Politics & Government

City Council bike lane discussion evolves into uproar over Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter protesters bring their message to Charlotte City Council on Monday.
Black Lives Matter protesters bring their message to Charlotte City Council on Monday. sharrison@charlotteobserver.com

It started as a discussion about Charlotte building new protected bike lanes – and ended with Mayor Jennifer Roberts and City Council members being heckled by Black Lives Matter activists.

The back-and-forth occurred during Monday’s City Council public forum. In the forum, 10 people are allowed to speak for 3 minutes apiece on any topic. The city’s policy is to not respond to people speaking, a policy that’s almost always enforced.

But at Monday’s meeting, Jordan Moore of Sustain Charlotte spoke about the need for council members to build new protected bike lanes.

Roberts then started a discussion about the bike lanes and said she wanted council members to vote to refer the lanes to a committee. At that point, several council members began a freewheeling discussion about the need for bike lanes. As the conversation continued for several minutes, some council members began to get uneasy, especially with several people waiting to speak about police reforms and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Republican Kenny Smith said he was concerned about the precedent being set by responding to the public forum.

Democrat LaWana Mayfield, who is black, then blasted her colleagues’ discussion about the bike lanes.

“I have had another death with people trying to cross West Boulevard,” said Mayfield, who represents west Charlotte. “We just lost an 11-year-old who was an honor student. There is another conversation that needs to happen. No disrespect on the bicycle lanes … but I’m trying to get people across the street.”

Mayfield was referring to the death earlier this month of an 11-year-old girl who was hit by a pickup truck as she tried to cross West Boulevard near Ridge Avenue.

Mayfield continued.

“We just had a freaking 7-10 minute conversation about a bicycle lane,” she said. “Are you kidding me?”

Roberts then apologized for allowing such a lengthy discussion about the bike lanes. She said she didn’t believe it would last that long.

“Everybody makes mistakes,” she said. “It was good intentions to let the community be heard.”

Roberts then allowed for extended time for a discussion about Black Lives Matter.

A number of people in the audience then began shouting “Black Lives Matter” and demanding the council discuss their concerns immediately, as they had for the bike lanes. During the public forum, some people warned that rioting is what happens when people feel powerless.

Theresa McCormick-Dunlap was one of several speakers who spoke about Black Lives Matter.

“Bike lanes are important,” she said. “Trees are important. Self-esteem for women is important. But we can’t address them if we are afraid for our lives.”

She added: “Nothing is bigger to me at this moment than Black Lives Matter.”

Micaila Milburn said she wants the council to take action to improve relations between police and minority communities.

Council member Al Austin, who is black, said the city needs to “acknowledge the fear of people of color.”

He said many of the problems in the black community could be traced to what he called “Post-Traumatic Slavery Syndrome.”

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs