A week before a trial that will put the city on a national stage, more than 200 Charlotteans gathered Sunday to hear leaders pledge to build a firewall of unity against the kind of racial unrest that flared in cities such as Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore.
“The eyes of the nation will be looking at us,” said Bishop Phillip Davis of Nations Ford Community Church. “The question is, what will they see?”
Davis was one of more than a dozen religious and political leaders as well as community activists and law enforcement officials who spoke to people on a sweltering afternoon in the Freedom Park Band Shell.
It was the latest event aimed at laying the groundwork for a peaceful response to the July 20 start of the trial of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick, who faces a voluntary manslaughter charge in the September 2013 death of Jonathan Ferrell, 24.
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Ferrell, an unarmed black man, crashed his car after 2 a.m. and had sought help at a nearby home. He was shot 10 times.
Sunday’s “unity and peace” rally came after police officers and community activists, including African-American barbers, have worked in communities to ensure that the response to the Kerrick trial is peaceful.
Mayor Dan Clodfelter praised the barbers for their involvement. He said a community dialogue could prevent the kinds of problems seen in other cities where black men have died at the hands of white officers.
Police Chief Kerr Putney said “everybody’s wanting” to work to keep Charlotte peaceful, and members of the community, not police, play the leading role in making that happen.
“The community has to give us the authority and the ability to ensure everyone’s civil liberties are respected,” he said.
Putney, like other speakers, urged people to start conversations and listen to other perspectives.
That resonated with listeners such as Ann Crehore, executive director of the local Red Boot Coalition, a group dedicated to breaking down barriers and, as she described, “to help people connect as humans beyond the labels we talk about.”
Julie Eiselt, a former member of the Police Foundation board and one of several City Council and mayoral candidates at the rally, told a reporter that everybody has a role in fostering a peaceful response.
“When you sit on the sidelines and say ‘That’s a shame,’ you don’t realize you’re part of the problem,” she said.
Jibril Hough, spokesperson for The Islamic Center of Charlotte, praised the police department as “a model of positive change.” He said he prays for safe community policing but “even more than that ... for justice in the case of Jonathan Ferrell.”
“If Jonathan Ferrell doesn’t get justice, it’s going to break a lot of hearts,” he said. He later made it clear that he believes “justice” would be a guilty verdict.
“If our court system fails, it’s definitely going to get ugly,” he said.
But Davis, the Nations Ford bishop, said he hopes for a civil response regardless of the verdict.
“What people want to know is that they’ve been fairly heard and the system worked,” he said.
Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059