One of the best-known demonstrators from the September unrest that followed the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott is no longer a criminal defendant.
The misdemeanor charge that led to the Sept. 25 arrest of Braxton Winston has been dropped, the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office says.
“The Constitution is an amazing thing. It’s a beautiful thing when you know from personal experience and witness other people making the words on that paper live,” Winston said Wednesday. “I’ve found that common people like myself and others in this community have the ability to do powerful things by taking those words to heart and standing up with the powers that the Constitution gives.”
Winston, a 34-year-old Davidson graduate, husband and father of three, became a nationally known presence during the sometimes violent reaction to Scott’s killing on Sept. 20. The best-known photo of the former Davidson football player showed Winston stripped to the waist, fist raised, as he facing off with a line of police uptown.
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He was arrested on Sept. 25, outside of Bank of America Stadium. While tailgaters feasted before the afternoon’s Panthers game, Winston strolled the stadium grounds, live-streaming video of what was expected to be the scene of continued protests over Scott’s death later that day.
He says he was stopped and searched by a group of officers near one of the Panther statues. They discovered a gas mask in his bag. Twenty minutes after he was stopped, Winston says, he was arrested. The charge – possession of a gas mask with intent to disobey the lawful order of a law enforcement officer in an extraordinary zone – is a misdemeanor. He described his treatment by police as “respectful and gentle.” Winston spent 10 hours in jail before he was released.
In all, police made more than 100 arrests during the Scott protests, the charges ranging from murder and looting-related crimes to failure to disperse and impeding traffic. Several of the cases against peaceful demonstrators already have been dismissed. A district attorney spokeswoman said people charged with nonviolent crimes who don’t have criminal backgrounds routinely are offered the chance to have charges dismissed if they complete an assigned program.
Winston, for one, said he turned down such a deal involving his enrolling in a behavior class because he did not want to “criminalize” himself.
Instead, the protestor best known for being shirtless showed up in District Court on Feb. 21 in a gray tweed jacket and a blue-striped tie. His case was never called.
Winston believes the issues surrounding the Scott shooting still exist in Charlotte, even if the protests have faded. Last month, he joined the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s inaugural transparency workshop, which meets again Wednesday night.
He described the program as “almost a college course in policing,” in which the conversations have been frank, and he and other class members have been able to make suggestions and get answers to their questions.
“I don’t think the transparency course will solve anything,” he said, “but it has been a positive thing.”
Winston says he and his family plan to remain in Charlotte, and he intends to remain involved.
“The willingness to stand up to your government when they smack you in the face, the willingness to take that instead of running away, has a powerful effect on the power structure that tries to control you,” he said.
“I do not have any plans to move. I’m here.”