Monday’s trial protests start a long, peaceful vigil, leaders say

How Do We Heal panel discussion

"How Do We Heal" panel discussion hosted by Charlotte-Mecklenburg branch of NAACP at Little Rock AME Zion Church.
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"How Do We Heal" panel discussion hosted by Charlotte-Mecklenburg branch of NAACP at Little Rock AME Zion Church.

Civil rights and racial justice groups say they’ll keep a close eye on every development as Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick is tried for the shooting death of Jonathan Ferrell.

Observers from the NAACP, Nation of Islam and the local True Healing Under God, or THUG, turned out for the start of jury selection Monday.

“If it takes two months, we’ll still be here,” said THUG civil rights group founder John Barnett, who led about a dozen people on a march from the uptown Marshall Park to the nearby courthouse.

Speakers voiced a commitment to peaceful action, coupled with frustration with what they say is a national pattern of police officers going unpunished for violence against African-American men.

Ferrell, who was black, was shot early on the morning of Sept. 13, 2013, after he wrecked his fiancee’s car and sought help at a nearby house. The resident called to report a possible home invasion. Kerrick, a white officer with two years on the force, fired after Ferrell reportedly ran toward him.

At an 11 a.m. news conference, Ferrell’s mother, Georgia Ferrell, said she is dismayed at how long the justice process is taking.

“This has been a very, very long – unnecessarily long – wait,” she said. “If this had been an animal he killed, they would have already put that person in jail.”

Georgia Ferrell, who clutched a stuffed Winnie the Pooh and a Bible she said were among her son’s favorite possessions, said she forgives Kerrick but he needs to be punished. If she saw Kerrick, she said, “first I would give him a hug and I would let him know he was wrong. I’d ask him, ‘Why would you take an innocent man’s life?’”

In cities like Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., where riots erupted, police with riot gear and military-style vehicles evoked images of battle. In Charlotte, police presence was light at demonstrations and speeches. Mecklenburg sheriff’s deputies rolled around the edges of events on green-and-white three-wheelers that look like a cross between a Segway and a trike.

Diane Harris, who lives on The Plaza, said she brought her 4-year-old grandson, Evan Morgan, to the Monday morning rally in support of the Ferrell family because she worries about her own seven grandsons. She says she coached Evan on saying “We’re coming in peace” in case of any confrontations.

Rahman Allah of Charlotte’s Nation of Islam group brought a banner saying “Send killer cops to jail!! To serve & protect or assault & cover up.”

Corine Mack, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP branch, said her group and other local organizations are committed to peaceful vigilance. She said she expects demonstrations to remain small and low-key until there are provocative developments, such as courtroom viewing of the police dashcam video that has not been disclosed to the public.

Monday night, the NAACP hosted a discussion that included Georgia Ferrell, who spoke about how “hate builds up when you don’t forgive.”

Marcelle Vielot, a “millennial organizer,” said African-Americans must stop blaming themselves.

Samuel Hardiman contributed.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033

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