CHARLOTTE: One person was shot and gravely wounded on Wednesday in a second night of unrest in Charlotte, North Carolina, officials said, as riot police dispersed unruly protesters after the fatal police shooting of a black man under disputed circumstances.
North Carolina’s governor later declared a state of emergency amid the disturbances and said the National Guard and state Highway Patrol troopers would be sent in to help police in Charlotte restore and maintain order.
Charlotte Police Chief Kerr Putney initially reported that a person shot during the protest had died, but city officials later posted a Twitter message saying the individual had been hospitalized in critical condition on life support.
The city also said the gunshot was fired by one civilian at another, not by police. A police officer was also being treated for injuries suffered during Wednesday’s protests, it said.
Putney told Fox News: “We’re trying to disperse the crowd. We’ve been very patient, but now they’ve become very aggressive, throwing bottles and so forth, at my officers, so it’s time for us now to restore order.”
The flashpoint for Charlotte’s unrest was Tuesday’s fatal police shooting of Keith Scott, 43, who according to police was armed with a handgun and refused officers’ orders to drop the weapon. His family and a witness to the shooting said Scott was holding a book, not a firearm.
Authorities have not released any video of the incident but the city’s mayor said she would view the footage on Thursday.
Governor Pat McCrory said he was acting at the request of the Charlotte police chief in sending National Guard and state troopers to assist local law enforcement.
“Any violence directed toward our citizens or police officers or destruction of property should not be tolerated,” McCrory said in a statement.
The latest trouble began with a peaceful rally that turned violent after several hundred chanting demonstrators marched through downtown with brief stops at a black church, police headquarters and a large entertainment venue called the EpiCentre.
As they approached downtown Charlotte’s central intersection, protesters confronted a column of patrol cars and officers in front of the Omni Charlotte Hotel and began to surround groups of police and their vehicles.
Police then unleashed volleys of rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas and flash-bang grenades to disperse the protesters, who began hurling fireworks and debris at officers outside the hotel.
The confrontation grew more intense as a phalanx of helmeted police carrying shields advanced down a street, pushing back a crowd of demonstrators who scurried for cover as officers fired more tear gas.
Protesters smashed windows and glass doors at a nearby Hyatt hotel, whose manager told Reuters that two employees were punched. The slogan “Black Lives Matter” was spray-painted on windows.
Demonstrators were also seen looting a convenience store after smashing its windows and a shop that sells athletic wear for fans of Charlotte’s National Basketball League team, the Hornets. Others set fire to trash cans.
Some protesters expressed anger at the lawlessness exhibited by fellow demonstrators. One woman was heard shouting, “Stop – that’s not what this is about,” as young men broke bottles in the street.
Earlier in the evening, Scott’s wife, Rakeyia, issued a statement describing her family as “devastated” and appealing for calm. “We have more questions than answers about Keith’s death,” the statement said.
Sixteen officers were injured late on Tuesday and early Wednesday as police in riot gear clashed with demonstrators who hurled stones, set fires and briefly blocked an interstate highway.
Tuesday’s disturbances in Charlotte unfolded as demonstrators in Tulsa, Oklahoma, demanded the arrest of a police officer seen in a video last week fatally shooting an unarmed black man who had his hands in clear view at the time.
The deaths were the latest incidents to raise questions of racial bias in U.S. law enforcement, and they stoked a national debate on policing ahead of the presidential election in November.
President Barack Obama spoke by telephone on Wednesday with the mayors of Charlotte and Tulsa, a White House official said.
In Charlotte, Putney insisted Scott was shot by a black officer after he exited his car and disregarded orders to drop a gun he brandished. “We did not find a book,” Putney told a news conference. “We did find a weapon.”
Charlotte resident Taheshia Williams said she saw the incident from her balcony and that she watched Scott get out of his car with his hands raised.
“Hands up. No gun. When he got out of the car, a book fell off his lap,” Williams told reporters. She said she heard Scott ask police what he had done wrong, could not hear their reply, then heard four shots.
Black activists and pastors called for an economic boycott of the city, and the American Civil Liberties Union urged police to release body and dashboard camera footage of the incident.