A community meeting called by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police to discuss the use of force brought Chief Kerr Putney face to face Thursday with the widow of Ruben Galindo, who was killed by officers on Sept. 6.
Putney talked to the mostly Latino audience about some of the training officers go through, the issues he’s faced in trying to recruit more Latino officers and what he calls a “game-changer” during any encounter with police – when someone has a gun.
Some people in the crowded room at the Camino Center in north Charlotte wore black shirts and carried signs calling for justice, just as dozens did at this week’s City Council meeting. The signs carried a variety of messages in English and Spanish; some were made to look like traffic signs and read “Caution: Police.”
Galindo’s widow, Azucena Zamorano, sat directly in front of Putney in the front row, holding a poster-size portrait of her husband, who was killed Sept. 6 outside their northeast Charlotte apartment complex.
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Police say Galindo held a gun in his left hand when he was shot; the body-camera videos do not clearly show that. Putney talked repeatedly about how low a standard exists to make a shooting legally justified when the subject is armed.
He urged people to take personal responsibility for their safety and put down guns if they encounter police. His voice rose as he used himself as an example.
“I’m not going to give anyone the authority to take my life legally. Ever!” he said.
One member of the audience asked Putney what he would say to Galindo’s family.
He turned to Zamorano. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I apologize. There’s nothing I can do to change it. I know the life can’t be brought back.”
Near the end of the 90-minute event, Zamorano spoke out. She asked Putney, through a translator, if he was talking about Galindo when he talked about people carrying guns during encounters with police.
“No, ma’am, I’m not talking about Ruben at all tonight,” Putney said, adding that he didn’t want to be disrespectful to her.
Zamorano talked about seeing the video and how she didn’t see Galindo make any move that would lead to him being shot.
“Police are not trained to control a situation like that, but to kill,” she said through the translator. Some members of the crowd applauded.
Putney said officers are trained to act in a certain way, but he acknowledged he didn’t have all the answers.
“I don’t understand why he was shot,” she said.
“Yes, ma’am, I understand,” Putney said, and the meeting moved on.
A child cried. No one seemed satisfied.
Alma Hernandez, a board member from Action NC, which has planned some of the protests, said she saw too many people still holding their hands up at the end of the meeting.
“I don’t feel satisfied. This was supposed to be a community meeting,” she said, but there was too much “hotdogging” at the beginning – too many talking points, with not enough time left for questions from the crowd.
Some questions dealt with why CMPD doesn’t have more Latino officers.
Putney said the department is trying, but a lack of trust in the community affects recruiting, too. He said officer-involved shootings set the trust-building process back “three or four steps” – and meeting the legal standard for a justified shooting doesn’t help build trust, he said.
One man said the real question isn’t about whether officers are trained well or any other issue.
“The fear in the community is – who’s next?” he asked.