The mom approaches the stoplight with her afternoon carpool of chatting kids. As she slows down she notices a man in the median holding a sign asking for money. An uncomfortable feeling of sadness, helplessness, and irritation engulfs her. She feels ashamed but adjusts the radio and then stares straight ahead, and does not look in his direction again.
You want to know the truth about bearing witness in our city? I think you can handle it.
In the recent past, Charlotte has enjoyed being the center of attention, with our accomplishments celebrated on the national stage. Highlights include successfully hosting the 2012 Democratic National Convention, and our Carolina Panthers winning the 2015 NFC Championship and competing in the Super Bowl.
The Queen City’s crown isn’t shining as brightly these days. (And if your mind went first to the Panthers’ current season, this post is definitely for you!)
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
Because this time as the nation watched, peaceful protests – triggered after the tragic encounter between CMPD officers and Keith Lamar Scott – gave way to chaos and riots. Soon tear gas and smashed glass and petty looting became the least of our worries as police were injured and Justin Carr was shot and killed by a fellow protestor.
My initial experience of the tumult brought to mind a favorite novel All The Kings Men by Robert Penn Warren. In it, the main character Jack Burden journeys from immaturity to responsibility through his catastrophic involvement with a gifted and flawed politician. In one early scene, Jack stands at a fence and refuses to turn around. He doesn’t want to be accountable – so he doesn’t look. He irrationally thinks, Maybe if I don’t see it, it’s not really there . . .
It is so easy to stand blindly at the fence.
Or at least, for some of us, it is. When Charlotte was reeling I received messages from relatives and friends wondering if I was ok, worried about whether my family was safe. What I reported back to them was troubling:
The morning after Keith Scott died and the riots began I woke up as usual in my safe house in my pretty neighborhood. I drove my kids to their stellar private school. I attended their games and ushered them to their practices and Promenade activities, which were held as usual like every other week since school started. I did this every day of the unrest uptown. My life went on like it always did.
Except, I was well aware of this reality. The raw suffering in my city was thrust in my face and I kept my eyes open. Every night as media helicopters hovered near my neighborhood that borders uptown I listened to the insistent unsettling noise and I thought of those whose neighborhoods host constant disruptions, those families who endure countless sleepless nights. I thought of how I worry for my sons when they are out in the world, and I imagined how that fear would be compounded if they were children of color – or police officers. I witnessed the despair, the frustration, the seemingly impossible burden of keeping the peace, and the hunger for justice . . . all reeling at such a stunning contrast to my uninterrupted privilege and calm.
Now the spotlight is mostly dimmed and the mess is mostly cleaned up. We will go back to our regular lives (if we ever left them); the only problem is, for many in our city regular life is not ok. I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I am willing to look around me and to ask the question: What are we going to do about it? Especially if we emerged from the recent chaos unscathed – isn’t it our turn to step up? Because the truth is, your neighbor’s reality exists whether you chose to witness it or not; in these difficult times it seems the least we can do is turn around and open our eyes.
Want to get a better handle on bearing witness in Charlotte? Learn about our city’s challenges with upward social mobility; read native Charlottean David Joy’s observations about growing up white on the west side; and see what fellow citizens have to say to our mayor and city council about their experience in Charlotte.
Bess Kercher, M.A. explores the reality of motherhood in her blog "A Few Good Moms...Can You Handle the Truth?" Bess lives in Charlotte with her husband and two sons. You can read more of her writing at www.maemucho.com.