Editorial: Officials need first to take care of Charlotte; the politics will take care of itself
Posted September 26, 2016
A CBC Editorial: Monday, Sept. 26. 2016; Editorial# 8059
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company
It was a hard lesson to learn in the international spotlight, but an important one for U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Republican who represents the Charlotte area.
Racial tension in his hometown had ignited into demonstrations and violence. Pittenger saw the opportunity not as one for cooling heightened emotions, but an chance to score a cheap political point in what turned out to be a stunningly prejudiced utterance to the BBC. “The grievance in their mind is the animus, the anger. They hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not,” Pittenger said. It instantly went viral on social media and in the mainstream news – and, though the damage was done, he apologized.
The challenges faced by the city of Charlotte, as well as other communities across the nation that have suffered violent outbursts aren’t served by those looking first to score political points and only second to heal their communities.
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and Police Chief Kerr Putney, while certainly not perfect, have generally been measured in their statements, determined to make sure that authority and property in the community are respected. At the same time they have avoided statements and gestures that might easily give others the excuse for further confrontation with the potential consequence of added violence and destruction.
Gov. Pat McCrory has been similarly cautious in his comments, though state GOP Director Dallas Woodhouse has been unable to restrain himself from taking unnecessary and inappropriate partisan potshots at Charlotte’s mayor.
The reality is local officials and political leaders need to focus on taking care of the immediate needs of the people of Charlotte. Those needs include: making sure all people and property are safe; appropriate expression of points of view are tolerated and respected; and there is an open and aggressive effort to get to the truth in the incident that sparked the community upheaval. If that’s done well the politics will take care of itself.
Saturday evening, Police Chief Putney took a big step in that direction by releasing two police videos – one dash-cam and another body-cam – from the fatal shooting of Keith Scott that sparked the turmoil in Charlotte. It was the right decision and the public can now determine for itself whether there is anything conclusive. More significantly, it should help to reassure the public that officials aren’t unduly withholding information.
The handling of this situation should prompt legislators to revisit a bad law they passed that soon will require a court order for the release of police videos. The presumption should be that the videos, taken by those acting on the public’s behalf, belong to the citizens and should be considered public records. If there is a compelling reason not to release the information, authorities can argue it in court, not the other way around, as the new law will require.
In releasing the videos, Chief Putney said he was doing it because he felt assured that it would not compromise the ongoing investigations into the incident. It is a serious matter and local and state officials must remain committed to a full and thorough examination of the tragedy.
Merely passing it off as a justified shooting because Scott may have been armed and unresponsive to police commands is not enough. The public should know how Scott behaved – and similarly how did the officers involved respond to the situation. Was it an appropriate use of force? Why?
Additionally, this is an opportunity to look, anew, at how officers are trained to deal with these situations. Are officers taking actions that are appropriate to the matter at hand? How do they make sure they are neither excessive, nor leaving officers dangerously vulnerable?
Admirably, both major party presidential candidates have postponed, at the request of Charlotte authorities, visits this week to Charlotte. The candidates recognized the strain they put on law enforcement, particularly at a time when significant attention needs to be devoted to returning the city to its normal routines.
While this may be the election season, taking care of ALL of Charlotte’s people is the first priority. In the coming days, political leaders need to resist the temptations of fanning flames and calculating every move and statement on how it might impact voters at the polls.
This is no time for wedge issues or dividing constituencies. Political leaders need to choose words and actions of healing and conciliation, not confrontation and stridence. Bringing people together is the top priority. Take care of the important business at hand and the politics will take care of itself.