Activists rally in Charlotte to honor Michael Brown, Jonathan Ferrell

More than 15 people stood in front of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department on Fifth Street on Saturday chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” “End police brutality now” and “The people united will never be defeated.”

They had marched six blocks from Marshall Park, where they’d held a rally to call for justice in the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American man who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., this month.

Saturday morning’s rally also called attention to the cases of Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed Charlotte man who was shot and killed by a police officer last year while seeking help after a car wreck, and Eric Gardner, who died from a police chokehold on Staten Island, N.Y., in July.

Organized by local activist Jibril Hough, the “Don’t Shoot, Don’t Bomb Peace and Justice Rally” attracted about 30 people who joined demonstrators across the nation in honoring Brown. Not all took part in the march.

“It’s not about masses of people,” Hough said of the turnout. “It’s about passion, energy and spirit. A few people with passion and sincerity have the power to move mountains.”

Among those who came to the rally was Ferrell’s fiance, Cache Heidel, but Hough said she declined to speak with the media, preferring to quietly show her support for the cause.

He hoped the event would also focus attention on the need for more diversity in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. At CMPD, 75.9 percent of officers are white, 17.4 percent are black and 3.8 percent are Hispanic.

“I think we’re much better than Ferguson in some ways,” Hough said. “But we’re not that far off in many others.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police “are not as diverse as they need to be. It’s hard to serve those you can’t relate to. They still have more work to do,” Hough said.

On Thursday, a federal jury in a civil case awarded $500,000 to the parents of a man who died in 2011 after being twice shocked by a CMPD officer. It marked the third time this year that the city has paid a settlement or jury award in a case involving a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer’s use of force.

“That tells us Charlotte is not where it needs to be,” Hough said.

One of the first to show up at the rally was Mike Morton, who said he was “concerned about the overreaction of police here and other parts of the country.”

Morton, 62, of Cabarrus County, said he supports police and thinks they have a “tough job.”

But he hoped they were getting the type of training needed to prevent overreaction. “They need to be held accountable,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about – accountability.”

Chris Hailey, a former Raleigh police officer and N.C. Highway Patrol trooper, said he came to the rally because he’s running for Mecklenburg County sheriff.

“I need to know what the community’s thinking,” he said. “I’m here to know their concerns and issues.”

As director of public safety training at Central Piedmont Community College, Hailey said he wanted to address the issue of improving relations between residents and law enforcement officers.

Within the next few weeks, he said this type of training “will become part of the continuing education program for law enforcement at the college.”

Jon and Andrea Reynolds of Charlotte arrived at Marshall Park with a sign that read “No justice, No peace.”

“This keeps happening over and over,” Jon Reynolds said of the Ferguson shooting. “ I needed to get involved somehow. I’m here to show my support. I have a teenage son myself. It could just as well be him as any other young African-American.”

When Ferrell was shot in Charlotte last year, “I didn’t protest,” Jon Reynolds said. “But I feel the need now. So many people across the U.S. have seen this happen. It seems to be happening more frequently.”

Charlotte real estate broker T.X. Green showed up not only to support “the cause and the call,” but to support Hough for his work in the community.

“I admire and respect what he’s done,” Green said. “He’s a good man.”

Green felt that Charlotte, along with police departments elsewhere, should put more emphasis on helping officers understand the communities they serve.

“We really are human beings,” he said. “They (officers) must take time to know someone. People need to concentrate on being nice. Be nice. Take time.”