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, and Charlotte. These are their words, with some editing for clarity and brevity.
Tina Marshall was a moderately politically active retiree – attending a meeting here, a forum there – when she answered an urgent Facebook request for help from Charlotte Uprising organizer Ash Williams the day after the Scott shooting. Now, 62-year-old Marshall is a constant presence at community events, forums and meetings and is a volunteer for the Exodus Foundation, which aims to stop the flow of African-Americans to prison and support those who have been released.
Being with these young people just opened my eyes ... It’s been a school for me for this past year. It’s like Freedom Fighting 101.
“I went to meet (Ash Williams) at a coffee shop the day after the shooting and from there on it went 10,000 miles an hour. The next thing I knew, I was coordinating all the supplies that were coming into Charlotte from Uprising. I met people from all over the country that were true freedom fighters. They were activists. I was really kind of in awe and shocked, all these young people in their 20s. I was the most senior person there. Everybody was pretty nice, but I felt like I had nothing really to offer because I had not been to anything. I had read about it, and said, ‘I’m going to go,’ but I never did.
“Because of Ash, I was in this world that I had no idea even existed, not as I knew it. Back in the 1970s I had marched against the Vietnam War and I had marched against this and that. But this organization was nothing like I had seen back in the ’70s. This was far more organized. Back in the day people would organize and would be passing out fliers and it would take weeks or months to put something together because we didn’t have the technology like we have now. Now, it’s a Facebook page.
“Being with these young people just opened my eyes ... I’ve learned about prison abolition and I am now a volunteer with Exodus Foundation. They gave me the verbiage about racism and privilege and entitlement and I learned things like gentrification. It’s been a school for me for this past year. It’s like Freedom Fighting 101, if you will.
“I probably go (to community events) about 20 hours a week. It started out like, ‘I don’t have anything else to do, why not just go and get some information?’ Then it started to become a mission. After the uprising every day I would see two and three and four events in a day. I would go to the Tuesday morning forum and that afternoon there would be a Transgender 101 and that night there would be something about refugees. I wanted to soak it all in; I wanted to learn about everything that was out there.
“The other place where I can be useful is educating my contemporaries. I have a lot of people in their 50s and 60s who are watching what I’m doing. A lot of them don’t say anything on my page, but they’ll go behind and send me a text or a message and ask me, ‘What does that mean? How does that work?’ They won’t go with me (to events). However certain things I’ve seen them at.
“I’m disabled. I did march one night (of the September protests). I marched like six blocks and I’m marching along, getting further and further behind and I thought, ‘I can’t really do much in this realm, so let me find out what I can do.’ What I ended up doing is sitting in jail support and court support ... sitting outside the jail all night long and waiting for them to come out and greet them, giving them support, giving them water, snacks, a cigarette, ring to find a bus or ride to wherever they needed to go. Subsequently I started going to the court support for those same people who came out. I’m still doing court support to this day.
“Those first days of court support: I would say there were 30 or 40 people at a time. Now, it’s down to a core 5-10 people that are still there. A lot of folks who got arrested didn’t know they could get a free attorney. They thought they had to take a plea. We couldn’t dispense any legal advice but we could say, ‘Do you know you could get a free attorney? Do you need a ride to court and a ride home?’ It was that kind of thing. Just giving them information.
“I remember with one judge, he had everybody who had their date just line up and then they’d walk up to the table. Everybody in line, there must have been like 30 people in line, were all black. All of them. I was just like, ‘How did we get here? How did this happen?’
“Me seeing it up close and personal, it just struck me. That’s when I said: What can I do? How can I help?”