The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department announced Thursday that it would not be publicly releasing footage of the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old black father of seven who was killed this week by police in Charlotte, North Carolina, unless and until “we believe it is a compelling reason.”
“Transparency is in the eye of the beholder,” police chief Kerr Putney said at a press conference Thursday.
You can expect to hear more of this in North Carolina, where, as the result of a new law about public access to body camera and dashboard footage, police will be doing most of the beholding. (Starting in October, police departments across North Carolina will be under no obligation to release footage of police shootings unless ordered to do so by a judge.)
The law that critics like the American Civil Liberties Union say will shield law enforcement from accountability and thwart local efforts at police reform was passed with overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the state legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.
So it’s worth noting here, briefly, that this is the same governing body that, according to a federal judge, actively disenfranchised black voters. Voting rights are a police accountability issue, particularly at the local level. The state of North Carolina passed its voter suppression for precisely moments like these—as a way to prevent black citizens from holding them accountable at the ballot box.
As the Washington Post reported in a pretty thorough breakdown of how the 2013 voter suppression law came to be, starting in early 2012, Republican lawmakers and their various staffers began requesting data on voter turnout organized by race and type of vote. They also requested registration data organized by what type of identification the voter used at the polls.
Less than a year later, the state legislature passed a voter suppression law that, among its many provisions, reduced early voting and declared that the forms of state-issued identification disproportionately held by black residents were no longer acceptable at the polls. These were all restrictions that, as the Post‘s William Wan pointed out, the “election board data demonstrated would disproportionately affect African Americans and other minorities.”
Which is precisely why a federal appeals court struck down the law’s major provisions, writing in its decision that the law had targeted black voters with “surgical precision.” This was less than a month ago.
And so the events in Charlotte right now are also playing out against this backdrop. Black protesters expressing their grief and outrage over the death of yet a black person at the hands of the police are making their voices heard in the streets—and before a state that conspired to silence them by stealing their ballots.