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Police Step Back as Protesters Peacefully Defy Curfew in Charlotte


U.S. National Guard troops look on as people march through downtown to protest the police shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., September 22, 2016.

U.S. National Guard troops look on as people march through downtown to protest the police shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., September 22, 2016.

Hundreds of demonstrators defied a midnight curfew in Charlotte, North Carolina in the eastern United States, marching peacefully in the early hours of Friday morning against the controversial police shooting of an African American man.

Authorities say they have no plans to enforce the curfew as long as the protests remain peaceful. Major Gerald Smith of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said, "The curfew is a tool that we will use to keep the peace. And right now we have a peaceful protest."

One woman told VOA she was "extraordinarily" worried about the curfew. "We're worried they (the police) are going to do something."

Television video, however, showed some protesters shaking hands with smiling National Guard personnel early Friday.

Thursday night, large crowds of demonstrators marched through the heart of Charlotte - the state's largest city - in the third night of protests. While generally peaceful, tear gas was used against demonstrators at one location.

Police in riot gear were dispersed throughout the city. The officers were armed with rubber bullets and tear gas, but did not initially use them as protests remained relatively calm.

City officials ordered a midnight (0400 UTC) to 6 a.m. curfew in Charlotte, and National Guard members were deployed with rifles outside office buildings. Hundreds of protesters remained on the streets after the curfew came into effect, marching peacefully. So far, authorities have taken no action against them.

Governor Pat McCrory, a former mayor of Charlotte, already has declared a state of emergency, and he said police would arrest lawbreakers. "We cannot tolerate any type of violence ... or destruction of property," McCrory said.

People from all around the state of North Carolina came to join the protests in Charlotte. Cherrell Brown, a Black Lives Matter activist and community organizer who goes by "Carolina Bama" on twitter drove from nearby Greensboro in solidarity with Charlotte and the African-American community.

The crowd was a mix of races -- African-Americans, whites and Hispanic people, some of whom carried signs saying "Latinos say black lives matter."

"This isn't new," she told VOA, referring to the protests in Charlotte and the Black Lives Matter movement in general. "This is an iteration of a movement that's been going on for 500 years - since the slaves got off the boat."

Many clergy were present at the rallies, urging calm and peace for all present. But other protesters were seen arguing with preachers, claiming they didn't understand the pain Charlotte residents had suffered and that they could not be expected to stay calm.

Before protesters began marching around 8 p.m., volunteers handed out masks to protect from tear gas, as well as water bottles and granola bars.

A young protester who was shot a day earlier died Thursday. Justin Carr, 26, had been struck by a bullet as he stood outside a hotel in the neighborhood where the disorders took place. Police said they did not fire the fatal shot.

Protesters begin marching in Charlotte, North Carolina, Sept. 22, 2016. Demonstrators marched for a third night in the city, following the police shooting death of an African-American man earlier this week.

Protesters begin marching in Charlotte, North Carolina, Sept. 22, 2016. Demonstrators marched for a third night in the city, following the police shooting death of an African-American man earlier this week.

The shooting of Carr Wednesday apparently occurred after protesters clashed with police in riot gear, and the demonstration turned violent. Officers fired tear gas to disperse the crowds; some people smashed store windows and set small fires in the streets.

Carr's death was the first fatality recorded since the incident at the center of this week's demonstration - the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott as he got out of his car Tuesday. More than 30 people have been injured when protests turned violent.

Police said Scott was holding a gun when they shot him. His family said Scott was unarmed, and that he may have been simply carrying a book that he was reading.

Police said officers were looking for someone else when they saw Scott get out of a car with a gun, and that the officer fired after Scott ignored warnings to drop the weapon.

Police have refused to release to the public any video recordings of the shooting, but they screened the images Thursday for family members, who said it was unclear what, if anything, was in Scott's hands when police fired at him.

A masked demonstrator walks the streets of downtown past midnight as people protest the police shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., September 23, 2016.

A masked demonstrator walks the streets of downtown past midnight as people protest the police shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., September 23, 2016.

Comments by Charlotte's police chief also indicated it was difficult to establish exactly what happened from the video police recorded, since it came from a camera in a police cruiser some distance from the confrontation between Scott and the officers who stopped him.

Police have said they recovered a pistol at the scene of the shooting, but Scott's relatives have insisted that he had no weapon. Police also said they found no book at the scene.

Attorney Justin Bamber, representing the Scott family, told reporters Thursday evening that the family wants the video released to the public immediately. The city's police chief, Kerr Putney, said earlier that he would not release the recording unless he believes there is a "compelling reason" to do so.

One of the demonstrators late Thursday, holding a bullhorn, said the protests would continue and escalate every night until the police video is made public.

The Hilton Garden Inn is one of the many buildings that suffered broken windows as a result of Wednesday night's violent protests in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 22, 2016.

The Hilton Garden Inn is one of the many buildings that suffered broken windows as a result of Wednesday night's violent protests in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 22, 2016.

The North Carolina branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also has called for the swift release of any and all footage related to Tuesday's shooting.

In a statement, executive director Karen Anderson said, “In the interest of transparency and accountability, and particularly in light of conflicting accounts about the shooting, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department should quickly release any and all footage it has of the events leading up to the shooting, as well as the shooting itself."

Corine Mack, president of the NAACP’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg branch, said the release of the video would bring transparency to the investigation of Scott’s killing.

“It really doesn’t matter if he had a gun,” Mack said. “Showing he had a gun doesn’t prove he was guilty of anything.”

U.S. National Guard soldiers prepare for another night of protests over the police shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, Sept. 22, 2016.

U.S. National Guard soldiers prepare for another night of protests over the police shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, Sept. 22, 2016.

The U.S. Justice Department is sending a group of trained peacekeepers to Charlotte to help resolve any conflicts. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the chief U.S. law-enforcement officer, urged citizens Thursday to choose a path of reconciliation.

"Too many times we’ve allowed ourselves to be pulled down the easy path of blame and accusation rather than the harder path of empathy and understanding. Let us choose that path," Lynch told reporters.

The Congressional Black Caucus condemned the latest shooting.

"Enough is enough. One is too many," chairman G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina told reporters Thursday. "The federal government, including the federal branch and the legislative branch, must place the full weight of the federal government behind the elimination of unlawful police shootings."

Arash Arabasadi contributed to this report from Charlotte.

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