Crime & Courts

Forum tackles tough issue of race and policing in Charlottte

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police chief Kerr Putney told the city council that distrust of police makes it harder for investigators to solve crime, contributing to crime increases. A YWCA of Central Carolinas forum address race and policing on Nov. 12.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police chief Kerr Putney told the city council that distrust of police makes it harder for investigators to solve crime, contributing to crime increases. A YWCA of Central Carolinas forum address race and policing on Nov. 12. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Days after Charlotte’s police chief said distrust toward police officers is making it harder to solve and reduce crime, a community forum tried to address the root causes of that distrust.

More than 50 people gathered at the YWCA of Central Carolinas for a forum titled: “Charting the Way Forward: Police & Race Relations in a 21st Century Charlotte.”

The three panelists touched on several hot button issues: How people and police should behave at traffic stops, when officers should pull their Tasers or guns, and the impact of body cameras on policing.

Quentin Williams, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor who wrote a book on surviving police encounters, said he tells people to protest police misconduct by filing complaints, not arguing with officers on the side of the road.

“On the street, in that moment, is the worst place to battle with the police,” Williams said. “The important thing is making sure that you comply, at that time, with whatever needs to happen to get yourself home safely. If you battle with a law enforcement agent on the street, you’re losing.”

But Glenn Burkins who runs Q City Metro, a Charlotte news website geared toward the black community, said people who interact with the police shouldn’t have to surrender their rights to officers in order to remain safe.

“We do have a right to disagree with law enforcement,” he said. “I am not here to say we should be combative. … We hire law enforcement officers to enforce laws, not to enforce their will. We should be subjected to the law, but we should not be subjected to the will of law enforcement if we have broken no law.”

Maj. Bruce Bellamy, who heads CMPD’s newly created community engagement division, said the department has worked to improve race relations, putting department leaders through implicit bias training and hosting forums to educate people on their rights. But some of the battle, he said, is out of the department’s control.

“We can do everything right here, but if something wrong happens somewhere else, and it’s shown all over social media, we feel those ripple effects right here in Charlotte, and that chips away at the level of trust that we’re working to build up in Charlotte.”

Earlier this week, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Kerr Putney told City Council members that incidents across the nation where officers have used deadly force against minorities have increased the public’s scrutiny – and sometimes outright distrust – of police officers. That distrust makes people less willing to cooperate with investigators trying to solve crimes.

Charlotte was thrust into the national discussion about police misconduct when Officer Randall Kerrick shot and killed Jonathan Ferrell, who was reportedly seeking help after a car crash near Charlotte’s eastern edge.

Kerrick was tried earlier this year on a voluntary manslaughter charge, but a jury was unable to reach a verdict. The presiding judge declared a mistrial.

Ferrell was black, and Kerrick is white, and the case fueled racial tensions before and after Kerrick’s trial.

Cleve R. Wootson Jr.: 704-358-5046, @CleveWootson

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