CHARLOTTE — Charlotte City leaders hosted a public forum from 6 p.m until 8 p.m. Wednesday to address questions and concerns from the community about protesting, racism and policing. The forum was held outside the Government Center in uptown.
There will be another forum on Friday outside the Government Center from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m.
“This is the beginning of a community conversation. We need to hear from our residents, need to make sure we ask, ‘What is this pain causing you?’” Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said during a hastily called news conference late Wednesday afternoon.
She called Tuesday night “particularly hard to deal with.”
The mayor said there were no words to describe the video captured by alternative local newspaper Queen City Nerve of the confrontation between Charlotte-Mecklenburg police and protesters, and the way it appears.
The Charlotte City Council met in a closed session for nearly four hours Wednesday to talk about that police response.
“I hope everyone is aware that that’s not the kind of department we want to have for policing," Lyles said. “That is not the reputation we want nationally or locally. I feel we are in a particularly dangerous time right now. And I choose light over darkness.”
The video was streamed live on Facebook by Queen City Nerve, appearing to show a large group of demonstrators walking along Fourth Street. CMPD officers approached from one end of the street, following the marchers, then another group of officers appeared at the other end of the street, where the crowd was heading.
With the group being blocked on both sides by officers, the crowd was fired upon with tear gas, flash bangs and pepper balls. In the video, it appeared the protesters were trapped and some had to lift a parking garage gate and crawl beneath it to escape.
Protester Elias Pentes was in the crowd during the confrontation. He told Channel that he has filed a formal complaint with the city.
“It was terrifying. It was the complete feeling of being trapped. They were in front of us. They were behind us. They were above us and they did not stop firing,” Pentes said.
According to Pentes, it was like being in a war zone.
“It was an absolute nightmare," he said. “It was horrifying. It was a war crime.”
Channel 9 asked Pentes if he witnessed any damage or violence before the confrontation and he responded, “Not at all. None whatsoever.”
Pentes captured the incident on video and told Channel 9 that he plans to share it with the State Bureau of Investigations.
City Manager Marcus Jones said the SBI will be conducting an independent review of city policing policies and procedures as they investigate the incident.
“Last night is not a reflection of who we are,” Jones said.
Lyles said during the city’s news conference that body camera footage from Tuesday night should be released. She also said there will be a review of the use of chemical agents by police and added she thinks such agents should not be used for crowd control.
Lyles was adamant that no curfew would be imposed.
“As mayor of this city, I do not believe we should have a curfew," she said. "I believe people should be able to protest and protest within the law. I believe a curfew limits that right.”
CMPD released the following just as the city’s news conference was starting:
What began as a lawful protest yesterday afternoon took a considerable turn for the worse just before 9:00 last night. Several officers became targets for violent protesters bent on turning a lawful demonstration into a riot.
Over a roughly four-hour period:
- There were at least 18 incidents of protestors throwing objects at officers
- Nine dispersal orders were communicated
- 16 protestors arrested
- Three guns were recovered (including assault rifle)
There have been at least 53 reported incidents of officers being assaulted over the last six days. Just before 9:30 p.m., a group of several hundred protesters who were given several orders to disperse because of the violent criminal activity they were engaging in throughout the night marched up 4th street. A coordinated operation involving riot control agents to disperse the crowd was undertaken.
There is nothing to indicate whatsoever that there was intentional abuse on the part of our officers. In the interest of accountability, I have requested an independent review of the incident by the State Bureau of Investigation to ensure there is an objective set of eyes to determine if CMPD actions were lawful.
It is regrettable, and something we take seriously. We have an enormous responsibility to ensure all of our operations are carried out with precision.
We as an organization need to learn from this incident, and redouble our efforts to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to keep the community, protesters and officers safe. We are a learning organization and always working to identify opportunities to serve our community better.
Immediately following the city’s news conference, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney held his own, saying he did not like what he saw on the videos of the Fourth Street incident. He called it “regrettable” and “disturbing” and promised there would be accountability.
“I’ve seen the video, obviously. That video is disturbing,” Putney said. “I just don’t like how it looks.”
He also said there are a lot of other angles of videos that the public needs to see and he is going to ask the court for the body camera footage to be released. The chief expressed frustration that it will take time for the full story to get out.
“If laws have been violated, there will be accountability," Putney said. "If protocols have been violated, there will be accountability.”
When asked if chemical agents should be used on protesters, Putney said the other option, if chemical agents aren’t used, is batons and shields, something he does not want to happen.
“I want to show everything, including why officers were using chemical agents in the first place,” Putney said, adding that there was violent behavior toward officers.
Putney said there were repeated dispersal orders given throughout the incident.
When asked who made the call to take certain actions Tuesday night with protesters, the chief said, “Ultimately, it starts with me.”
Putney said he will immediately petition the courts for the release of videos associated with the 4th Street incident at the conclusion of the SBI’s review.
The police chief said a different group of demonstrators is coming into uptown after sunset. He said it’s a vastly different group than the people peacefully protesting in the day and called them “young, assertive and violent.”
Charlotte pastors released a joint statement Wednesday night that said they felt betrayed over how the protest event the night before in uptown. They have been “surprised to see the stark contrast between police presence and tactics during the day and those used at night.”
CMPD internal review underway after incident caught on video during protests
For the fifth straight night, demonstrators filled the streets of uptown Charlotte Tuesday -- starting out as peaceful, organized protests before deteriorating into violence.
Channel 9 crews on the ground reported seeing police officers deploying flash bangs and shooting pepper balls to break up the crowds. Police said some protesters were throwing fireworks at officers.
The protest -- the fifth consecutive night of unrest in the Queen City -- was over the death of 46-year-old George Floyd, a black man who died at the hands of police in Minneapolis after being detained for questioning regarding a possible forgery in progress.
The officer who arrested Floyd, Derek Chauvin, was fired and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. The three other officers involved in Floyd’s death were also fired, but no charges have been filed against them at this point.
Earlier Tuesday evening, the NAACP organized a march to protest the death of Floyd, which started at the Government Center. There were thousands of peaceful demonstrators who marched through the streets of the Queen City. During the protest, participants heard from members of the NAACP and other speakers who voiced their frustrations and ideas moving forward on the issues of race relations and police accountability in the city.
CMPD has said the department’s goal during the demonstrations is to engage in “constructive, progressive and forward-moving conversations with the community.”
The protest was the largest of held in uptown since the demonstrations began last Friday. It ended around 7:45 p.m. and the massive crowds dispersed into the streets once again.
>> Channel 9 spoke to Willie Ratchford, who has been working for 40 years to improve the relationship between police and minority communities in Charlotte. In the video below, Ratchford -- the director of the city’s community relations committee -- opens up to veteran reporter Mark Becker in light of this week’s protests.
Later, protesters and police clashed as a motorcycle officer was confronted by someone who threw water bottles at him as he sped away.
CMPD said several dispersal orders were given to the crowd after protesters started to throw fireworks, rocks and other items at officers. Police were seen using flash bangs, pepper balls and tear gas in attempts to disperse the crowds.
Shortly after the protesters were dispersed, Chopper 9 did not see nearly as many people in uptown. However, small groups started to gather again around 10:30 p.m. and police also gave them dispersal orders.
Video was streamed live on Facebook by Queen City Nerve, a local alternative newspaper, appearing to show a large group of demonstrators walking along Fourth Street. CMPD officers approached from one end of the street, following the marchers, then another group of officers appeared at the other end of the street, where the crowd was heading.
With the group being blocked on both sides by officers, the crowd was fired upon with tear gas, flash bangs and pepper balls.
In the video, it appeared the protesters were trapped and some had to lift a parking garage gate and crawl beneath it to escape. Local leaders took to social media to question the police department’s actions.
Charlotte City Councilman Braxton Winston, who himself was arrested earlier in the week during a protest, tweeted the video, saying the deployment of chemical agents in Charlotte needs to stop.
North Carolina Rep. Chaz Beasley also expressed his anger upon seeing the video, tweeting, “I am absolutely FURIOUS with @cmpd right now. This video shows @cmpd firing upon peaceful protestors with tear gas, flash bangs, and pepper balls from THREE sides. Trapped against a bldg w/ nowhere to go. I refuse to stand for my constituents being attacked like this.”
Beasley said he has spoken to several members of the Mecklenburg legislative delegation about the incident and what steps to take next.
“We have a responsibility to protect the constitutional rights of our citizens,” he said.
According to City Councilwoman Dimple Ajmera, City Manager Marcus Jones said the incident will be investigated. Charlotte City Council Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt said of the video, “It’s not ok. And we need answers.”
The police department issued a statement on Twitter around 11:40 p.m. after the video was circulated, saying the incident is under internal review.
Authorities said a bike officer was injured during the protests when a demonstrator threw a chemical agent at them.
Police have not said how many arrests were made, but said one person was arrested with an AR rifle and two 30-round magazines.
On Wednesday, Congresswoman Alma Adams, who represents District 12 (Charlotte) issued the following statement:
“The Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, as well as police departments across the country, should immediately and permanently end the use of tear gas. Weapons that are illegal in war should never be used on American soil, especially against our own people."
By Wednesday afternoon, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 9 released its own statement:
"The City of Charlotte is once again at the center of civil unrest. The Fraternal Order of Police supports peaceful protests to stop social injustice. Unfortunately, peaceful protests have turned into violence towards innocent citizens, property owners, and law enforcement officers.
"The FOP supports the CMPD response to resistance being used against protestors displaying active aggression. Our officers have had rocks, bricks, commercial fireworks, and glass bottles thrown at them. Officers only deployed less lethal options after these types of assaults occurred on officers.
"Councilman Braxton Winston wants CMPD to stop the use of chemical munitions. This decision is not up to CMPD. This decision is up to those individuals assaulting our officers and our citizens. Officers are sworn to protect people and preserve order. We will not accept members of this community who assault others and cause anarchy. Councilman Winston was seen on social media with those throwing rocks and bricks at officers. The majority of head leadership positions in Charlotte are held by minorities. Councilman Winston has the perfect opportunity to use his position to address social injustice and be a role model for other cities. However, Councilman Winston continues to disrespect his position by standing alongside those criminals trying to burn down the city.
“There have been several officers injured during this protest already. Thank you to all the citizens who continue to show support for law enforcement. We will stand strong and support the actions needed to protect this community.”
Keeping the peace has not been easy this week. Thousands have marched in peace and demanded change, only to see violence re-emerge late into the night.
On Monday night, hundreds of protesters marched through the streets of uptown but around 11 p.m., the situation began to intensify when one man was detained for having a machete. Another person was then arrested after police said a protester set off fireworks, throwing them at officers. Another officer was hit in the head with a brick.
Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd while some protesters set off more fireworks. Several uptown businesses were also damaged for the fifth night in a row.
Protesters were out until 3:30 a.m. before the streets finally cleared.
One of the things protesters across the country have demanded is a change in use of force policies. The officer accused of killing George Floyd in Minneapolis had his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes.
Retired Assistant Chief of CMPD, Vicki Foster, said she sent a letter to Minnesota police, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the chiefs of major city police departments, saying it’s time to change policy.
"My letter seeks to specially note the dangers of neck restraints and chokeholds,” Foster said. “And poses police policy on a national level should adopt a standardized stance on chokeholds and neck restraints. The policy reform could definitely prevent unnecessary loss of life.”
Foster added that she believes police departments across the country can change these policies without going to lawmakers.
District Attorney Spencer Merriweather and his office are also speaking out about protests and racial inequality. In a statement, Merriweather said damaging a grocery store frequented by senior citizens in a food desert during a pandemic, or other acts of destruction, enfranchise no one and make no one more free.
He also said the office recognizes its moral and professional obligation to value black and brown life, liberty and property, and he and his staff stand ready to join with the community to advance change.
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