Protesters question deputies' request to kick them out of courtroom
After days of dramatic buildup on social media, Gloria Merriweather’s scheduled court appearance on Monday never took place.
But those on hand in a Mecklenburg courtroom witnessed an brief eruption of the rancor and suspicions that still pulse through parts of the community, more than a year after police shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott.
Merriweather, 25, known as “Glo” among fellow members of the activist group Charlotte Uprising, was charged with inciting a riot, a felony, and misdemeanor assault on a government official during the violent demonstrations that engulfed parts of the city after Scott’s death.
Charlotte Uprising says her prosecution is part of a broader law-enforcement plot against those protesting police brutality. Police, they say, “murdered” Scott and Justin Carr, a Charlotte demonstrator fatally shot outside the Omni hotel. While another man at the scene has been charged with Carr’s killing, Charlotte Uprising and others still contend that police are responsible for his death. Prosecutors have already ruled that no charges will be filed against the officer who killed Scott.
In the days leading up to Merriweather’s court appearance, Charlotte Uprising used social media to call for followers to “Pack the Court” in her behalf.
“We believe the threat to lock Glo in a cage, particularly in a time when white nationalism is on the rise and the FBI is stepping up their efforts to criminalize Black dissent, reflects an attempt to erase Charlotte Uprising’s resistance and our collective fight for freedom and liberation,” one of the messages said.
Twenty minutes before the start of the court session at which Merriweather was scheduled to appear, the lobby outside Courtroom 5350 was crowded with dozens of her supporters from diverse walks of life – ministers, a city council candidate, transgender men and women of various races.
A deputy stood in front of the courtroom as the audience found seats. He then began to read the standard courtroom rules – no talking, all cell phones on vibrate or silent, no hats and sunglasses.
But then he broke from the usual script – announcing that anyone who was not a defendant, a lawyer or did not have a direct role in any of the pending cases had to leave the courtroom immediately to make room for the people who did.
Despite the ban on speaking, the courtroom broke out in confused murmurs. An informal scan of the seating revealed available spaces for at least a dozen more people.
Merriweather jumped to her feet and addressed the people on the other side of the aisle who were there on her behalf.
Not once in all the hearings for people arrested during the Scott demonstrations have deputies cleared a crowded courtroom, she called across the courtroom.
Someone yelled out, “This is illegal.”
Another uniformed officer stepped forward. “The deputy has announced his decision,” she said. “You have to go.”
“He’s not a judge,” an audience member responded.
The female deputy spoke again. It is our job to manage and control this courthouse, she said firmly.
Another spectator rose to her feet. “But we paid for it,” she yelled.
Seconds of silence passed as the deputies’ order to vacate hung on the air. Nobody budged. Then a senior deputy interceded. Bystanders were welcome to stay, he said, as long as there was room for late arriving defendants and their attorneys.
That brought a different response. Merriweather’s supporters crammed together on the benches, almost sitting in each other’s laps, as wide swaths of additional space began to appear. For the first time, some people in the courtroom were smiling. The tension had passed.
Fifteen minutes later, as another case was being aired before the judge, the entire group rose as one to leave. Word had spread from row to row that Merriweather’s hearing had been delayed until late November.
Outside, they heard from Merriweather’s attorneys. The charges against her still stand.