CMPD to investigate racist letters sent to local black leaders

CMPD to investigate racist letters sent to local black leaders

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is reviewing a series of racist letters sent to local black leaders, and a county commissioner is pushing for a full-blown investigation into the matter.

CMPD is investigating copies of a threatening letter mailed to black elected leaders in the county, city and school district. That letter, nearly two pages long, said, "Black Democrats should be tarred and feathered and run out of town" and sent "screaming to the concentration camps."

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At least four letters have been sent out in the last couple of weeks.

Although hate speech is protected by the First Amendment, County Commissioner Vilma Leake said she believes the language goes beyond hate speech. She said the letters are filled with intimidation and threats.

Leake later set up a private meeting with the county district attorney, CMPD and the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office.

She would like a full investigation into the letters.

The meeting on Tuesday was about 20 minutes long.

“I feel very good,” Leake said after the meeting. “I feel much better in terms of the provision of some security, safety.”

Leake said she gave police the handwritten envelope to help them identify the person who sent it.

“Oh, I'm not through with it,” she said. “I'm going to push it all the way because it's infringing on my rights. I didn't infringe on theirs, so it's for me to protect me.”

When the letter showed up on her desk, she told Channel 9 she didn't know what to make of it.

But she said that after reading two lines, the writer's message became crystal clear.

The same letter has showed up in the mailboxes of other local African American politicians and Leake said the message was provocative and very personal.

"My life is being threatened.  My very existence is being threatened. My participation in the community is being threatened," Leake said.

An online message was sent to Earnest Winston days after he was named the superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The message asked Winston if "you deserve to be superintendent of schools." The message ended with racist slurs.

A police officer questioned the Cornelius man who sent the message to the superintendent but didn't arrest him because he did not commit a crime. According to police, the man suggested he would send more messages.

“It’s as vile as it gets," said Charles Jeter, with CMS. "Not only did he admit that he did it, but he (told officers) he’d do it again.”

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The racist overtones may come as a shock to many who have worked long and hard to protect an image of progress built on racial harmony, but Willie Ratchford, the head of the Charlotte Community Relations Committee, said people shouldn't be surprised.

"It's still here, and we've got to deal with it.  We have to stop pretending that racism doesn't exist anymore," Ratchford said.

Leake said police should get the FBI involved, but former FBI assistant Chris Swecker said the agency could only open a preliminary investigation at this point.

"If you look at the language in the letters that I've seen, they're very close to threatening.  But there's a fine line between First Amendment and actual threats," Swecker said.

Leake is planning a meeting with CMPD's police chief, the district attorney and the sheriff to discuss getting the FBI involved.

CMS statement: 

"We were able to identify the person that sent the below message on “Let’s Talk” this morning. I along with a Cornelius PD officer went to the subject’s home and conducted a knock and talk. The subject immediately admitted that he was the one that sent the message and felt like this was within his right to do so. When asked he indicated that he had no connection to CMS, although he once did. He wouldn’t elaborate on that. After a brief conversation, the subject asked that I leave his property and stated that this only makes matters worse. I took this to mean he probably would continue voicing his opinions in this manner. Right now he has not committed any criminal offense and I had no choice, but to end my conversation with him and leave his property. He was told that any emails or message in the future that rises to the level of a criminal offense would be pursued with criminal charges. I will create an intelligence file on the subject and place it on the server."