25 Jail Support demonstrators arrested during staged sit-in

CHARLOTTE — More than two dozen members of Jail Support were arrested Monday morning in uptown Charlotte after staging a sit-in outside the Mecklenburg County Jail.

Channel 9 was there around 10 a.m. as deputies gave verbal warnings for the group to disperse before arresting 25 people -- most of whom were charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass.

The group showed up Monday morning to demand that Jail Support be reinstated after authorities took it down earlier this month. The group carried signs reading “mutual aid is not a crime” and “Jail Support is essential.”

By noon, after the arrests, there was still a small group of people across from the jail as well as a few deputies, but the scene was much calmer.

Jail Support, which is supported by Charlotte Uprising, formed in response to the George Floyd protests in Charlotte. Volunteers provide meals, clothes, bus passes and other items to recently released inmates.

They had been protesting outside the jail for months before being dismantled on Sept. 11.

Sheriff Garry McFadden has said in the past that he supports the group’s message but not how they conduct themselves, necessarily. He said the decision to dismantle Jail Support earlier this month was taken after several conversations with city and county leadership and consultation with District Attorney Spencer Merriweather and members of his staff.

After the encampment was removed, McFadden said small groups returned to the area with supplies saying they wanted to support people being released from the Detention Center. Deputies told the groups that due to the previous behaviors of members of Jail Support, the group would not be able to reestablish. Instead, the sheriff’s office said it encouraged the groups to reach out to the its community engagement team to discuss sharing resources from a location inside the Detention Center. To date, deputies said no one has contacted the team to have that discussion.

“If there are citizens, community leaders, faith-based or grass roots organizations who want to join in the effort to provide meaningful support for our neighbors rejoining society upon release from detention, I welcome their help and their efforts," McFadden said. “I will give them a space within the facility to do so, in a way that does not undermine public safety or create an environment on the street that deters others from access to government buildings and services.”

He said refusing to allow the encampment on Fourth Street to reestablish is not about "quieting protests for criminal justice reform, Black Lives Matter, changes in law enforcement practices, or any of the myriad efforts along those lines that – like the concept of Jail Support – I support enthusiastically as much as I do the right to protest about them. But an encampment that repeatedly challenges public safety, public health, and public access, is very different from a peaceful protest and as such will not be tolerated.”

McFadden said people were arrested only because they refused to leave the encampment after being asked by law enforcement.

Last month, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office arrested 43 people after volunteers refused to vacate the area in front of the jail. McFadden ordered the setup to be taken down after he said deputies and visitors to the facility were being harassed.

Channel 9 was there for another protest on July 20, where McFadden said a deputy tried to arrest a man for assaulting a woman. But when Jail Support confronted that deputy, the man and woman ran away.

The group had been camped out on 4th Street at the corner of the entrance to the County Courthouse Plaza and across the street from the Magistrate and Arrest Processing entrance to Detention Center-Central for months. Deputies said since setting up camp, volunteers have been “harassing and intimidating citizens with legitimate business in the adjacent city and county offices, the Detention Center, and the Mecklenburg County Courthouse.”

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Deputies said the group also verbally attacks and targets law enforcement officers. In one case, deputies said a volunteer with the group yelled obscenities at two uniformed MCSO Detention Officers and chased them into the Government Center while holding a brick. They said the “threatening individual” then threw the brick at the Government Center cracking a window, before picking up another brick and throwing it at the Government Center shattering the window. The person then ran away.

According to the sheriff’s office, it has dealt with more than 40 incidents connected to the group. Deputies claim volunteers have ripped a “Black Lives Matter” sign, splashed red paint on the jail windows and thrown flyers on the ground outside the detention center reading “This Jail Kills.”

The group is also accused of leaving litter including human waste in public access ways, and on at least two occasions committing sex crimes including Crimes Against Nature on public property.

McFadden, who has been open about his frustrations with the group, said that although he supports the group’s mission, they’re doing more harm than good.