The 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin set the world on fire, sparking the largest nationwide protests in the history of the United States. But before there was 2020, there was 2016. Before there was Derek Chauvin, there was Brently Vinson. Before Minneapolis, there was Charlotte. And before George Floyd, there was Keith Lamont Scott.
Keith Lamont Scott was a disabled Black father of seven who was killed by CMPD officer Brently Vinson after Vinson and a group of other plain-clothes officers confronted him while he parked outside his home on Old Concord Road on September 20, 2016.
Vinson and the other officers were there to serve a warrant to another man, and Scott was waiting for his 9-year-old son to be dropped off from school.
Police and witnesses give different claims of what happened that day.
Police claim he came out of his vehicle with a gun but witnesses, including Scott’s wife, said he didn’t. After body-cam footage of the shooting was released, experts disagreed over whether the shooting was justified. Vinson was never charged.
Protests began that same day and would continue for several days in a moment that would forever change the city of Charlotte and many of its residents.
Braxton Winston, who attended the protests beginning with the first night on Old Concord Road and was later elected to Charlotte City Council, said he remembers the moment that “everything kind of changed for me.:
“The police were pulling Mr. Scott’s SUV truck out of the crime scene as evidence. This voice came through the crowd. It was so high-pitched, it gives me goosebumps now just thinking about it, and it turned out to be Keith’s daughter,” Winston recalled. “She was saying, ‘That’s my daddy’s car, that’s my daddy’s car. Why’d you have to kill my daddy?’ and she was just running towards the police line. The crowd grabbed her and everything went silent.”
Protests continued the next night when around 1,000 people went to Marshall Park to protest Scott’s killing. That night, buildings were looted, hundreds were arrested, a state of emergency was called, and Justin Carr was shot and killed.
“We were there to protest the police violence and someone got killed. That’s hard. That will always be hard,” said community organizer Ash Williams.
Two days later, Rayquan Borum would be arrested and charged with murder despite claims from marchers in the crowd that the police killed Justin Carr.
In 2018, an attorney for Keith Lamont Scott’s family claimed the City of Charlotte was refusing to settle. A lawsuit was filed, and it is still currently pending. In 2019, Borum was convicted of second-degree murder for Carr’s killing, though some local activists still maintain his innocence.
On Sept. 20, the six-year anniversary of Keith Lamont Scott’s killing, we spoke to three people who were closely involved with the protests that followed to discuss the impact of the shooting and everything that came after.
“I think that Ferguson laid the groundwork that would allow Charlotte to uprise, and then Charlotte laid the groundwork that allowed 2020 George Floyd uprisings across the country to happen,” said community organizer Jamie Marsicano.
Marsicano says systems of bail support, jail support, and mutual aid grew out of the 2016 protests that are still used today.
“Back then, everyone was sort of racing to the streets. Then suddenly people were getting scooped up and taken to jail by the dozens, and there was just no infrastructure to get them out or to support them,” Marsicano said. “We put a call out asking if anyone from across the country could come to Charlotte and help us. A lot of folks who had been in Ferguson came to Charlotte. A group called The Black Movement Lawyers Project came and asked us, ‘Who wants to do jail support?’”
Jail support is a practice of supporting those who are arrested in protest movements through a variety of different measures that can include showing up to their court cases, raising bail funds, and protesting for their release. It is a concept that exploded in the 2020 protests but wasn’t widely known in 2016.
After local activists were taught methods of jail support back in 2016, they were used again and expanded on in the 2020 protests when hundreds more were arrested while protesting against the police killing of George Floyd.
Activism and community organizing work in Charlotte aren’t the only things that shifted since the 2016 protests. According to Winston, who was arrested in the 2016 protests, a lot has shifted in the political sphere as well.
“I think it was an acknowledgment that there were powerful, truth-telling voices here that were basically being ignored,” said Winston, who in early September was voted Mayor Pro Tem by his fellow council members. “Charlotte likes to be very structured and very controlling of the narratives that are presented. This showed that that’s not always a good thing because those that are controlling the narrative can be doing it for their own interests and not necessarily the good of the community.”
Winston believes his election and the elections of others are helping create some change. However, he claims there is still a long way to go.
One theme that was common in all the people I interviewed, is that the killing of Keith Lamont Scott and the 2016 protests are not events to be forgotten.
“I wonder how Charlotte remembers six years ago today … I know how I remember it being on the front lines,” said Williams. “For me, this police murder impacted me in indescribable ways and my life was never the same after this day. My organizing wasn’t the same, the way I teach isn’t the same, and how I show up for people isn’t the same.”