Professor Kami Chavis calls for calm as well as change in police culture in light of Charlotte protests over police shooting

Police car

Kami Chavis, a Professor of Law and Director of the Criminal Justice Program at Wake Forest Law, is speaking out about the protests that broke out Tuesday in Charlotte injuring about a dozen police officers. The protests were a direct response to the fatal shooting of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott by a black police officer at an apartment complex on the city’s northeast side, according to media reports including MSN News.

The protests continued into early Wednesday morning, when TV footage showed dozens of protesters on Interstate 85 apparently looting semi-trucks and setting their contents on fire on the highway.

Authorities used tear gas to disperse protesters in an overnight demonstration that left about a dozen officers injured in North Carolina’s largest city and shut down a highway after the fatal shooting of a black man by Charlotte police who said he was armed and posed a threat.

“There has been a lot of attention to the race of the police officer and the victim in the recent police shooting death in Charlotte — both were black,” Professor Chavis says.  “The resulting unrest is a call for a change in police culture in general, and we have to remember that black officers are still a part of the culture of their police department.”

Although there are reports that the suspect had a gun, the Charlotte police department will still need to conduct a thorough investigation as to whether an inappropriate use of force occurred, Professor Chavis says.
“We need to remember that citizens in our country have a constitutional right to bear arms.  These rights often clash with very real need to ensure the safety of police officers.  Simply having a weapon is different than brandishing that weapon.  Whether Mr. Scott presented a threat will be the focus of any investigation. It is still very early and no one has all of the facts at this point.”Professor Chavis adds recent police-related shooting deaths in Tulsa and Charlotte, and the subsequent protests, remind us that no community is immune to police-community tensions.

“The problem of police accountability is an endemic problem with many complexities, and one that we know will not be solved with random acts of violence as a response,” she says. “It is clear, however, that change is not coming as communities feel is necessary or appropriate.”

In 2015, Professor Chavis was appointed as a Senior Academic Fellow at the Joint Center for Political And Economic Studies. She has substantial practice experience and writes and teaches in areas related to criminal law, criminal procedure and criminal justice reform.  After earning her JD from Harvard Law School, she worked as an associate at private law firms in Washington, D.C., where she participated in various aspects of civil litigation, white-collar criminal defense, and internal investigations.

In 2003, she became an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, involving her in a wide range of criminal prosecutions and in arguing and briefing appeals before the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Professor Chavis frequently makes presentations on law-enforcement issues and is a  leader in the field of police accountability. Her articles have appeared in the American Criminial Law Review, the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology,  the University of Alabama Law Review, and the Catholic University Law Review, and other legal journals. Her research focuses on using Cooperative Federalism principles and stakeholder participation to implement sustainable reforms in the criminal justice system.  She writes in the areas of police and prosecutorial accountability, federal hate crimes legislation and enforcement, and racial profiling. She was elected to the American Law Institute in 2012.

She is a frequent contributor to national and international media outlets and has appeared on CNN, CTV, and NPR.  She has written for the New York Times and the Huffington Post, and has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, BBC News, U.S. News and World Report,  International Business Times, Deutsche Welle, and other outlets regarding police accountability and the structural reform of law enforcement agencies.

More of Professor Kami Chavis’ interviews regarding the Charlotte protests can be found at the Texas Standard and WWL. Follow her on Twitter @ProfKamiSimmons for more updates and interviews.