It was a Carolina Panthers game day like no other: Police in riot gear and uniformed National Guard members stood watch as protesters converged on Bank of America Stadium on the sixth day of protests over a fatal shooting by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer.
Several dozen people chanted “Black Lives Matter” and “No justice, no peace,” in front of the stadium an hour before kickoff of the Panthers’ second home game of the season, against the Minnesota Vikings. Some carried signs bearing the name of Keith Lamont Scott, the man fatally shot by police in Charlotte on Tuesday. Police said one man, identified as Bruce Garmon, was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon near the stadium.
But the overall atmosphere calmed enough that city leaders lifted the midnight curfew that had been in place since Thursday.
Fans making their way into the game stopped to thank Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers, shake their hands and fist bump them. “We appreciate y’all,” one man said.
Ticket scalpers milled around, merchandise vendors set up tents, and hamburgers and hotdogs sizzled on grills set up for tailgate parties. Fans seemed to crave a return to normalcy after news crews from around the world captured images of throngs of demonstrators getting tear-gassed near the EpiCentre, and others looting uptown businesses such as the Charlotte Hornets fan shop.
Some fans said they weren’t nervous about coming out in light of the city’s recent unrest. “Everything’s gone pretty peacefully at this point. I didn’t even think twice about it,” a fan named Jeff Stanley said.
But the tailgate crowds were noticeably lighter, and the stands were slow to fill for the game, which the Panthers lost to the Vikings, 22-10. Exact figures weren’t available, but the stadium, which seats roughly 73,000, appeared about 80 percent full. That would be the lightest home-game crowd in about two years.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton wore a shirt during warmups that read “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” a quote made famous by Martin Luther King Jr. Panthers safety Marcus Ball held his fist high in the air during the National Anthem.
A white protester named Todd Zimmer wore a jersey of Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, but over Kuechly’s name he’d placed a strip of tape inscribed with the words “End white silence.” He had a black eye, an injury he incurred during a violent protest Wednesday.
“I’d like to see us win a Super Bowl, but I’d like to see justice in Charlotte a lot more,” Zimmer said.
City officials designated the game as an “extraordinary event,” which gives officers more leeway to search backpacks, coolers and other things people might be carrying at a game, festival or protest. The Extraordinary Events ordinance was enacted before the city hosted the Democratic National Convention in 2012.
After the game started, at least 100 protesters moved from the stadium area down Mint Street, circled BB&T Ballpark, and ended up at Graham Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. There they encountered a line of at least two dozen Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers in riot gear. A heated verbal confrontation broke out after a young white man in a Panthers T-shirt, standing with arms crossed in front of the riot police, told protesters the officers deserved to go home.
The verbal confrontation escalated, with a half dozen protesters shouting that they didn’t intend to stop. Within minutes, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police captain and a man standing with protesters moved to separate the people involved and end the confrontation before it became physical. Protesters eventually reassembled at the stadium.
Later in the afternoon, police said, protesters congregating near East Fourth Street began to move onto Interstate 277 and impede traffic. As officers began to approach, police said, the protesters ran, but one man tripped and fell in front of an ATV operated by an officer from the Greensboro Police Department. The man, identified as 26-year-old Donnell Jones of Missouri, was uninjured and was charged with disorderly conduct and resist, obstruct and delay.
As evening fell, perhaps 40 people were gathered at Marshall Park, which has served as something of a base camp since Wednesday. In small groups, they engaged in quiet conversation as a cool breeze brought relief from the day’s heat.
Later in the evening, they began marching through uptown – past Tryon and Stonewall streets, down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, down Third Street under the I-277 overpass. Their numbers increased to about 400 as they passed through the Cherry community, then they marched down Queens Road back toward Third Street.
As of 11:45 p.m. a group of them were calling for the resignations of Police Chief Kerr Putney and Mayor Jennifer Roberts.
Jeff Siner contributed.