In Charlotte, North Carolina, police fatally shot a black man and sparked two nights of violent protests. Halfway across the country, a police officer was booked for manslaughter after shooting a black man, who was unarmed and stranded when his car broke down in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Protesters there marched peacefully.
How can two shootings within a week of each other spark such opposite reactions from the public? In two cities whose histories are mired with deeply embedded racism and segregation (read more on that here and here), the difference in response has puzzled experts and the public.
To former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, the answer lies in transparency.
In an opinion piece published in The New York Times this weekend, Ramsey said the delay in releasing police footage from the fatal shooting of Keith Scott in North Carolina might have led to such a violent response.
"In both cases, a black man lost his life after being shot by a police officer," Ramsey wrote of the deaths of Scott and Tulsa resident Terence Crutcher. "In Tulsa, the officer was a white woman, who has now been charged with manslaughter. Before it was released to the public, video of the incident was shared with Mr. Crutcher’s family. The department was very transparent in discussing the events."
Authorities in Charlotte delayed releasing footage of Scott's death for almost a week.
"...The delay had already done damage," wrote Ramsey, who stepped down from his position with the PPD in January and now leads a presidential task force on modern policing.
Ramsey is calling for national standards in releasing information, such as police video footage.
"No one can be seen to be hiding information, or to try to cover up unflattering truth," he wrote.
He also wants to see improvements in the training of officers to help them better engage with the communities they serve.
"It’s not an abstract notion," Ramsey wrote. "I have seen it in action in educational programs, like the ones offered by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, that help officers better understand their role in a democracy and the dire consequences a society faces when the police fail to live up to their role as guardians of freedom.
"As police commissioner in Philadelphia, I sent recruits fresh from the police academy into the most challenging neighborhoods on foot patrol for six months to a year. They learned how to talk to people, something you’re never going to get driving down the street at 40 miles per hour in a police cruiser. I wanted the young officers and the neighborhood folks to actually 'see' one another. At the end of the day, officers and citizens who interact on the streets should both be able to go home safe."
To read Ramsey's entire piece, click here.