A furious crowd of citizens criticized and often shouted down Charlotte City Council on Monday night, calling for resignations across the city and chanting, “Hands Down! Shoot Back!” and “No Justice, No Peace!”
Mayor Jennifer Roberts, who allowed people to speak for two hours, repeatedly had to stop the meeting, pleading for quiet. Sometimes the crowd quieted to allow people to speak. At other times, her requests were met with heckles and chants for justice.
Even after the meeting, protesters gathered in the lobby of the Government Center. More than 20 protesters sat down after one young man urged them to “occupy this space.” Dozens more stood, chanted and demanded a federal investigation into the shooting.
“Release. Release. The whole damn tape,” they chanted.
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There have been larger crowds for some issues, such as House Bill 2. But rarely, if ever, has Charlotte seen a council meeting as tense or passionate as Monday night’s.
It was the first meeting held by council members since Tuesday’s fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, which led to days of protest, some of them violent.
Hours before the meeting, Roberts said in an op-ed that the city’s “lack of transparency and communication” about the release of video footage in the Tuesday police shooting of Scott “was not acceptable.”
She also said she asked the U.S. Justice Department to monitor the state’s investigation into the fatal shooting. Roberts also called for a review of the department’s policies on use of force.
“Our city must be more open, honest, and transparent in investigating police shootings if we are to restore trust,” she wrote.
More than 40 people signed up to speak about the Scott shooting and the city’s handling of the investigation and protests.
Some speakers were near tears. Others chanted and shouted down Roberts, who ran the meeting. Some called for her and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Kerr Putney to resign.
“I’m here to ask for Chief Putney’s and your resignation, mayor,” said speaker Henry Lee. “The way it was handled, the secrecy, the lies. We don’t deserve this. People are losing their lives, and you are backing these people with these policies. You don’t deserve to be the mayor of this fine city. You are on verge of bringing this fine city to its knees – step down.”
Several people began their speeches with the chant “No Justice!” while the crowd shouted “No Peace!”
Another woman began her speech saying “All Lives Matter!” while the crowd shouted “When Black Lives Matter!”
Speaker Raymond Carver said the city needs to spend more money on after-school programs and less money on police.
“White society has the opportunity to only worry about where their next dollar is spent,” he said. “We have to settle for worrying about how we will make our next dollar. Stop spending money on the police force and start spending money on children.”
After a 10-year-old, Taje Gaddy, spoke about his fear of the police, the crowd erupted to support him. When Roberts asked for quiet, people in the crowd shouted back at her, asking, “Where are your tears?”
Roberts had to stop the meeting for several minutes while she asked for calm.
Sanchez Huntley questioned whether Roberts and council members cared about the speakers.
“All of you have your hands on your chin,” he said. “I only see three black members on that board.”
He then looked at council member Al Austin, who is African-American.
“Come with us,” he said. “That’s all I got to say … Black Lives Matter!”
Speaker Braxton Winston, like a number of other speakers, called for the resignations of Roberts and Putney.
He decried the practice of arresting protesters.
“You should not lock people up for trying to show people the truth,” he said. “You are making a mockery of the Constitution. And we are making the Constitution live.”
Then he led the crowd in a chorus of “My Country ’Tis of Thee.”
Members of the audience repeatedly shouted down council members as they attempted to talk.
“You’re telling me you’re coming to my house. You tell me I look like Donald Trump. You tell me I’m smirking. That doesn’t feel good,” council member Kenny Smith said. “… But we need to talk. We need to do it together.”
When council member Ed Driggs said, “We have to continue to support our chief, who is an honest man,” he was shouted down.
But by the end of the meeting, protesters came to talk with Roberts and other council members, and tensions were lowered.
Roberts and Putney received heavy criticism nationwide for their initial refusal to release body camera and dashboard camera video from the shooting.
In a Friday morning news conference, both said that the release of the videos could jeopardize the State Bureau of Investigation’s probe. Putney also said it wasn’t the city’s decision to make, since the SBI was now handling the probe.
But the SBI said later that day that the city was free to release the video – an announcement that reportedly surprised elected officials and city staff. And attorneys for the Scott family released their own cellphone video of the shooting, which showed Scott’s wife pleading with police officers not to shoot her husband.
The city changed its position and released the videos Saturday.
The N.C. Republican Party Monday criticized Roberts over the city’s handling of the aftermath of the shooting and blamed her in part for Wednesday’s violence.
The party said she didn’t call a curfew soon enough. It also said Roberts refused the state’s offer for additional law enforcement help on Wednesday, before the worst night of civil unrest.
The party said those decisions “led to the most violent night of riots, including injuries to many law enforcement officers and the death of a civilian.”
On Thursday the city declared a State of Emergency, which allowed Gov. Pat McCrory to send the National Guard to help protect property for Thursday night’s demonstrations.
The mayor’s office has said that Roberts consulted with Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Putney on whether the city was prepared. As soon as Putney requested additional help on Thursday, the mayor’s office has said she immediately called a State of Emergency.
The N.C. GOP did not criticize the mayor for the city’s reluctance in not releasing the footage from a body camera and dashboard camera that showed part of the police encounter with Scott.
McCrory did not call for the footage to be released. But he said he agreed with Putney’s decision to release the video.
Ames Alexander contributed.