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CMPD Chief Faces Residents After Another Fatal Police Shooting

There was some jeering and shouting Thursday night as Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney met with about 300 people at a church on Beatties Ford Road. The community meeting came three days after a police officer shot and killed a man at a fast-food restaurant nearby. 

CMPD said ahead of the meeting that Chief Putney couldn't discuss details of Monday's shooting of an armed African American man, Danquirs Franklin, by a white CMPD officer, Wende Kerl. Putney mostly stuck to that, though his opening remarks sounded almost apologetic.

"The truth is, this is not a good meeting. These are not good times. The truth of it is I'm very, very tired of meeting like this. I really am. People expect me to come up here and I know some of you … and try to defend, what can't be defended," Putney said.

Putney said there's a lot of distrust for police in Charlotte and around the country, in part because of past incidents and laws that were written to segregate and dehumanize people of color. 

"The truth of the matter is we've earned a lot of that. Our history bears it out. However, we have to be careful when we combine the history with a flashpoint and an incident like we had earlier this week," Putney said.   

Putney said emotions make it hard to differentiate between the two. He said many people have already made up their minds about the shooting - either in support of police or against them. But his job is to ignore both sides and look at the facts. He urged the audience to do the same.

After Putney spoke, CMPD lawyer Mark Newbold described a series of Supreme Court cases that set the standards for when police are justified in using force - deadly or otherwise. He said the court has ruled that police have the right to use "reasonable force" in making arrests and to use deadly force when they feel an "imminent threat."

"The whole process of the use of force is not pretty. It's an ugly process. But I think we all recognize that there is a concept of self-defense that you have, and so do police," Newbold said.

But when Putney began a Q&A with the audience, some didn't want to talk about constitutional law. Like this speaker, who described herself as a black, transgender woman and longtime resident.

"We're not actually here because we care. We're here because we're angry about what you're doing to our community. You showed us you, that you don't care about us," she said to applause and cheers. 

She listed the names of other people of color who have been killed by CMPD officers in recent years, like Keith Lamont Scott and Josue Diaz.

Another woman also mentioned those and other fatal police shootings. "Why does it seem that when it's a black or brown person involved it goes to deadly force automatically?" she asked.

Putney replied that the facts show that CMPD officers have shot white people.

One woman asked how officers are trained about when to use de-escalation tactics to defuse dangerous situations. Putney said it begins with getting a suspect to drop his or her weapon.

"For instance, we have somebody with a knife. You say, 'Drop the knife, drop the knife.' They put the knife down, now I've got to run my mouth to calm the situation down, to get to the root cause, extract them from the weapon so we can communicate as people so we can resolve that without violence, " Putney said. 

But the chief did not talk about whether that happened in Monday's shooting.

Another woman said the idea of an "imminent threat" is too subjective, and asked, as happened Monday, why only one officer among a group of officers pulled her trigger. Putney replied: "It can be 10 of us, nine could not shoot, I could perceive a threat specific to me or anybody else, and that's what the law allows."

Putney argued that CMPD has a good record, saying that only 5 of 600,000 police encounters last year were fatal shootings.

A line of police was stationed outside the church during the meeting. As Putney spoke, a group of protesters marched to the church from the Burger King where Monday's shooting occurred. Some yelled at police, and carried signs saying "Black Lives Matter" and "Rest in Peace Danquirs Franklin."

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.