The police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, and the vigils, protests and violence of September 2016, rocked Charlotte. In the grief and unrest that followed, some people took up new work. Others found fresh urgency in work they were already doing. We asked seven Charlotteans to talk about the past year. These are their words, with some editing for clarity and brevity.
The Rev. Amantha Barbee, pastor of Statesville Avenue Presbyterian Church, became chair of the Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice shortly after the city erupted in the wake of the shooting. Barbee and other coalition members were literally on the front lines during the protests of September 2016, putting themselves between demonstrators and police.
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As the street protests wound down, the coalition announced plans to create a Commission on Reconciliation and Equity, modeled on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The goal: Move toward full accountability and long-term solutions for systemic racism. The coalition had hoped to start public reconciliation meetings in January, but the work has slowed. It’s now working with Charlotte Uprising, Johnson C. Smith University and the Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice at Queens University – and, in the interim, members are working for social justice within their own congregations.
On Sept. 20, the coalition will lead an “accountability march” around uptown Charlotte, marking important sites from the protests a year ago and demanding to know what city leaders have done to respond.
“We wanted to be a voice of reason in a peaceful protest. The protest was against hatred, was against systemic racism, and the inequities not just in our country but in our city.
“We keep hearing, ‘This isn’t Charlotte.’ Yes it is. I’ve been in Charlotte since I came out of the womb. This is Charlotte. When you silence something so long, you keep the top on the bottle so long and you keep shaking it, it’s bound to explode. I think that’s what we saw.
If we’re going to talk about reconciliation, we need pure honesty and you need to feel safe in being honest.
The Rev. Amantha Barbee
“(For the public reconciliation meetings), we decided it was in the best interest of the city for us not to do it by ourselves. ... For completion you’re talking about three or four years. It’s not going to happen overnight.
“You have to have legal support from the powers that be, because (there) has to be the willingness to be totally transparent. Amnesty’s involved. People may not understand. ‘Let’s just all get together and talk’ – that’s not the point. If we’re going to talk about reconciliation, we need pure honesty and you need to feel safe in being honest. If I’ve wronged you and I know I’ve wronged you and I’m willing to say I’ve wronged you, but if I say (it) I’m going to go to jail, I will not be so quick to say that.
“We have protected and we have uplifted the LGBTQ community because we have seen a great disparity there, where a lot of the housing issues and discrimination falls squarely in the middle of the LGBTQ community.
“These conversations have just started, but several of the churches that have extra property around are looking to partner with other churches to address the affordable housing issues we have here in this city.
“I don’t want anybody to be comfortable with, ‘Oh, phew, we got over Sept. 20, 21st, let’s move on.’ No. Please understand: It’s going to happen again, and again, and again until justice prevails. We cannot continue to be a city of have and have nots and expect it to be peaceful.
“There are always, always, always going to be the rich and poor, and there’s nothing wrong with that. What are you going to do with your money? What are you going to do with your access? Will you be selfish or will you share? Will you listen or dictate? Will you learn or be like Pharoah, just a hardened heart?”