A day after protesters took to uptown to vent anger at the Randall Kerrick mistrial, community activists on Saturday urged peaceful marches and called for a revision of Charlotte Mecklenburg Police’s use-of-force policy and Mecklenburg County’s jury selection process.
Meanwhile, Police Chief Kerr Putney praised the measured response of the more than 50 officers who responded to the “spontaneous and random” protests Friday night and donned riot gear only when faced with a second contingent of demonstrators, some of whom became rowdy and hostile with authorities and passersby.
In the fervor, two men were arrested and charged with one count each of assaulting a police officer and other charges. The officers received minor injuries.
If you start assaulting our officers, we’re going to have to protect ourselves and protect the public.
CMPD Police Chief Kerr Putney
Protests broke out Friday evening after Judge Robert Ervin declared a mistrial in the case of Kerrick, the CMPD officer who fatally shot Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed black man, two years ago. As the night went on, the first group of demonstrators who stalled traffic and staged “die-ins” was supplanted by a second batch of protesters who marched to the BB&T Ballpark, squared off against officers and baseball game spectators.
They get in the street and throw rocks because they know everything else has been taken from them.
Bree Newsome, Charlotte activist
“It became a lot more of the younger crowd and the behavior was much more aggressive, and they even became violent, throwing rocks at our officers,” Putney said during a news conference at police headquarters. “If you start assaulting our officers, we’re going to have to protect ourselves and protect the public.”
During a separate news conference on the lawn of the Mecklenburg County courthouse, Bree Newsome, the Charlotte activist who climbed a flagpole at the South Carolina Statehouse and removed the Confederate battle flag, said youth were angry because they are familiar with injustice at the hands of police.
“There is no such thing as justice within an unjust system and the young people know this perhaps better than anybody,” she said. “They get in the street and throw rocks because they know everything else has been taken from them.”
Putney said police were prepared to handle any protests that would erupt Saturday when thousands would crowd Charlotte for the Carolina Panthers’ game against the Miami Dolphins and other events.
“We have plenty of officers on foot, bikes, motorcycles and vehicles to handle anything we encounter,” he said.
City Manager Ron Carlee also asked for peaceful demonstrations before crediting protesters who intervened Friday when some in their number grew belligerent. “We want people to express themselves but in a really safe way,” he said.
Those expressions abounded Saturday, starting with a gathering of about 30 organizers who form the Charlotte Solidarity Coalition, which comprises civil rights groups such as Charlotte NAACP, Tribe, Black Lives Matter and HBCU Pride Nation. Together, they encouraged upset youth to organize productively but also hoped to express how the people who hoped to see Kerrick convicted were hurt by the court’s decision.
Marty Puckett, vice president with the NAACP, said police displayed restraint and common sense when dealing with “an emotional crowd.” But “we strongly believe if the same restraint had been shown and the common sense had been shown two years ago, the night that Jonathan Ferrell was killed, that he would still be alive today.”
The pain was raw and palpable.
Aisha Dew, community organizer
“The pain was raw and palpable” when the mistrial was announced, said Aisha Dew, former chair of the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party. “We have to work together peacefully. We have to march, and continue to move forward in a cohesive manner so we can make change. At the end of the day, Ms. (Georgia) Ferrell still does not have justice for her son.”
Charlotte’s Bishop Phillip Davis, who spoke on behalf of the Reconciled Church Movement, said the county’s jury selection process should be overhauled after he noted that only one black man sat on the Kerrick trial jury. He further called for a citizens’ review and revision of CMPD’s use-of-force policy.
Putney, the police chief, said the department would not revise its use of force policies but is leaning on “community leaders” who are reviewing procedures and giving “all kinds of feedback and critique, some of which I think is right on point.”
Rally on Sunday
A justice rally led by John Barnett, founder of the True Healing Under God (THUG) civil rights group, is planned for 3 p.m. Sunday at Redemption Christian Ministries, 301 W. 24th St.