Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) said on Thursday that the protesters in Charlotte, North Carolina “hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.”
Pittenger’s comments follow two nights of protests over the police shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old black father of seven. The Uptown demonstration reportedly began peacefully but later grew violent. A man identified as 26-year-old Justin Carr was shot and mortally wounded in a disputed incident — police said he was shot by a civilian but some eyewitnesses claimed he was struck by a police projectile before hitting his head on the ground. Carr died Thursday evening.
In the wake of the mounting violence, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) declared a state of emergency and ordered the deployment of National Guard troops. Wednesday’s chaos gave way to a much calmer third night of demonstrations, as protesters, local religious figures leading prayers for peace, police and military troops were all out on city streets Thursday evening.
Pittenger appeared on BBC Newsnight, where he was asked about the protesters’ motivation.
“They hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not,” he opined. “I mean, yes, it is a welfare state. We have spent trillions on welfare — we have put people in bondage, so that they can’t be all that they’re capable of being. “
“You know America is a country of freedom and liberty,” he added. “It didn’t become that way because of a great government who provided everything for everyone.”
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) September 22, 2016
North Carolina Democratic Party Executive Director Kimberly Reynolds called Pittenger’s comments “racist”:
“These comments are inexcusable. At a time when we need calm and understanding while we learn more about the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, Congressman Pittenger is fanning the flames of hate with his racist rhetoric. This sort of bigotry has become all to common under the party of Donald Trump. Our great state should not be represented by someone who would make such hateful comments. Congressmen Pittenger must apologize, and Governor McCrory and every Republican leader in this state should denounce this hateful rhetoric immediately.”
In the face of massive public and social media backlash, Rep. Pittenger issued an apology later on Thursday:
“What is taking place in my hometown right now breaks my heart. My anguish led me to respond to a reporter’s question in a way that I regret. The answer doesn’t reflect who I am. I was quoting statements made by angry protestors last night on national TV. My intent was to discuss the lack of economic mobility for African-Americans because of failed policies. I apologize to those I offended and hope we can bring peace and calm to Charlotte.”
Meanwhile, Scott’s family said they were left with “more questions than answers” after viewing Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department video of the fatal encounter.
“When told by police to exit his vehicle, Mr. Scott did so in a very calm, non-aggressive manner,” family attorney Justin Bamberg told reporters. “While police did give him several commands, he did not aggressively approach them or raise his hands at members of law enforcement at any time.”
“It is impossible to discern from the videos what, if anything, Mr. Scott is holding in his hands,” Bamberg added. “When he was shot and killed, Mr. Scott’s hands were by his side and he was slowly walking backwards.”
CMPD has come under fire for its decision not to release video footage of the Scott shooting to the public. CMPD Chief Kerr Putney refuted accusations that his department was not acting in a transparent manner.
“Transparency is in the eye of the beholder,” Putney told reporters. “If you think I say we should display a victim’s worst day for public consumption, that is not the transparency I’m speaking of.”
Putney said the police bodycam footage does not show Scott pointing or brandishing a gun at officers, but that the video did support the police version of events.
“The video does not give me absolute, definitive visual evidence that would confirm that a person is pointing a gun,” Putney said at a Thursday press conference. “I did not see that in the videos I reviewed. What I can tell you is that when taken with the totality of all the other evidence, it supports what we’ve heard and the version of the truth that we gave about the circumstances of what happened that led to the death of [Keith Scott].”
Scott’s family disputed that Keith had a gun, claiming he was “armed” with nothing more than a book.
“I can tell you a weapon was seized, a handgun,” Putney countered at a Wednesday press conference. “I can also tell you we did not find a book that has been made referenced to.”
According to CMPD, officers were at the Village at College Downs apartment complex to serve an outstanding warrant when they came upon Scott, who was not the warrant suspect but who they say was carrying a gun as he exited his vehicle. Scott allegedly ignored police commands to drop the gun and was then shot by Officer Brentley Vinson, who is black.
North Carolina is an open carry state, prompting some critics to accuse authorities of operating under a racist double standard in which black people with guns are seen as threats but white people with guns are seen as exercising their Second Amendment rights.
In a separate but also internationally followed case, Betty Shelby, the white Tulsa, Oklahoma police officer who shot and killed Terrence Crutcher, a 40-year-old black man with his hands raised above his head, has been charged with first-degree manslaughter.