Charlotte Police Chief responds to question: “Why aren’t you stepping down?”
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s efforts to implement de-escalation tactics came under intense scrutiny during two community meetings this week, following the release of body camera footage in the police killing of Danquirs Franklin.
Older crowds at two historically African-American churches peppered Police Chief Kerr Putney with questions: What kind of training is given to police officers? What de-escalation tactics are they taught? And were those tactics used last month when a police officer killed Danquirs Franklin?
The video, released on Monday following a court order, shows Officer Wende Kerl fatally shooting Franklin outside a Burger King off Beatties Ford Road. Police had been called to the scene following two 911 calls about a man threatening customers with a gun inside the restaurant.
On Wednesday evening, as a slide with the words “cooperate, communicate, de-escalate” was projected at the front of Little Rock AME Zion, Maria Crank said that the police must become more culturally proficient.
“These people don’t live in our communities,” she said, charging that policing is more aggressive on the city’s west side than in whiter, more affluent neighborhoods like South Park. “They don’t understand us.”
The conversation on Wednesday hit a boiling point as Putney and some audience members suggested that police officers were not the only ones who needed to change their ways.
As Putney — who is black — repeatedly mentioned that most victims of police violence “are people who look like me,” he also implied that lessons about nonviolence were not successfully being transmitted to young African-American men.
“We’ve got to teach our young people not to resolve minor issues by grabbing a gun,” he said.
In response, Rev. Ray McKinnon said he was sick of hearing that argument.
“We expect more from people who are pulled over from police than we do police,” he said. “Until police officers know they can’t kill us with impunity, because that’s what happens, they’re going to keep doing it.”
On Tuesday, about a mile from the Burger King where Franklin was shot, questions abounded from the audience about the de-escalation training that CMPD has pledged to provide to its officers, following similar police shootings in the past.
Some who spoke at East Stonewall AME Zion Church said that residents must comply with police officers to avoid situations like the one that led his death. But Sevone Rhynes told Putney that there was no room for Franklin to do so.
“We do not get the opportunity to comply,” he said. “When black people in this country have our humanity recognized, acknowledged and respected, it is only then that de-escalation is going to work.”
Deirdre Moss, meanwhile, said there would have been no way for Franklin to have followed Kerl’s orders without causing her to shoot him.
“When can a person in that situation make the right movement that won’t get them killed?” she said.
While answering questions, Putney defended his work to bring de-escalation efforts to his force through mental health training and policy changes, including a civil liberties resolution that was adopted in 2015. But he said that the results of those efforts take time to transfer over to action.
“We can’t change history in a couple of days,” he said.
He told reporters after Tuesday’s meeting that he did not know whether Kerl and the other officer on the scene had undergone Crisis Intervention Team training — another initiative the chief had introduced. Lt. Brad Koch later confirmed that neither officer had.
During the meetings, Putney said that a moral and ethical standard regarding the use of force must be considered in addition to the legal standard, which is comparatively lower: Police officers can use deadly force if they perceive that they or others face an “objectively reasonable” imminent threat of serious bodily harm or death.
“All the training in the world goes out the window because of that legal standard,” he said.
On Wednesday, Putney said that the department is having ongoing conversations about that standard. But he nonetheless tried to steer both audiences towards a conversation on morals and ethics instead.
“Let’s be honest, I think we’re all tired of seeing these outcomes.” he said. “How do we improve? What does it look like? What are your expectations?”
Those in the audience only seemed to answer with more questions. Among those asked by Shawn Elliott Richardson: Why have Putney and Mayor Vi Lyles not stepped down?
“This city has not been more dangerous than the climate we have right now under you guys’ leadership,” Richardson said.
To that point, Putney had a swift answer.
He answered: “We have too much work to do for me to quit.”