CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Local leaders are bracing for a possible influx of outsiders and paid protesters when the manslaughter trial of former police officer Randall Kerrick begins next week.
Police have been reluctant to discuss the issue publicly, but experts suggest they'll be looking out for some of the same protesters who were part of disturbances in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore after police brutality cases there.
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The trial of Kerrick, who shot and killed Jonathan Ferrell, is expected to draw demonstrations outside the courthouse. After a year of violence and property damage at other demonstrations across the country, Charlotte pastor Dr. Phillip Davis worries the Kerrick trial could be a magnet for similar trouble in Charlotte.
"We have a perfect storm coming, and as a result, all of the tension of this summer is going to be focused right here in Charlotte," Davis said.
Whether the kind of contentious protests that have erupted in Ferguson and Baltimore will develop in Charlotte is hard to predict. Evidence suggests, however, that some of the same professional protesters have been hopping from city to city, following police demonstrations.
For example, a man named Deray McKesson with the group “CopWatch” tweeted in June from a police protest in Texas: "I've seen so many people here...who I've seen march in Ferguson and Baltimore."
And a recent analysis of social media posts showed as many as 50 accounts that posted from the Ferguson riots were later posting from Baltimore during disturbances there. That leaves Chris Swecker, the former assistant director of the FBI's criminal intelligence division, convinced that local law enforcement already has an eye out for outside protesters and the impact they could have in Charlotte.
- PRESS PLAY -- Former FBI Assistant Director for Criminal Intelligence on monitoring protesters:
"There will be known characters that, I wouldn't say these are people who are on some sort of watch list, but they are people who we'll have enough information about them to say, ‘Hey, watch these people, they're the ones that would instigate violence or property damage,’" Swecker said.
Multiple sources say CMPD expects, and has prepared for, outside protesters to arrive in time for the Kerrick trial. Officially, though, CMPD has been reluctant to comment. The department declined an on-camera interview with Eyewitness News for this story but did offer a written statement saying, "We are aware that there are outside individuals who may take advantage of the event in an effort to divide our community. We are prepared to protect our citizens and facilitate the constitutional rights of individuals who wish to peacefully assemble and demonstrate."
Peaceful protests are exactly what Davis and his coalition of local church leaders and trying to encourage during the Kerrick trial. But Davis admits he's already seen evidence that outside groups are in Charlotte and actively recruiting paid protestors.
"There's some young people, I don't want to go into names, but they say, ‘Listen, we have cards and numbers we can call and literally get a part-time job helping to be a part of confronting police to stir them to some kind of action,’ and they're being trained to do that," Davis said.
- PRESS PLAY -- Bishop Davis speaks about protesters organizing ahead of the Kerrick trial:
As the Kerrick trial draws near, Swecker says outsiders have the potential to influence community reaction.
"The danger is that they take an otherwise peaceful protest and they turn it into something worse," he said.
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