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Saturday 17 March 2018

Curfew lifted in Charlotte following fatal shooting of man by police

National Guard vehicles in front of an entrance to the Bank of America Stadium before an NFL game between the Carolina Panthers and the Minnesota Vikings in Charlotte (AP)
National Guard vehicles in front of an entrance to the Bank of America Stadium before an NFL game between the Carolina Panthers and the Minnesota Vikings in Charlotte (AP)

A curfew has been lifted in the US city of Charlotte after a state of emergency was imposed following the fatal shooting of a black man by police.

The incident last week in the North Carolina city saw National Guard troops and armoured vehicles on street corners.

A weekend without street violence was highlighted on Sunday as the city hosted the NFL game between the Carolina Panthers and the Minnesota Vikings without interruption.

However, protests continued for a sixth day since 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott was shot and killed last Tuesday after a confrontation with Charlotte police.

The first two nights of protests were violent, with demonstrators smashing windows, blocking part of a major road through the downtown area, and burning the contents of a tractor-trailer. More than a dozen police officers were injured.

On Sunday, protesters clambered onto Interstate 277 and tried to block traffic until police arrived. The protesters ran, but one fell in front of an all-terrain vehicle operated by a Greensboro police officer helping the Charlotte force, according to police. The protester was not hurt and was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, police added.

Earlier on Sunday, about 100 demonstrators gathered across the street from the Bank of America Stadium before the American football game to protest against the shooting. They were surrounded by at least two dozen police officers on bicycles.

When the national anthem was played, the protesters all dropped to one knee as many NFL players have been doing for weeks to call attention to issues, including police shootings. Inside the stadium, Carolina player Marcus Ball raised his fist during the anthem.

Video footage police released on Saturday of the shooting incident has not settled questions about whether he threatened authorities with a gun before he was shot by a black officer. Police chief Kerr Putney said that Mr Scott was "absolutely in possession of a handgun", adding that, while officers did not break the law, the State Bureau of Investigation continues to pursue the case.

While police said Mr Scott had a gun, residents contend he was unarmed. It is not apparent in the video if he is holding anything shortly before he was shot. The dramatic video released by Charlotte police shows officers with guns drawn surrounding the man just before the shooting.

Police also released photos at the weekend of what they said was a loaded handgun found at the scene, adding it bore Mr Scott's DNA and fingerprints. They also said Scott had marijuana.

In the police vehicle dashboard camera video released on Saturday night, Mr Scott could be seen slowly backing away from his SUV with his hands down. Four shots are heard in quick succession, and he crumples to the ground mortally wounded.

Protests against the fatal shooting were largely peaceful after the dashboard camera and police body-cam videos were released.

Away from the marching, others said the videos increased their doubt about the police explanation that Mr Scott's shooting was necessary and justified.

Dozens of people on Sunday stopped by a makeshift memorial near the site where he died. Most said after watching the police videos that they were struck by what appeared to be little threat Mr Scott posed the officers.

"If he had a gun in his hand, I couldn't see it. If he had one, he never raised it," Reda Burch said. "His hands never left his side. So no, I don't see a reason to kill him."

The videos changed the mind of Stacey Sizemore, who said that she worked in human resources for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department before leaving about six years ago. She said she knows police officers strive to protect the public, but the videos put new doubt into her mind that the shooting was necessary.

"If you're backing up, that's saying you don't want a fight. You don't want a confrontation. So that's the part that, kind of, didn't make it better for me," she said.

Relatives and their lawyer have also said what they saw on the partial police video footage left them wondering why Mr Scott was killed.

Charlotte has been on edge since Mr Scott's death. The demonstrations reached a violent crescendo on Wednesday before the National Guard was called in a day later to maintain order.

Forty-four people were arrested after Wednesday's protests, and one protester who was shot died at a hospital on Thursday. City officials said police did not shoot 26-year-old Justin Carr, and a suspect was arrested. A police report said Mr Carr had been shot in the head.

The next three nights of protests were free of property damage and violence, with organisers stressing a message of peace at the end of the week. Mayor Jennifer Roberts lifted the curfew on the city on Sunday evening.


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