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Uptown protest march turns heated

By Ely Portillo And Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
elyportillo@charlotteobserver.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Scuffles and pushing erupted as a group of about 50 protesters marched Tuesday night from the Occupy Charlotte encampment in Marshall Park, following a route that blocked traffic in uptown Charlotte earlier in the day.

The march began at 9:20 p.m. Most members of the group were dressed in black in the light rain and carried black banners saying they were protesting capitalism.

Dozens of bicycle-riding police officers initially trailed them, but police numbers grew to hundreds, far out-numbering the protesters.

By 10:45 p.m., about 75 protesters were surrounded on all sides by police at the uptown intersection of Fifth and Tryon streets. Fifteen minutes later they began moving north up Tryon, then turned east on 11th Street toward Marshall Park.

Their route had taken them from the park to Stonewall Street, then to Graham Street in an arc around the center city. On Graham, between Fifth and Trade streets, the protesters sat down in the street for several minutes in resistance to police directions.

“We’re just escorting them,” police Maj. Jeff Estes told The Observer.

No injuries or arrests were immediately reported. Police allowed the group to march in the middle of the street and used roving roadblocks to control traffic.

Not long after it began, the march stopped abruptly near the corner of Stonewall and South Tryon streets, where police blocked the street. Police, lined six to seven deep, blocking the protesters from turning north onto Tryon and heading uptown.

Marchers chanted, “Let them go! Let them go!”

Some officers pulled out billy clubs. Scuffling and pushing between officers and protesters briefly broke up.

The marchers then gave up their effort to turn onto Tryon, and instead continued west on Stonewall. By 10 p.m, the protesters had reached Graham Street at Martin Luther King Boulevard west of uptown. They later turned onto Fifth.

Protesters chanted “What’s the solution? Revolution!” and “Anti-capitalista!” as they walked. They carried banners for the World Workers’ Party and Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST), but many appeared to be Occupy members.

Marcher Brent Lengle said Tuesday night’s march had taken on a more aggressive tone than previous protests this week.

“People respond to context. When you put cops in riot gear and welder’s helmets, it’s a different context,” Lengle said. “When people march at night it’s different. There’s more aggression and more frustration that’s built up.”

Earlier Tuesday, police and protesters had engaged in a nearly two-hour standoff that blocked the intersection of Stonewall and Caldwell streets. Police arrested one man.

During Tuesday night’s march, apartment and condo dwellers watched the passing parade from their balconies.

“You shouldn’t be protesting,” one resident yelled.

“We don’t have the ability to go to school. We don’t have healthcare,” a protester replied.

“Well, get a job and get benefits,” the resident yelled back.

Lindsay Ruebens and Fred Clasen-Kelly contributed.

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