A timeline of the Charlotte police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott
Black residents of Charlotte say they’d sensed that a reckoning was coming.
Even those who benefited from development projects that brought pristine streets and trendy restaurants to the Queen City in recent years understood that the new facade was plastered over the same old ugliness of unaddressed racial grievances.
The fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by the police on Tuesday shattered the image Charlotte’s leaders had crafted of a gleaming, inclusive hub of the New South, a modernizing metropolis with a bustling economy that has been named one of the best cities in America. And the response from many African-Americans to the loss of that reputation is: good riddance.
“What I hope happens in Charlotte is that there’s enough disruption to show that we are not living up to the image we’ve created for ourselves,” said Janelle Dunlap, 30, who works at a nonprofit for the city’s poorest and who joined protests in the city this week. “We are not somewhere where you have greater opportunities. We’re not somewhere that’s more accessible to upward mobility. We’re actually no better than any city you might be moving from.”
Of course you want us to move aside and not disturb the public, because if the public isn’t disturbed, then people can continue to sleep and these injustices will pass unnoticed.
Maf Maddix, 34, a musician and rapper based in Charlotte
In the civil rights era, it took years and countless arrests in Charlotte for black residents to fully integrate the city. Black protesters staged sit-ins and launched boycotts to end segregation of Charlotte’s theaters, restaurants, public pools and junior college. The summer of 1963 brought more unrest, with a march from a black college campus to downtown Charlotte. Two weeks later, according to local activists, civil rights leaders and white business leaders teamed up to integrate the state’s ritziest restaurants and hotels.
And in 1971, after initial resistance, Charlotte became known among many as The City That Made It Work for the way in which leaders eventually accepted a court decision requiring busing to integrate schools.
Charlotte native Brenda Tindal, staff historian of the Levine Museum of the New South, recalled in a radio interview previous eras of unrest, most notably in 1997 amid police brutality cases and talk of “resegregating” public schools. Today’s problems aren’t unique to the city, she said, but a reflection of the broader racial inequalities that must be dealt with on the national level.
“This isn’t a new wave of concern about our community,” Tindal, who attended the protests, told The Takeaway on Public Radio International this week. “We’ve seen this before. This is something that is evident on the national stage, but Charlotte is not immune.”
Charlotte is home to one of the largest middle-class African-American populations in the South. It’s not known for its fiery activism, which makes this week even more extraordinary.
Charlotte already had suffered the controversy of House Bill 2 – the North Carolina law that nullified nondiscrimination ordinances – and outrage over the police shooting of an unarmed man from 2014. In that incident, an officer fired multiple times into a former college football player named Jonathan Ferrell. The city paid more than $2 million to settle a lawsuit by Ferrell’s family; the officer’s trial on voluntary manslaughter charges ended with a hung jury.
“We let that one slide and we saw what the results were, and the community is not having it this time around. We’re not letting things slide,” Dunlap said.
“We already know how it goes: The shooting happens. The officials kind of hide and don’t assign guilt,” Dunlap said. “It goes to trial. It gets dismissed. The families ask for peace, and then the next shooting happens a week, a month, a day later.”
Black activists in Charlotte note that the city is home to one of the largest middle-class African-American populations in the South. It’s not known for its fiery activism, they said, which makes this week even more extraordinary.
The details are still emerging in the Scott case and Charlotte police have gone back and forth on whether he’d brandished a gun. The police so far have declined to release the body-camera footage beyond investigators and the victim’s family. The possibility that it could be released at all is due to a fluke of the calendar – on Oct. 1, a new law kicks in preventing police from releasing body-camera footage without a court order.
It’s that insistence on a lack of transparency that frustrates 51-year-old Charlotte resident Christopher Johnson, an African-American banker who said he supports his teenage daughter’s request to join peaceful protests so long as she constantly monitors the mood of the crowd. After the Scott shooting, Johnson said, the chill was felt across the socioeconomic and generational lines of black Charlotte.
The feeling is that we being people of color are targets, are victims, aren’t respected, aren’t given the benefit of the doubt and are killed.
Christopher Johnson, 51, Charlotte banker
This week’s unrest, Johnson said, revealed two hard truths: the city isn’t as progressive as it pretends to be, and the authorities don’t have as much control as they thought they did.
“I don’t know the full circumstances of the incident but, in the aftermath, the feeling is that we being people of color are targets, are victims, aren’t respected, aren’t given the benefit of the doubt and are killed,” Johnson said. “And now you see that deep-seated anger and fear coming out.”
Maf Maddix, 34, a musician and rapper based in Charlotte, said there had been several attempts to bring issues of racial inequalities to the forefront through official or artistic channels.
After the police shooting of Ferrell in 2014, Maddix’s personal protest was creating a house-music track, “Don’t Front for Me,” that was interspersed with the snippets of speeches from civil rights figures.
Earlier this year, he performed in “The Nouveau Sud Project,” a production of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center that used spoken word, acrobatics and dance to examine what it means to be a person of color in the so-called New South.
“We had a three-day run and every day was packed, mostly with white people – white people with money – watching this display, hearing us talk about it, seeing us talk about it, and still not getting it,” Maddix said.
So after this week’s shooting, Maddix didn’t turn first to songwriting or poetry. He went straight to the protests after work, finding himself on the highway watching a showdown between an African-American representative of the police department and the protesters she was trying to budge.
“Her words were, ‘If you move it to the grass, you can yell and scream all you want,’” Maddix recalled. “And that right there is the point. Of course you want us to move aside and not disturb the public because if the public isn’t disturbed, then people can continue to sleep and these injustices will pass unnoticed.”
Maddix said he planned to return Thursday night, even though he’s seen the cops harden in their dealings with protesters. The ones who avoided his eyes on the first night now stare him down, Maddix said, and he’s heard them laugh and crack jokes. He doesn’t care that outsiders will call the protesters thugs or animals. What he hears, he said, is “the pain, just getting it out.”
“I was just telling a friend, ‘I’m happy this is going on here,’ ” Maddix said. “This is a city that believes its own hype. It believes it’s better than it is, that it’s different from other places. And it just isn’t true. This is a nationwide problem.”
Activists said the city still has plenty of work to be done to address deeply rooted racial tensions, which manifest in issues ranging from the scarcity of affordable housing to dress codes seemingly designed to keep out young black men.
Although it had been the first officer-involved shooting in decades, the Ferrell shooting of 2014 had a profound impact and, to many, the current flare-up has to do with lessons learned from the earlier shooting.
“If we had the privilege to wait until the verdict came out and we could get justice that way, I don’t think people would even be moved to protest,” Maddix said. “If they feel the need to protest, that means they recognize an inequality and an injustice. So if you’re saying to wait, you’re not in the right conversation.”