Signs, rocks, tear gas, fireworks, broken glass, blood: The streets of Charlotte, N.C., have borne witness to days of unrest after a fatal police shooting on Tuesday.
Two nights of protests have included peaceful calls for unity as well as violence and destruction. On Wednesday night, a civilian was shot at a protest and now, city officials say, is on life support.
The unrest began after a Charlotte police officer shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott, under disputed circumstances. Both Scott and the officer who shot him are black. Police say Scott was armed and refused to drop his gun; his family and neighbors say he was holding a book.
Demonstrations began on Tuesday near the site of the shooting, close to the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, in the northeast section of the city. Protests started peacefully before turning into a confrontation between protesters and officers that left 16 officers injured.
On Wednesday afternoon, there were peaceful protests in uptown Charlotte (the city’s central district). The area is home to high-rise offices, luxury hotels and entertainment venues. Demonstrators gathered in front of Bank of America’s headquarters, marched to police headquarters and then gathered in an urban park, David Boraks of member station WFAE reports.
But then, he says, the protest split: “One group marched to Little Rock AME Zion Church. There, people like Mario Black called for unity after Tuesday night’s violent protests. … He urged people to channel negative energy into something for good.”
A second group gathered on the streets a few blocks away. That’s where a protester was shot. City officials initially said he was shot by another civilian, but the police chief said later on Thursday that police are investigating allegations that he was shot by a police officer. The victim is currently on life support.
Word of the shooting quickly spread through the crowd, Boraks reports: “A few people started throwing metal and hotel flower pots at a police car, as it turned around to leave.
“Police began firing tear gas to move the crowd back from the hotel entrance,” he reports. “And protesters tossed fireworks back.”
The protest lasted for hours, with buildings damaged and streets shut down. By Thursday morning, employees of local businesses were cleaning up the broken glass that was left behind.
Charlotte, a major banking center and a rapidly growing city, has a population of more than 800,000 people — approximately 45 percent white, 35 percent black and 13 percent Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
As WFAE’s Gwendolyn Glenn explained, there was tension in the city last year over a 2013 police shooting of a black man.
Jonathan Ferrell was unarmed and was looking for help after a car crash when a stranger called 911 to report that he was at her door. An officer went to the scene and ultimately shot and killed Ferrell. The trial concluded in 2015.
“That trial ended in a hung jury and when that verdict came down there were protests in the streets immediately,” Glenn says. “Police and the protesters did not clash at that time, but the city was greatly divided.”
Last year, Mary C. Curtis wrote for NPR’s Code Switch about Ferrell’s death and how it shook Charlotte’s reputation as a progressive, diverse city whose residents tended to get along.
“In conversations — both informal and organized by the city’s institutions and places of worship — there are questions, tensions and a realization that Charlotte isn’t the place many thought it was,” Curtis wrote. “In reality, it’s an integrated city where it’s very easy to live a segregated life.”