African-Americans who attended a public forum the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department hosted Sunday said they are frustrated by recent officer-involved shootings in Charlotte and elsewhere.
But others acknowledged that they should help improve their interactions with police, both by standing up for their rights and being less confrontational.
The meeting came less than 24 hours after a CMPD police officer shot a teen near uptown, after police say he refused to drop a gun despite the officer’s commands. The officer fired three or four shots, striking the teen in one of his legs and wrists, police said.
At times, Sunday’s discussion became tense, with some interrupting officers, others shaking their heads at officers’ comments and some talking among themselves while officers spoke.
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“We feel our lives are in danger, based on recent events,” O’Brian Robinson said at the event organized by the North Carolina Local Barbershop Association. “We’re nervous, too. Both groups are in fear for their lives, but they (the police) have the deadly force.”
More than 80 residents, as well as more than three dozen law enforcement personnel, including CMPD Chief Rodney Monroe, attended the meeting in the Grier Heights neighborhood.
At about the same time on Sunday, another meeting was held at a church in North Charlotte to demand the city release dashboard camera footage in the death of Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed man who was killed by CMPD officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick in 2013. Kerrick faces charges in Ferrell’s death.
‘Justice for Janisha’
At the meeting with police, more than a dozen people wore “Justice for Janisha” T-shirts while holding signs that said “Why are you still hiring killers Mr. Monroe? No justice, no peace.”
Janisha Fonville, 20, was fatally shot by police on Feb. 18 after police say she refused to drop a kitchen knife and lunged at officers. The officer who fatally shot her, Anthony Holzhauer, had been involved in shootings in the line of duty twice before, including one in 2012 that left a man dead, police said.
When the meeting ended, Monroe walked over to the “Justice for Janisha” group to talk.
“Do you think the officer could have used a different way of coming at her where she did not have to die?” one woman asked Monroe, her voice shaking with emotion as a group of people circled around the two.
Monroe said that his department was working on better training for officers. He also said the department just invested several million dollars in body cameras to help hold officers accountable.
“Do I believe that some officers have ill wills? Yes. But if that’s the case, we will find that out,” he told the group gathered around him.
One speaker drew several people in the audience to their feet in applause.
Shelton Morris, 42, was a resident of the area in 1996, when CMPD officers shot at him more than a dozen times, hitting him several times.
But on Sunday, he stood before attendees to say that he’d survived and, more than that, he’d learned to accept his part in the near-fatal officer-involved shooting.
“I had to answer for my own mistakes,” noting that in the past, he was “trouble” and that on the day he was shot, he was running from police.
He called on residents to become more peaceful and celebrate unity, among neighbors but also with the police.
“We need to find some unity, some peace on this earth,” he said. “Without God, we ain’t gonna make it. But with God, anything is possible. ... Let’s make peace.”
Just before the forum started, a video played, listing the 10 rules for surviving when stopped by police. Those included not running away, even if you’re afraid; remembering that anything you say or do can be used against you; not resisting arrest, even if you believe you’re innocent; and keeping your hands in plain sight.
Monroe and other officers spent several minutes Sunday explaining the department’s continuum of force policy, which can include pepper spray, Tasers and, ultimately, guns.
“It all depends on the situation,” said Capt. Norman Garnes Jr., who oversees the Providence Division. “We don’t go out intending to hurt or kill anybody.”
But officers also added that, if at any point officers believe their lives or someone else’s life is in danger, deadly force can be justified.
“A lot of people don’t realize that someone doesn’t actually have to have a weapon for officers to use deadly force,” said Officer John Frisk, the community coordinator for the Providence Division.
While many people who spoke questioned police behavior, many others said blacks can do a better job of knowing their rights, being respectful to police and speaking up when an officer mistreats them.
“Our communities belong to us, first and foremost. Before anybody can come in and do anything, you have to first take pride in your community and know that it belongs to you,” said Larry Mims, a radio personality known as No Limit Larry on WPEG, Power 98.
“We’ve got good police officers. All of them are not bad, but some of them are afraid,” said Shirley Garnes, whose son is the captain in the Providence Division.
Monroe also encouraged residents to speak up when they feel like they’ve been unfairly treated. He noted that he has an internal affairs staff to investigate such claims.