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Protesters In Uptown Charlotte Call For Change

Two rallies in uptown Charlotte Sunday afternoon brought big crowds downtown to remember George Floyd and other African Americans killed by police officers and white people outside the force. Both rallies had a more serious and soul-searching tone than protests Friday and Saturday nights.

Credit David Boraks / WFAE
Protesters march down East Seventh Street in Charlotte on Sunday during the It Ends Now rally in the wake of the shooting death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

One of the weekend's most powerful moments came at 3:30 p.m. Hundreds of marchers who started at Romare Bearden Park and wound around uptown stopped near the Epicentre on College Street. They knelt and raised their fists in the air for nine minutes of silence — the length of a video that showed a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Floyd's neck as he was dying. People yelled out Floyd's final words: "Momma" and "I can't breathe." 

That march was part of a protest dubbed T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E., a slogan once used by Tupac Shakur and a reference to a recent tweet by President Trump that referred to protesters as thugs. 

"We decided to take that name back and explain it and turn it into something better because that's not what we are," said co-organizer Mariah D., who did not want to give her last name. "People are out here protesting peacefully. People are here trying to stand in solidarity with everyone."

Mariah D. also said it was important to have a protest organized by local people. "We created this because there are a lot of fake groups out here, and we wanted a space for people to protest peacefully and speak without any bad connotations attached to it," she said.

The march itself was peaceful, though there was anger in people's voices as they chanted Floyd's name and slogans like "hands up, don't shoot," "black lives matter," and "you can't kill us all. " 

The crowd was mostly younger people, including African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos and white people. Organizers worked with Charlotte-Mecklenburg police to plan the route and ensure it didn't get out of hand.

At First Ward Park, a rally dubbed It Ends Now carried a message that Christians must help bring about change after centuries of oppression. Greg Jarrell, who leads a congregation called QC Family Tree in west Charlotte, called for reconciliation between white people and people of color. But that first requires repentance, and repentance has to come at a financial price, he said.

"Money has to change hands," he said "Land has to change hands. Lives must change, and we must submit ourselves to those who have had their lives and their neighborhoods broken by the system of white supremacy."

Pastor Geoffrey Gibbs of Encounter Church in University City said the gathering was meant to express "regret, disappointment and complaint" over what he called the unjust deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. It's a pain we all must feel, Gibb said.

"Even though we know the betrayal of injustice all too well, it still hurts," he said. "Don't deny that it hurts. Feel all of it. There is no color distinction, class distinction or culture distinction for pain." 

"We should lament that we have been complicit in this level of injustice for far too long," he said. 

That crowd was also diverse. People marched a loop around uptown and back to First Ward Park, some carrying signs with slogans including "silence is an act of violence, too," "racism is the real pandemic" and "Jesus wouldn't be silent." 

Protests that were held Friday and Saturday in Charlotte eventually turned violent, with police firing tear gas to break up crowds and making arrests. Charlotte and Mecklenburg County went under a state of emergency Saturday because of the protests. 

Thirty people were arrested amid Saturday night's protests and several uptown businesses were damaged, according to CMPD. 

Mayor Vi Lyles was at the First Ward Park event. She said the crowd "energized (her) again" after the weekend of sometimes violent protests.

"This was the kind of gathering where we see you can protest and your voice can be heard and you can propel us forward," Lyles said. "That's what we're trying to do here."