Protesters marched through uptown Wednesday night after the Mecklenburg County district attorney announced no charges in the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. Amid the anger, there was also a conversation between a demonstrator and a police officer who have both become familiar faces at protests.
As protesters shouted in front of CMPD headquarters, two men had a passionate but respectful conversation in the thick of it all. One was a tall African-American with dreadlocks. The other was a short, white police officer with close-cropped hair.
“Why would CMPD not just come to the people?” Braxton Winston said. He was asking CMPD Major Mike Campagna about another shooting: the killing of a protester during one of the violent nights in September that followed Scott’s death. Winston wanted to know why police haven’t released more evidence against the man charged in that.
Campagna answered that releasing too much information before trial would bias potential jurors.
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“He deserves a fair trial,” Campagna said. “You agree with that?”
“I believe everybody deserves a fair trial,” Winston answered. “I believe in the court system. I don’t believe in what surrounds the court system.”
Winston says racism is a big part of the problem. He and Campagna talked about that in broader terms.
“The race issue is a societal issue,” Campagna said.
“Correct,” Winston replied. “It’s an institutional issue, and CMPD is an institution.”
“I understand,” Campagna said. “But you’ve go to understand to work on those issues, it takes more than just the police department.”
“I agree with that,” Winston said. “I totally agree with that.”
Their conversation lasts more than 10 minutes. They vehemently disagree on some things, and there’s still frustration as Campagna heads back to his fellow officers and Winston marches off with his fellow protesters.
Winston lives in Charlotte and graduated from Davidson College about a decade ago. He says he hadn’t been very active in protests before the Scott shooting, but it hit close to home because of where he lives.
Since that September night, he’s been a fixture in the protests. And he says Campagna has been too.
“He was on the street with us every night,” Winston says. “I know a lot of people have different opinions of everything that's going on here, but he and I kind of worked together at different points in time to make sure we could continue on walking and our rights were protected.”
He says Campagna is “as supportive as a member of the police department can be.”
“As he will tell me and everybody else, he can't speak to some of the questions that need to be answered,” Winston says, “so I appreciate him personally. But professionally, I wish his institution would treat us with more respect.”
Winston says a good starting point would be the police chief and other higher-ups in local government also coming out to protests and listening.