Law & the Courts

Riot First, Ask Questions Later

Protesters clash with police in Charlotte, N.C., September 21, 2016. (Photo: Jason Miczek/Reuters)
The facts in question don’t seem to even be a factor.

The Charlotte rioters didn’t know whether the controversial police shooting of Keith Scott was justified or not, and didn’t care.

They worked their mayhem — trashing businesses and injuring cops, with one protester killed in the disorder — before anything meaningful could be ascertained about the case except that the cops said Scott had a gun and his family said he didn’t. 

Charlotte is the latest episode in the evidence-free Black Lives Matter movement that periodically erupts in violence after officer-involved shootings. The movement is beholden to a narrative of systematic police racism to which every case is made to conform, regardless of the facts or logic. 

It doesn’t matter if the police officer is an African-American with an unblemished record and numerous character witnesses. This describes Brentley Vinson, the officer who fatally shot Keith Scott.

It doesn’t matter if the victim disobeys the police in a tense situation and acts in a potentially threatening manner. Despite cops with guns drawn yelling orders at him (and his wife shouting, “Don’t you do it”), Scott exited his vehicle and approached officers without raising his hands. 

It doesn’t matter if the allegedly unarmed victim turns out to have been armed. Everything points to Scott having had a gun, even though the family insists he had a book (the police didn’t find one at the scene). 

The police dashcam and body-camera video of the Scott shooting is inconclusive but broadly supportive of the police story. The quality is too grainy to show definitively that Scott held a gun in his hand, but what appears to be an ankle holster is visible on his leg. His movements and those of the officers around him are consistent with him brandishing a gun.

The police recovered an ankle holster and a pistol at the scene. For the police to have planted the gun would require a vast conspiracy involving multiple officers, the top brass of the department and whoever faked lab results showing Scott’s fingerprints and DNA on the weapon.

It doesn’t necessarily mean he did anything wrong in this instance, but Scott also has a long rap sheet including weapons offenses, lending additional credence to the idea that he had a gun. 

These facts didn’t penetrate the Black Lives Matter narrative of the Scott shooting. Such facts never do. The narrative is immune to complication or ambiguity, let alone contradiction. Every police-involved shooting of a black man is taken, ipso facto, to confirm that the police are racists. When the evidence in any particular instance makes it obvious that the narrative is a lie or a gross over-simplification — e.g., in Ferguson or the Freddie Gray tragedy — the movement simply moves on to the next case, as reckless as before. 

It is increasingly hard to deny that the movement is anti-police. When any evidence supporting the police is disregarded, and rioters hurl insults and objects at officers whose only offense is trying to maintain public order at a protest, the agenda is clear.

And there might be widespread cost to the agitation. The disturbances coincide with an increase in violent crime in 2015, according to new FBI data. It is too early to draw firm conclusions from the numbers. They may be statistical noise, but they also could indicate an uptick in crime resulting from chastened police forces around the country pulling back.

After an event like Charlotte, a more responsible movement would keep the pressure on for more facts and wouldn’t indict police conduct without them. It would have a healthy skepticism about both the official version of events and the version of bereaved relatives. It would embrace peaceful protest as warranted, and avoid anything to bring discredit to itself or endanger wholly innocent police officers.

But that movement would be something else entirely. In Charlotte, as in so many other places, it was riot first, and ask questions later. 

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

 

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

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