These are the streets we walk during weekdays, the intersections we pass on the way to our uptown jobs. These are the streets we walk with our families on the way to basketball and football games, or with friends who come to see the place we live. “What a clean city,” they tell us.
Did you recognize those streets, Charlotte? We watched them on national news Wednesday night from our living rooms and other safe places. Tear gas popped and windows shattered. Analysts commented on the best police tactics to disperse rioters. “This is not the Charlotte I know,” people tweeted. “This is not who we are.”
But it’s who we are right now.
This week, Charlotte became one more visibly troubled city in America, another place that’s endured violent protests in the wake of a shooting involving police and a black person. Our city may be different from Ferguson or Baltimore, and our police have been progressive in building relationships with communities here. But Charlotte shares something with so many U.S. cities and towns – that blacks feel threatened in their interactions with law enforcement, and powerless in other ways.
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No, that shouldn’t be expressed with lawlessness, as it was in uptown and elsewhere this week. But we shouldn’t dismiss those who protest peacefully because of the senselessness of those who don’t. The pain behind those legitimate protests is real, and we must confront it with real dialogue and real prescriptions on issues like economic mobility and school achievement gaps.
We are equipped to do that here. We’ve long brought people together in Charlotte to tackle difficult challenges and engage in difficult conversations. We’re continuing many of those conversations even now.
That’s important, that last part. We are a city that perpetually tries to be better, not only in constructing those uptown buildings but in working on foundational issues like diversity and equality. There’s a lot of that work to do, of course. But for the most part, we at least want to try.
We saw that in moments this week. We saw it in police who behaved with courage and restraint in the face of antagonistic, destructive demonstrators. We saw it in people like Toussaint Romain, a public defender in Charlotte who put on a white shirt and tie Wednesday and placed himself between the protesters and police in an effort to calm the growing tension.
Those aren’t isolated things in Charlotte. Our police department and black leaders have done the right kind of work to encourage dialogue. Our city and county officials care about fixing the core problems that plague distressed neighborhoods. So do many other Charlotteans.
That’s who we are, too.
Maybe that’s not the Charlotte that America took away from the coverage they watched this week, but we probably spend too much time worrying about that.
Now is the time to spend on ourselves. The uptown protests will end eventually, and these streets will clean up nicely soon enough. But the pain behind the legitimate protests will remain. We can’t ignore it. We shouldn’t dismiss it. We should understand that what we’ve seen this week is a reminder, and an opportunity. We need to walk these streets, together.