On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and the protests that followed, about 100 Charlotteans gathered Tuesday night to share a meal, ask hard questions about their city and themselves and listen to sometimes anguished voices speaking about loss and the need for Charlotte to change.
The diverse group at the “Breaking Bread” dialogue at the Levine Museum of the New South heard from, among others, a preacher, an organizer, a police officer – and also the fiancee of Jonathan Ferrell, who was killed by a Charlotte Mecklenburg Police officer in 2013.
The Rev. Rodney Sadler of MeckMin, a Charlotte interfaith group, was one of many clergy who showed up on the front lines of the protests last September. They came to try to bring peace. But he told the gathering Tuesday night that he also remembers thinking, “I was not only a clergyman, I am also a black man. That (shooting) could happen to me.”
He recalled an unsettling – and eye-opening – run-in with an angry black woman at the protests.
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“She turned to me, she turned on me (and shouted) ‘It’s your fault that this man is dead! It’s your fault that we’re out here today,’ ” Sadler said.
Then he realized she was yelling at his preacher’s collar. “It was my fault. It was all of our faults,” Sadler said. “The faith community has known for years that racism was a problem (that) we should have done more about.”
When it was Ash Williams’ turn to speak to the gathering, this core organizer for Charlotte Uprising said any dialogue about what happened – and is still happening – in Charlotte should include a consideration of those who lost loved ones, including Scott and Justin Carr, who was killed during the protests.
“As we reflect on the last 365 days,” Williams said, “I want you to think about Vivian, Justin Carr’s mom. I want you to think about Rakeyia Scott, Keith Lamont’s partner. And I want you to think about Reuben Galindo’s newborn child, who will not grow up to know her father,” who was shot by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police.
The crowd at Levine also heard from Major Mike Campagna of CMPD, who said the police department is trying to listen more and be more transparent about its decisions.
“We want to change our approach,” he said. He said the department has begun training sessions to teach officers to react to angry people by listening and trying to better understand. “And what I’m ashamed of is that it was revolutionary to us. It was not something we’ve been doing all along.”
As part of the training, he said, CMPD has even brought in non-police people “to yell at officers. The emotions are real.”
But Campagna also cautioned the crowd that “if we continue to demonize the police,” it will become difficult for police departments to recruit the best people.
If that happens, he said, departments will be left with people “who can’t do anything else” and those who want to wear a badge “because what they want is power.”
The crowd was also moved by Cache Heidel, Ferrell’s fiancee.
Her voice cracked with emotion as she spoke about the shock that came after the shooting of the man who was her best friend, the man her family had adopted as a son and a brother, the man she thought she’d spend the rest of her life with.
But, she said, “John was now dead and couldn’t speak for himself. … What did he do to deserve to be shot?”
Heidel, who said she was at the protests last year after another police shooting, ended by telling the gathering: “We all have to stand together … when we know something is not right.”