The police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, and the vigils, protests and violence of September 2016 rocked Charlotte. In the grief and unrest that followed, some people took up new work. Others found fresh urgency in work they were already doing. We asked seven Charlotteans to talk about the past year, and Charlotte. These are their words, with some editing for clarity and brevity.
Greg Jackson was a rapper and a sous chef when the September protests began. He showed up with others to protest the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department at its headquarters the day after the shooting. But a crucial conversation that day changed his trajectory – eventually, he helped train officers how to communicate with the community in volatile situations, and has created an after-school camp for at-risk youth in his northeast Charlotte neighborhood.
“I was leading people to the (police) headquarters (Sept. 21), just saying what we had problems with, voicing our opinions, yelling as much as we can.
“Garry McFadden (longtime CMPD detective who now works part-time) walked out of the headquarters, with some swag and dapper ... So I approached him. I’m like, ‘Who do you think you are? You just come out of the headquarters, mister black man, in a suit. Are you crazy? We’re serious.’
“We started going back and forth right there on the steps.
We felt like the officers weren’t ready for the protest, and we felt the officers created a state of jeopardy by locking people in. We told (Chief Putney) we want to help, though.
Greg Jackson of Heal Charlotte
“He was like, ‘What you mad at me for?’ I’m like, ‘You come out of the headquarters, you’re in support of this. Are you holding any officers accountable?’ He starts telling me who he is and what he does. … These girls who were part of the group I was with, they start cursing me out ... They’re calling me a sellout, Benedict Arnold, all that stuff. So I’m looking at them: This is what we’re here for, this is why we’re at the headquarters, to drag people out of the headquarters so we could have conversations with them. This was the whole point. I wanted the chief to come out. So (other) people started leaving.
“(McFadden) asked us three questions: ‘Have you seen justice?’ We said no. He said, ‘Do you know what it looks like?’ We said no. He said: ‘Do you know how to get it?’ We said no again. After those three questions and we don’t have answers for them – now we’re listening.
“As we’re talking, we hear a gunshot. The radio comes through: ‘Protester shot.’ Justin Carr gets shot in the midst of us talking. So everybody in the group, there’s 10 of us and Mr. McFadden. A light bulb went off and we started to see: OK, what are we doing down here? This wasn’t the purpose of us being down here. Now a protester got shot. ... We just lost somebody’s life because we’re trying to make a point because we don’t want people to lose their lives. So after that happened, it was: We want to meet with you the next day, this is not how this is supposed to work, this is bad, this is not what we want.
“In October, we had created the Charlotte Community Coalition. We wanted to find the problems and then point fingers at it. When I met chief (CMPD Police Chief Kerr Putney), we told him we were talking about how we needed transparency, and how we felt like the officers weren’t ready for the protest, and we felt the officers created a state of jeopardy by locking people in. We told him we want to help, though.
“Antuan (Smith) did the Citizens Academy. ... In November we changed to Heal Charlotte. We threw a community forum in October. We thought forums were the answer.
“Then Captain Mike (Campagna) got promoted to major. We tell him we need to hurry up and do some stuff. We didn’t feel like the officers are ready for the protests. There needs to be some type of training. I said, ‘We need to do protest reenactment simulation training. There needs to be Trayvon Martin simulation trainings out there.’
“We didn’t get to do those simulations – but we did get to the protest reenactment simulations, so they allowed me to bring 20 of my friends into the training facility. So we trained 40 officers. They allowed us to bring outside evaluators. I brought my pastor (Theo Schaffer), I brought Dr. (Stephen) Hancock from UNCC, my friend Molly Barker from Girls on the Run. She did the listening skills training for the officers.
“It was a three-part training and we were the action part, which was a crime-scene scenario. Yellow tape up. We’re acting like Keith Lamont Scott is shot and dead right there. As soon as the officers walk in, three officers come in, there’s five of us, we go directly to the officers: ‘Why are you doing this? Why? Why? Why?’ We’re giving them the exact feeling of being outside downtown. From the crime-scene scenario, we go to a conference room and we have a conference or a forum where we ask tough questions.
“Then we went through a full protest, where we go to an activity room and it’s all 20 of us at one time and all officers go down, all 40 of them. We’re ‘No justice! No peace! No racist police!’ We’re going in. We’re cursing at them, everything, and the officers have to take this, learn how to deescalate, social empathy, and have conversations. So it was a great training.
The officers from my neighborhood, our community officers, they come and interact with the kids ... Make them feel like they’re not just here to lock people up.
Greg Jackson of Heal Charlotte
“Some of them failed. They responded in a way that just wasn’t sympathetic at all. They were robotic. … We’re training to humanize them, to have real conversations with people. ‘I’m sorry for your loss. I apologize this happened. What do you think we can do from here?’ As we’re doing the training, we had an officer shooting on Central and Albemarle. They sent those officers out there with that shooting. They said, ‘Yo, that worked. We left with business cards. We didn’t leave with tickets.’
“On Feb. 8, we launched (an after-school youth) camp. My pastor (who teamed up with Jackson) has 18 years in youth development and 12 years with the YMCA. We had 45 kids show up from 3:30 to 6:30 Monday through Friday. It’s the Heal Charlotte Dream Academy Youth Camp... Monday is art day. Tuesday is CMPD engagement day. The officers from my neighborhood, our community officers, they come and interact with the kids for at least one or two hours or whatever their schedule allows them. They play Connect Four, basketball, kickball or soccer and just interact with the kids. Make them feel like they’re not just here to lock people up.
“A year ago I was rapping and working in a kitchen. I was going through some tough times. I was turning 33 and looking for lifelong purpose. September came, the protests happened, and then I started finding a new passion.
“We have 40 kids we’re saving right now. We’ve got some great officers on the street that have been trained, so it’s worth it.”