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Protesters, Ferrell family, stage peaceful ‘die in’ outside courthouse

From left, holding up their fists Jibril Hough, a Muslim leader Willie Ferrell, brother of Jonathan Ferrell, during the Charlotte 'die-in' in honor of Jonathan Ferrell held in the street in front of the Mecklenburg County Jail and Mecklenburg County Courthouse on Monday August 10,2015. Die-ins involve lying in public spaces to illustrate what many see as a national wave of police brutality against African-Americans.
From left, holding up their fists Jibril Hough, a Muslim leader Willie Ferrell, brother of Jonathan Ferrell, during the Charlotte 'die-in' in honor of Jonathan Ferrell held in the street in front of the Mecklenburg County Jail and Mecklenburg County Courthouse on Monday August 10,2015. Die-ins involve lying in public spaces to illustrate what many see as a national wave of police brutality against African-Americans. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

For a few moments Monday night, more than 50 people laid face-down in the middle of 4th Street in Charlotte. They tilted their necks upward or to the side, resting their chins on the pavement so they could breathe.

Protesters clasped their hands behind their backs as if bound. Their handcuffs were imaginary – unlike the real pair that bound Jonathan Ferrell after he was shot by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall Kerrick almost 23 months ago.

Willie Ferrell, Jonathan’s brother, stood among them. He held a sign that read: #JusticeforJonathanFerrell.

A line of supporters, the Mecklenburg County jail and a sidewalk full of police officers stood behind him. About 100 feet to his left was the courthouse where Kerrick is on trial for voluntary manslaughter.

Every morning when Willie Ferrell wakes up he thinks, “Here we go again” – time for another day of sitting in the courtroom with his mother, Georgia. He said each new day brings people telling lies about his brother. “It’s kinda hard to know we got to go through this once again, the stress level, sitting on the benches, sitting there.”

The crowd stood up and became a circle. Georgia Ferrell led the group, now almost 100-strong, in prayer. After she said “Amen,” the crowd marched toward Marshall Park.

“I believe,” they chanted. “I believe that we will win.”

Their chant wasn’t just for Jonathan Ferrell. It was for Michael Brown, a year and a day after Ferguson, Mo., police Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot him.

The peaceful protest in Charlotte stood in marked contrast to what transpired in Ferguson Sunday night and Monday – multiple shootings that led to a state of emergency. Protesters, including Princeton professor emeritus Cornel West, were arrested for refusing to disperse.

The unrest in Ferguson was reminiscent of the scene that followed a grand jury’s decision in November not to indict Wilson for Brown’s death. Charlotte NAACP President Corine Mack said she’s having conversations with people in the community to avoid similar unrest in Charlotte, no matter what the result.

Regardless, she said, the events in Ferguson, Charlotte and elsewhere have forced people to have a conversation about race.

When the crowd reached Marshall Park, it gathered around the Ferrells, who each spoke briefly. Then Jeremiah Chapman rapped, “New generation … civil rights you gotta take up, ugly truths, ain’t got need for make up.”

Hardiman: 704-358-5928, @samhardiman

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