By Richard Hart
The teargas burned inside my chest. The flashbangs pierced my eardrums. The sight of militarized police decked in riot gear agitated the protesters around me.
A confluence of events that collided and rapidly descended into chaos exploded in each and every direction that Wednesday night in September. I had joined a crowd railing against the latest offense to ripple through the black community — another black man shot dead by a police officer.
It always hits home. This time, it hit my zip code.
It was the day after a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott after ordering the father of seven out of his car.
The community’s reaction, understandably, was a mix of anger, frustration and exasperation. There were protests the night it happened in the neighborhood where Scott and his family lived.
Eventually, the demonstrations moved south and into the heart of Charlotte’s “uptown,” — the center city where multi-billion dollar corporations such as Bank of America and Duke Energy are headquartered.
This particular rally started simply enough. A group of black professionals left their offices and took to the streets. Crowds of people gathered at nearby Marshall Park to hear pastors, neighborhood leaders, mothers and fathers vent their umbrage. It was constructive.
That would all change in a manner of hours when I stood at the Omni Hotel as rubber bullets started flying and a stampede of people stormed in my direction. Cop cars zoomed down the streets. Plumes of tear gas engulfed the closest bystanders — I got a piece of it. And 26-year-old Justin Carr fell to the ground dead, another black victim of gunfire.
What I experienced
You likely saw the images of people rioting and damaging property flash across your TV screens. Headlines read that Charlotte was burning, that blood flowed in the streets. For days, the words “unrest” and “Charlotte” were conjoined together as newscasts did their best to elevate (or denigrate) the city to Ferguson, Mo., or Baltimore-level status.
When these incidents happen, everyone focuses on the damage, the flotsam, the debris. But what about the efforts that don’t make for exciting sound bites or compelling visuals? What about the peaceful demonstrations that comprised most of that week of protests — not the havoc that sputtered maybe twice.
There were news outlets that did their due diligence and covered the peaceful aspects of the demonstrations. But let’s be real: How many reporters flew in from New York and D.C. and Los Angeles to document peaceful protests?
They wanted blood and chaos and destruction.
But that’s not the sentiment that prevailed in the demonstrations I attended. This is:
Representatives from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association engaged with and prayed for people. Preachers encouraged and rallied strangers together. Community members condemned the systematic killing of an entire race. Men and women poured out their hearts, and mourned deeply.
People were angry, and rightfully so.
But even more prevalent than the anger was the refrain of neighbors and activists who vocally sought solutions: Where do we go from here? How do we ensure this doesn’t happen again?
We wanted to make sure the buck stopped in Charlotte. We said we would pressure government officials. We vowed to pressure police.
You may be asking: If things started out so constructively, why did Wednesday night erupt? The answer is simple, really: We’re tired of seeing black people extinguished without a second thought and no tangible repercussions.
In Marshall Park, another group emerged. They were angrier and uninterested in candlelight vigils or somber words from pastors. They left the park and began marching near the city’s government center and jail.
Those marches continued until it escalated into what you saw on TV.
Why I march
I returned to uptown that Saturday and joined the latest demonstration. We marched back to the Omni Hotel. But instead of witnessing an explosion of violence, we knelt. There was a moment of silence for Keith Lamont Scott and Justin Carr. And then we kept marching en masse, pushing for the full release of dash cam and body camera video that would show us what happened in the moments leading to Scott’s fatal encounter with Officer Brentley Vinson, another black man.
Why? Because we’re trying to bring change to a decades-long problem — black people killed by law enforcement. None of this new and, at this rate, it won’t stop happening until something profound stops it from happening.
I wanted to be part of the demonstrations that week. I wanted to gauge how people were feeling; I wanted to hear the conversations that developed.
When people ask me why I protest, my answer is always the same: My son one day will walk these streets.
There’s enough to worry about without worrying that you’ll get a phone call about something happening to your kid because he had some random encounter with a cop.
So that’s why I march. That’s why I lobby for black businesses and black entrepreneurs and black lawmakers and We have to permeate
Here’s something else: When you watch news coverage of people flooding the streets, shouting “no justice, no peace” and wielding signs that read “Am I next” and “black lives matter,” don’t demonize them.
Ask them why they’re marching and you’ll likely find insight answers. And meaning. And emotion.
You’ll also find those who aren’t there for the right reasons.
But understand this: Just because a select minority of people in a crowd decide to incite trouble doesn’t mean an entire movement should be belittled or diminished or dismissed.
The actions we take today aren’t just about the here and now. They’re about making sure the future is set.
I don’t want him growing up in that world. Yet, I can’t ignore the evidence around me: Chances are, he will grow up in a world where the color of skin may dictate the outcome of an encounter with a cop.
Jonathan McFadden contributed to this post