Submitted to It’s Going Down
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On Tuesday, September 20, 2016, Charlotte Police shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott, a disabled Black man, while he was reading in his truck waiting for his children’s school bus. The very first response from the community was to grieve and call for accountability from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police (CMPD). The CMPD responded by forcefully disrupted the gathering with officers in full riot gear. This quickly escalated the situation, causing an unplanned and intense riot where protesters took to the streets all night and into the early morning to fight back against the continued police terror and racist system that criminalizes Black people, murders Black people, and continues to get away with it.
Like all across America, Charlotte is in the middle of a process of re-segregation – relegating its black population to worse education, housing, health, and economic prospects, while maintaining this inequality by force: with its police. The city’s history of school re-segregation provides a good insight into this process. In the early 1970’s Charlotte was considered a model of success unparalleled in a majority of the country for ending segregation in public schools. This success lasted nearly three decades until late 90’s when a white father sued the Charlotte Mecklenburg School system for denying his daughter access to a certain school and the courts sided with the parents.
Today a third of the district’s 168 campuses are segregated by poverty and half are segregated by race. What city officials would call amazing progress, improved community integration over decades, began to unravel between 2002 – 2014 and now Charlotte has become a cautionary tale of a school system disregarding research. The outcome is increased racial and socioeconomic isolation and is indicative of widened inequality in the broader community. Charlotte is experiencing an intensifying in structural racism, which is directly tied to police violence.Fast forward to three years ago: a Charlotte officer shot and killed Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed black man who was asking for help after his car broke down. The case ended in a hung jury and all requests for a retrial were denied. Another horrifying yet unsurprising case of a system failing an entire race of people and the police murdering black men with impunity. The rising tensions on both a community and national level contributed to the rupture that occurred on Tuesday night and is continuing into the weekend. As of the night of Wednesday, September 21, protests were high energy, emotionally charged, and chaotic. The police attempted to clear the streets, even at the cost of human life, Justin Carr, who was shot in the head at close range.
The evening started off with a rally and vigil in Marshall park, but a few hundred people quickly took the streets, blocking intersections and gaining ground for an hour or so. The march had no internal trajectory and march marshals were absent, leaving the creative potential of protesters in their own hands. At this point police on foot and on bike followed the perimeter of the march, breaking up conflict between people in cars trying to run through crowds blocking traffic and protecting private property. There were murmurs about potentially taking the highway until a few gunshots were heard. People panicked and hit the ground running. Screams were then heard and sounds of gut-wrenching grief erupted as people began to swarm a police bike barricade. Blood was everywhere. They shot someone. They shot him in the head. Carr was quickly rushed to the medics. The mood instantly changed to rage. Many people were in tears and people were screaming. “They killed him, they did it again!!” Once again the police rather than protesters are the most dangerous people in the area.
The CMPD began to feel intimidated as the area was swarmed and they deployed tear gas and quickly dispersed the crowd from the area using their state legitimized violent tactics to disrupt protesters from expressing their rage and exasperation. As media reports focused on the destruction of property, the common media narrative where ‘anarchists’ or ‘outside agitators’ co-opt and escalate peaceful protests led by black people in the community have remained absent thus far. It is apparent, regardless of the facts, that the law and media protects the officer, not the victim. Media reports that the protester was killed as the result of an internal civilian conflict but all eyewitnesses say it was the police. The amount of conflicting information coming out of Charlotte is hard to handle right now. It’s easy to speculate, but if the cops aren’t actively stirring some of this misinformation up, it’s certainly helping take some pressure off of them by overwhelming people with information to process. We can only hope that when the police are shown to be the manipulative liars they’re trained to be, people will remember all the distress and harm they’ve caused – on top of murdering Keith Scott – and make them regret every confusing detail they have cowardly and arrogantly spun throughout this whole ordeal.
This monopoly on media and legitimacy must be eliminated. Trust the black voices. Trust the people who were there, who witnessed it. I don’t need to see the video, I don’t need proof. I was just a few feet away when it happened, I heard it and ran over to see people screaming, and crying and holding each other. They said a cop did it. That is all the proof I need.
When people regrouped there were two lines of riot cops on either side blocking the area where the man was shot. Protesters clashed against them, throwing things, screaming, linking arms and holding hands. Police shields were covered in blood. This lasted for 20 minutes until the police issued an audio warning to disperse before the area became an ‘unlawful zone.’ You could see behind the line of riot police that they were lining up with handcuffs and zip ties preparing for mass arrests. Many people took the warning and left, many people stayed and bore the consequences. Those who left began to smash windows of cop cars and businesses, taking merchandise and other products, and there was little internal resistance to a diversity of tactics, leaving people with large degrees of autonomy in their actions.
I know the audience for It’s Going Down is typically more sympathetic to these tactics, but in case this article is shared and read beyond the typical reader base, I want to include this message:
“If you think that destruction of property is more ‘violent’ or more upsetting than the people (specifically POC) who are murdered by the police, I beg you to re-evaluate your position, and reconsider your stance on what is and is not ‘violence’. I think your definition of what constitutes violence and/or a legitimate form of protest to be narrow and soaked in privileged. Peaceful protesting is a luxury only available to those safely in mainstream culture. So maybe I do support what you would call ‘violence’ if it’s the last resort of a community whose entire life was subjected to unending violence enacted by both the state and by racist individuals. Institutional power, the police, and society is an inherently violent hegemony with few forms of escape. And with this analysis I think it is more appropriate to deconstruct power dynamics between individuals and ask yourself “does this reinforce the current state of power disparities? or does this negate them?”’
As of Wednesday night a State of Emergency has been declared, and the National Guard has been deployed, upping the stakes and changing the tone significantly. The protests & march on Thursday increased in number significantly, but the march remained ‘peaceful.’ This march had more internal organization and was lead by the local Black Live Matter group and local and regional Clergy of varying faiths. As the march took the streets, stops were made along the way in front of the courthouse, the police station, and the jail. The police and the National Guardsmen were carrying their assault rifles, but did not assault the protesters until riot police eventually showed up on I-277 and escalated the situation by shooting tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. The Mayor issued a mandatory curfew from beginning September 23 at midnight to 6am, to be enforced by the CMPD.
Protests will continue on into the weekend and the foreseeable future, and tremendous support is necessary. The exact number is unconfirmed, but I am hearing reports that 75 people were arrested Wednesday night. This number will only increase. If you live far away and can not show up, please support these efforts in whatever way is within your means. If you live regionally, there are many ways to get plugged in.
1) many more justice demonstrators, including those willing to help with constant streaming
2) banners and signs
3) places for people from across the state to stay the night
4) an altar at the site of the murder
6) space for organizing meetings
7) camping supplies
8) medical supplies
9) bail funds
10) less problematic media coverage
11) attorneys and legal observers
13) portable cell phone chargers
14) bail bondspeople
15) healing energy and protection for the demonstrators