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National activists fly in as Charlotte police protests continue

Protestors block an intersection at Trade and Tryon Streets in Charlotte on Wednesday.
Protestors block an intersection at Trade and Tryon Streets in Charlotte on Wednesday. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Leaders of protests in Ferguson, Baltimore and Baton Rouge were flying into Charlotte Thursday as a third day of action against police violence loomed.

Meanwhile, local civil rights activists and clergy said they’re working to demand answers, encourage nonviolence and set the stage for long, difficult work to dismantle systemic racism. Several gatherings were planned in and near uptown Charlotte Thursday evening, including a ceremony at the Omni Hotel to “reconsecrate the ground” where a young man was shot during a confrontation between protesters and police clad in riot gear.

Local leaders, some of whom put themselves between police and protesters during Wednesday night’s bloody encounter, said their calls for peace should not be confused with a request that an angry community “calm down.”

“We had calm before Tuesday, but we did not have peace,” said the Rev. Rodney Sadler, of the Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice.

“There is deep mistrust in this community,” said the Rev. James Leach, another member of the coalition. “Saying ‘calm down’ starts to sound like a message you give a child.”

Video shows the chaos after a man was shot during a protest in uptown Charlotte Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016

Charlotte organizers have been holding protests, creating coalitions and leading discussions about police brutality against the African-American community for almost three years, since a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer shot Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed black man who had wrecked his car, in September 2013. But until this week, the violence that erupted in cities across America had not come to Charlotte.

Now, leaders of some of those protests, such as Michael McBride, a California minister who leads the Live Free campaign against mass incarceration, and Traci Blackmon, an organizer of the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Mo., traveled to Charlotte.

Corine Mack, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP branch, said Thursday that Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, including Chief Kerr Putney, have worked with local groups to build the kind of relationships that could improve treatment of African-Americans and build trust.

But she and other leaders said the department’s rush to depict Keith Lamont Scott, who was shot to death Tuesday by an officer, as a gunman eroded that progress. So, they said, did the city’s rush to say that the man shot Wednesday was the victim of another protester, even though little was clear through Thursday about what had happened.

“We were proud of the work we had done with CMPD,” Mack said at a news conference. “To the police chief whom we have worked with very closely in the past: Shame on you.”

State and local NAACP and clergy urged police to immediately release video of Scott’s shooting, to stop disseminating partial or unverified stories about violent encounters and to address the long-term task of counteracting racism. They also called on the community to create a Commission on Reconciliation and Equity.

The long-term challenge goes far beyond the demands of responding to any one incident.

In July, social justice advocate Patrice Funderburg convened a group to meet periodically to read “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” and commit to action based on that material. Those meetings drew 35 to 90 people, and the last one had coincidentally been set for Thursday. Funderburg says she scrambled to shift the agenda from long-term plans to actions that can be taken in the next 30 days.

This week’s violence can serve as a “trigger phase” for a larger movement, she said.

“The Charlotte way is passive civility,” she said. “The fact that Charlotte has been exposed gives us a real opportunity to be bold and brave and do it differently.”

All of the organizers say they advocate nonviolence, though the Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, called hypocrisy on leaders who pay more attention to riots than to peaceful protest. “You actually promote the unrest,” he said.

Aisha Dew, a Charlotte social justice activist, said there are many groups on the streets, as well as individuals who don’t get involved until there’s a local police shooting. She said she doesn’t think any particular group is trying to stir up confrontation or violence.

“These are young people who are concerned and hurt and tired,” she said. “They’re just young.”

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

Protesters have taken to the streets of Charlotte following the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott on Tuesday. Officials allege a black officer opened fire on Scott after he emerged from his car with a gun in the University City area. Family mem

Events Thursday

▪ 5 p.m. at Missiongathering Church, 420 E. 15th St.: Direct action training to prepare people for nonviolent protest.

▪ 6:30 p.m. at Omni Hotel, 132 E. Trade St.: Ceremony led by Charlotte clergy to acknowledge the shooting of a protester Wednesday night.

▪ 7 p.m. According to sources and social media, marches against police violence and for racial justice will gather at various spots, including Marshall Park, Romare Bearden Park and Goodyear Arts on College Street.

▪ 7:30 p.m. at Biddle Hall, Johnson C. Smith University: March and rally “in solidarity with the Queen City.” Participants are encouraged to wear all black.

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