CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A routine agenda item about police checkpoints turned into a fiery debate at Monday's Charlotte City Council meeting when a council member questioned the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's motives.
For 30 minutes, the Charlotte City Council questioned the police department about checkpoint locations, after police set up a checkpoint on Central Avenue amid U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's increased presence and targeted enforcement in east Charlotte last week.
The council was debating whether to accept more than $197,000 in grant money from the state for DWI checkpoints.
Councilman Braxton Winston used the opportunity to ask CMPD why it had a checkpoint in east Charlotte last week while ICE's target enforcement was taking place.
Last week, ICE announced 200 arrests in North Carolina. East Charlotte is home to thousands of immigrants.
The police department told city council members it did not coordinate with ICE and said the checkpoint was set up because of a recent traffic fatality in the area.
Councilmembers Dimple Ajmera, Larken Egleston and Matt Newton joined Winston in questioning the optics around the checkpoint, while others, including Mayor Vi Lyles, appeared frustrated by the conversation.
"I would encourage us to continue to question because that is what we are elected to do," Winston said.
Following that comment, Lyles quipped, “I thought we were elected to serve our community.”
Winston then followed by saying, "I am sorry if that is inconvenient or confusing or whatever, but if we can't question this, I don't know who can."
Winston told Channel 9 on Tuesday he feels the city needs to do things differently.
"If we are honest and want to improve police community relations, especially in marginalized communities, we need to do things differently," Winston said.
In addition to the mayor, Republican council members were disappointed by where the debate went.
"This has been politicized and distorted in a way that undermines CMPD to do their mission," Councilman Ed Driggs said.
Driggs said that offiers should be free to do their job and that they have made it clear they are not working with ICE.
"Can we avoid the coincidental action by the police trying to enforce traffic safety and ICE doing that it's doing. I don't know how you get around it," Driggs said.
Councilman Tariq Bokhari said the increased ICE enforcement is because of the cancellation of 287g by Sheriff Garry McFadden.
“We have to look internally when we played in other lanes to make a broader point to realize we are in this new normal today because of that action,” Bokhari said. “When we play outside our lanes to make points it can have dangerous consequences for the people we are trying to help.”
The council ended up unanimously approving the grant, and got assurance from the police department that it is not coordinating checkpoints with ICE.
Manolo Betancur is the owner of a bakery in east Charlotte and said he is normally a strong supporter of police, but he said he thinks they made a mistake last week setting up a checkpoint around the same time as an ICE roundup.
"I think CMPD was at the wrong place at the wrong time," Betancur said. "You see anything that says police you don't know if it's ICE or CMPD."
Stefania Artega of Comunidad Colectiva, an advocacy group for immigrants said no doubt in her mind that because of last week fewer immigrants trust CMPD.
"The community is very scared, was very scared," Artega said.
Channel 9's Glenn Counts reached out to CMPD about the debate at Monday night's city council meeting and the department reiterated its long standing position and said the agency has not and will not participate in ICE immigration operations.
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