water bottles and rocks.
Shortly before 11 p.m., police donned gas masks. Soon, clouds of tear gas bloomed in front of their lines.
Protesters damaged at least two CMPD vehicles, one cruiser and one SUV, which were removed from the scene. One officer was hit in the face with a rock, CMPD said. Observer news partner WBTV said three of its reporters were hit during the protest, and at least one went to the hospital after a blow to the head.
At one point, the crowd began pushing down the ramp from Old Concord to Harris Boulevard West, blocking the road. Police deployed tear gas on that road as well.
Not all the interactions were so tense. Around 1 a.m. Wednesday, police were seen handing bottles of water to the several dozen people who were still protesting.
As is standard procedure with any officer-involved shooting, CMPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau will conduct a separate but parallel investigation to determine whether CMPD policies and procedures were followed.
Per department protocol, Vinson will be placed on administrative leave.
Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call police at 704-432-TIPS (8477) or Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600.