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Action NC's Robert Dawkins On Duty To Intervene, Frustrations Over Recent CMPD Actions At Protests

Michael Falero

A live stream video by the publisher of Queen City Nerve captured a confrontation between police and protesters on the fifth night of demonstrations over the police killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officials say they are conducting an internal review on whether officers followed department policy when they used chemical agents on protesters.

Like other protests in past days, the protest Tuesday night started out peacefully as thousands listened to speeches from local activists. Later that night, officers in riot gear used tear gas and pepper balls to disperse the crowd. CMPD says some protestors threw rocks, bottles, and chemical agents at officers, while some live streaming the protest said CMPD’s actions were unprovoked. 

Robert Dawkins, political director of Action NC talked about the march going from peaceful to confrontational and police actions with "All Things Considered" host Gwendolyn Glenn.

Dawkins: There were a few people that we got reports on that when it got to Romare Bearden Park saying things like if you don't want to be part of any type of escalation, it might be time for you to leave. But nothing really got out of control until much later that night.

Glenn: Well, let's talk about the police. Last night around North Tryon and Fourth Street, there were allegations that the police kind of had people penned in, were using flash bangs and chemical other agents against the protesters. We've heard of stories like that of the police doing that in Washington, D.C. and other cities as well. What do you know happened there?

Dawkins: One of our organizers, Nicole McCarthy, was caught in the middle of it and as it moved forward, she moved further back down the line. And then when she got to the end of the line, she saw that at the back end of protest had now been sealed off by people from CMPD. You've cut off people's way to move toward you by tear gassing and pepper spraying and you'd cut off their path to leave but you're saying disperse and you're not giving them a way to disperse. It's not only just esclating the people's anger but it escalates the people's fear and anxiety.

Glenn: When people say things like, OK, it's time to leave if you don't want to be involved in something that may not be as peaceful as it has been, who is there to maybe talk people down to not go that direction?

Dawkins: There's a certain time that things transpired where no longer are groups in charge. So the NAACP had an official start and stop time. And then what you get is people that, you know, hang on or leave actually or just hang out until they can try to influence other people to be part of their protests, which may be followed.

Glenn: Do you think that those kinds of actions are obscuring the message? Because a lot of times that is what people are seeing on television. The violence, the looting.

Dawkins: Yes, it's obscuring the message that people are wanting to get out on our side of the fence to legal, law-abiding, nonviolent protests. The people that are doing violent stuff have their own mission in their own word they want to get out. I just get mad if you interfere with obsure the message that us law-abiding groups are trying to do?

Glenn: What are you calling for in terms of the police? The one thing I've heard is the duty to intervene. Tell us about that.

Dawkins: So last year after Danquirs Franklin, we worked with CMPD to come up with some policy suggestions to upfit their use of force policy. And one of the suggestions that was not implemented was duty to intervene.

Duty to intervene codifies in the police standards and operating procedures that all officers have a duty to intervene if they see an officer commit abuses of force or excessive force, like what happened with George Floyd, where the officers stood there for like seven minutes while one officer pressed on [his] neck. The reason that those three officers was terminated was because they had a duty to intervene policy and they didn't do it. So what this would do is make it policy instead of subjective on when an officer is guilty of not protecting the rights of a citizen or resident, even under arrest procedure.

Glenn: Let me ask you this. This happened in Minneapolis - the killing of Floyd - and protests are happening around the country and of course, here in Charlotte. How do you answer people who say, well, that was in Minneapolis, that had nothing to do with the police here?

Dawkins: What you're seeing is people's reaction to this problem being systemic. So whether it happened in Charlotte or whether it happened in Minneapolis, in each city, people are saying they're tired of it. And let's not also forget that that wasn't the last shooting of a person by police wasn't George Floyd. There was one or two days ago in Louisville.

Glenn: So many people are comparing this to the civil rights movement in the 60s. And this is history in the making. Do you see it that way?

Dawkins: I see it that way. But it didn't start with George Floyd. It started with Black Lives Matter all the way back in  - what was it?-  2012 with Trayvon Martin. I think it's just repeatedly over time, people are now completely fed up with it.

Glenn: And where do you go from here?

Dawkins: That's my frustration now that all of the work that we've done on policy work goes out the window when you see CMPD not living up to the policy changes that you made. And it almost makes it frustrating to the point that you say, you know what, us that do policy work, us that do peaceful protesting, we'll just stop showing up and let you deal with the people that want anarchy because you're not listening and you're not trying to live up to what you even promised or codified that you would do.

Glenn: Well, Robert, thank you for talking with us today.

Dawkins: Thank you so much.


Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.