The 11 members of the Charlotte City Council issued a response Monday to the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and the protests that followed, saying they will focus on “safety, trust and accountability,” affordable housing and “good paying jobs.”
The letter also was a full-throated endorsement of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Kerr Putney. It did not address the national controversy of whether CMPD was tardy in releasing footage of the shooting.
What’s most notable about the letter is that Mayor Jennifer Roberts did not sign it, and it does not appear she was asked to. She upset some council members in the aftermath of the shooting when she released her own response to the protests a week ago.
In an op-ed, Roberts said the city’s “lack of transparency and communication about the timing of the investigation and release of video footage was not acceptable, and we must remedy that immediately.” Roberts also asked for the U.S. Justice Department to monitor CMPD’s use of force strategies.
The council’s letter did not criticize city staff or address the mayor’s belief that the city had a lack of transparency in not more quickly releasing body and dash cam footage of the shooting. It also did not call for the federal government to monitor Charlotte’s police.
The council letter states: “We support our Police Chief and the men and women of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, including our Chief’s continued efforts to enhance trust and accountability within the Department and within the community.”
It also said the city will “continue to review and implement the recommendations from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.”
Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles said the council decided to issue the letter on its own – without the mayor – because Roberts has already “made a number of statements.”
“We as the council felt like we needed to make a statement,” said Lyles, who is a Democrat like Roberts. “The mayor has had a number of statements. We wanted to be sure that people understood that we were listening and hearing.”
At last week’s council meeting, citizens berated Roberts and council members for more than two hours during a citizen’s forum. Many called on all of them to resign. Some cursed at them. Others made veiled threats about coming to their homes.
Lyles said she didn’t know if Roberts was asked to sign the letter.
Roberts said in an interview last week she supports Putney, while also acknowledging mistakes in the way she and the city responded to the shooting.
Democratic council member Claire Fallon said she believes the letter should have made it clear that the council would include in the discussions people who feel powerless.
“You have to include a seat at the table for people who are unhappy,” she said. “Without having them in, you are useless.”
Fallon said the city would explore questions about whether the police should have released body camera and dash camera footage earlier, but she said it wasn’t appropriate to address that before Scott’s funeral, which is scheduled for Thursday.
Fallon said, however, it was important for council members to release an overall statement Monday.
The council’s letter received mixed reviews from activists.
Micaila Milburn, an activist who participated in several marches last week, said the council’s plan to look into housing and jobs is positive. But she said the lack of specifics about improving the police department concerned her.
“I don’t think that gives any understanding of what they will do to fix themselves,” she said. “That doesn’t lend itself to a feeling of trust and security.”
Theresa McCormick-Dunlap, a social worker, said she would like to see more focus on the police.
“They are opting out,” she said of council members. “Quite frankly, none of us have the luxury of opting out on a situation that’s … challenging all of our safety. Anyone who can’t see that lacks vision.”
The council’s letter states, “We recognize that there are some people who enjoy relative wealth, prosperity and opportunity while others struggle to find good paying jobs, affordable housing, and some may not trust law enforcement. Our challenges are no different than in other places in this country.”
It continues: “Our love, passion and pride for our city demand action. To move forward requires everyone’s help. When our community comes together, great things happen. This is our spirit. This is our culture. This is our city. We will lead. We will act. We will do this together.”
The three focus areas listed in the letter are already part of the council’s five priorities.
The City Council has a public safety committee that focuses on the police and fire departments; an economic development committee; and a Housing and Neighborhood Development committee.
In the letter, council members said they hope to build 5,000 new units of affordable housing over three years. The city has planned to build those units by 2020, so the letter accelerates that schedule by two years.
But the city doesn’t build housing on its own. It can subsidize construction with money from its Housing Trust Fund, but it has waited for private developers to take the lead.
Council members also said they would try to invest $1 million for a “new workforce development program that will increase jobs, training and opportunities for our youth and individuals with multiple barriers to employment.”
In a statement, Roberts said, “I am pleased that council is committed to these issues and I look forward to working together to implement these positive changes for our community.”