With Charlotte street protests expected to continue at least through the weekend, a local clergy group is launching a strategy to eventually shift that energy to long-range action on racial disadvantage and discrimination.
The Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice, which has more than 70 members, plans to hold a series of October sessions on how race shapes education, law enforcement, health care and other opportunities in Charlotte. Those will build toward the November formation of a Commission on Reconciliation and Equity, with members chosen to represent different parts of the community, said coalition Vice Chair Rodney Sadler. The plan is for that group to spend at least two years delving into and acting on ways to counteract systemic racism.
Meanwhile, the marches sparked by Tuesday’s fatal shooting of Keith Lamar Scott by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer are expected to continue for the next few days.
On Friday a group called Charlotte Uprising, which works with a number of local and statewide organizations, issued a list of demands ranging from releasing police video of Scott’s shooting to defunding the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and redistributing its budget to pay for jobs, housing, schools and other programs. Other demands include ending the city’s curfew, removing the National Guard, firing and prosecuting all officers involved in Scott’s death and paying reparations to Scott’s family.
“There’s an uprising in Charlotte because there is still so much we don’t know,” Charlotte Uprising said in a statement released Friday evening. “Our city’s intent to cover up and edit the facts, and craft a narrative that benefits them does nothing to create trust, safety or transparency. This is why we demand our police be held accountable to the community they serve, and that they be transparent and responsible with their practices.”
Sadler said the duration and strategy of protests is impossible to predict because many organizers, from Black Lives Matter to anarchists, are making plans. “I think the idea is people will march until they’re tired of marching,” said Sadler, an associate Bible professor at Union Theological Seminary in Charlotte.
Since Tuesday, protests have started at various locations, often converging in uptown Charlotte.
On Tuesday and Wednesday those actions turned violent, with police firing tear gas and participants damaging property. Justin Carr, who was taking part in Wednesday’s march, was fatally shot during a heated encounter between police and protesters outside the Omni Hotel. On Friday police charged 21-year-old Rayquan Borum in the shooting. The connection between the two men remains unclear.
Thursday’s march, which saw hundreds of people looping through uptown Charlotte for almost six hours, was a peaceful contrast.
Police seemed uninterested in confrontations or arrests, even two hours after the midnight curfew arrived. A long line of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police clad in full riot gear emerged around 8:40 p.m., marched around the block and entered the lobby of the Marriott Hotel on Trade Street, but most of the protesters had moved to another area.
In the crowd there were raised voices and profanity directed at police, but also many who exchanged handshakes and polite words with officers and National Guard members who had been summoned to keep the peace. Organizers, clergy and other volunteers worked to keep the group together and focused, as well as to discourage signs of violence or vandalism. A marcher was spotted carrying a baseball bat around 1 a.m. Friday, but there was no sign he ever used it.
Sadler said he thinks much of the initial anger had been vented Tuesday and Wednesday.
But Aisha Dew, an activist who has been involved with this week’s protests, noted that tension may be revived Friday after Scott’s family released a video of the moments leading up to his death, while police continue to withhold their video of the incident.
“I think people are so upset,” Dew said Friday afternoon. “It’s going to be an interesting night.”
Prayer vigils and street protests provide a venue for people to voice their feelings about police violence and racism, Sadler said. But he and Dew, who is working with the clergy coalition on the Commission on Reconciliation and Equity, said real solutions will take far more time and study.
“It’s not just that Keith Scott was killed. It’s not just that Justin Carr was killed,” Sadler said. “It’s that black lives are deemed not valuable” when it comes to health care, housing and other opportunities.
Clergy have spoken with city and county officials, as well as Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force, to solicit their support. But Sadler said the commission will remain independent of all government bodies and rely on “the authority of the clergy.”
Dew said the marches have given a voice to many who aren’t engaged in politics or activism. “That’s what this whole situation is about: People feeling heard,” she said. “Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully it will motivate people to stay engaged.”