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'We Want To Live': Crowd Gathers In Uptown For Sixth Night Of Charlotte Protests

Updated 7:35 a.m.

For the sixth night in a row, protesters took to the streets of Charlotte to decry systemic racism after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But for the first time since daily demonstrations began, there was a little less tension between protesters and police. 

The evening started with a community meeting called by city leaders after outcry over a widely shared video the night before showed Charlotte-Mecklenburg police firing tear gas at protesters who appeared to be boxed in on a street. That video, captured by alt-newspaper Queen City Nerve, led to the city asking the State Bureau of Investigation to review CMPD's tactics

Credit Claire Donnelly / WFAE
Crystal Jackson, left, and Yasmeen Blue kneel Wednesday night in uptown Charlotte during a community meeting and march after days of protests.

"We need to hear from our residents," Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said Wednesday afternoon. "We need to make sure that we ask the question, What is this pain causing you and what can we do about it?"

Here's what our reporters heard and saw.

Some attendees held signs with slogans including "We want to live" and "use of tear gas is a war crime."

About 150 people had gathered outside of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center by 6:15 p.m. as city leaders held a community meeting.

The mood in Charlotte was tense as things got underway.

Credit Claire Donnelly / WFAE
Protesters, including Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, kneel for nine minutes Wednesday to honor George Floyd.

"When they come out here, don't be afraid to let them have it," Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP President Corine Mack told the crowd.

Though some in the crowd applauded Council Member Braxton Winston, who was arrested at Friday's protest in west Charlotte, others didn't parse their words for the elected officials present.  

"All y'all gotta go" shouted one attendee at members of City Council during the meeting.

People in the crowd surrounded Lyles, demanding to know why officers used force against peaceful protesters. 

"Who gave the order?" one person yelled. 

Lyles said she didn't know. 

Soon, the crowd began chanting, "Walk with us" as they began marching away from the government center along East Fourth Street. Council members joined. 

City Council member Julie Eiselt told one group of protesters that she and others have asked who gave the order Tuesday night to fire tear gas at the crowd on East Fourth Street and want that person disciplined. 

A member of the crowd asked Winston if they'd be gassed as the night went on. 

"I don't know," Winston said. 

The march stopped for a bit outside of CMPD headquarters, with a handful of protesters shouting that Police Chief Kerr Putney should be fired. 

The crowd had returned to the government center plaza by 7 p.m. 

"Today, we're all about listening," council member Tariq Bokhari told the group. 

One person shouted back a question: "Why was I tear-gassed?" 

By 7:50 p.m., Putney arrived to talk to the crowd. 

The chief was grilled by people angry about the use of tear gas on Tuesday in uptown. Putney told them he authorized his officers to disperse the gas, which led to people being trapped on Fourth Street. 

"The truth of the matter is, I authorize," Putney said. "I authorize that when it goes from peaceful to violent, I authorize that we can disperse the crowd." 

Putneyhas asked for the release of police body-cam video of the incident. Under North Carolina law, such video can only be released when ordered by a judge.

"There are a lot of other angles and videos and perspectives that you need to see," Putney said at a press conference earlier in the day. "I didn't like what I saw, and I can't wait until I can share more." 

Credit David Boraks / WFAE
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney addresses the crowd Wednesday night.

The crowd asked Putney if police would use tear gas later in the night, and he told them they wouldn't as long as things stayed peaceful.

"If you're saying there will be no violence, there will be no deployment of chemical weapons," Putney said. 

"We've been peaceful," someone in the crowd yelled.

The crowd, which had grown by 9 p.m., marched through uptown and stopped at Romare Bearden Park where some participants gave speeches. Things remained peaceful, and marchers started heading away from the park just after 10 p.m.

Credit David Boraks / WFAE
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers watch as protesters march through uptown Wednesday night.

By 11:10 p.m., protesters were blocked on East Third Street near McDowell Street by a line of police officers on bikes. Some marchers urged others to head in another direction. 

Soon, trucks showed up carrying police officers in riot gear. A protester threw a water bottle at one of the trucks and some officers moved toward the crowd. At 11:22 p.m., protesters could be seen facing the line of officers. As some turnd around, somone threw fireworks at the officers and police threw flash bangs back.

Some protesters lowered and removed flags from in front of the Mecklenburg County jail just after 11:30 p.m.

Just after midnight, video by Queen City Nerve showed some protesters throwing bottles at a police SUV that was driving across an intersection in uptown. The SUV backed away as other protesters shouted down the ones who had thrown things at police, telling them it would only escalate violence. 

Police later tweeted that they had been pursuing a suspect in a shooting that happend in west Charlotte earlier in the night. 

Shortly after 1 a.m., the crowd arrived at CMPD headquarters and began chanting at a line of police officers on bikes before walking on. 

There were no reports of tear gas being used by 2 a.m.


Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.
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.