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Crime & Justice

'We Need To Change -- Yesterday': Protests Continue In March Through Uptown

Two weeks after nightly protests against systemic racism and police brutality first began in Charlotte, the demonstrations were still going strong Friday night. What started out as a small gathering of about 50 marching from First Ward Park early in the evening grew to about 100 as onlookers began joining the cause.

Tonya Brown was walking through uptown when demonstrators marched past. Within minutes, she and her husband had joined the crowd.

"It’s important because I have a black son. I have a black father. I have black uncles. I have black brothers," Brown said. "It’s time to make a change for the future for our kids. It’s been going on long enough. We need to change -- yesterday."

With smaller protests taking place earlier in the day -- one in south Charlotte featuring teens and another at Freedom Park including drummers -- and others planned for the next week, the protests show no signs of slowing down, even if some nights like Friday are drawing smaller crowds.

"It needs to keep going. It needs to keep going until we actually see change in the system from the top to the bottom," Brown said. "Not just watching out here to have fun. So making noise every day? If that’s what we have to do, that’s what we’re willing to do."

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Credit Laura Brache / WFAE
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WFAE
A group of protesters pauses at E. Fourth and Tryon streets on Friday night.

The reason so many are drawn to the cause, one protester said, is because the message the crowd is trying to spread is one that is universally understood.

"It doesn’t matter how many people you have in your group, as long as you’re peaceful and you have unity and you have love, anybody will join you," Tyshawn Brothers said. "At the end of the day, we’re not here to cause a problem, we’re not here to make the cops mad, we’re not here to disturb the peace. We’re just here because we want to be heard, too. It’s not fair for 400-plus years we have not be heard, we have not been spoken to and we have not been understood at all."

One of the most powerful moments came early in the evening, when demonstrators happened upon a group of local graduates posing for photos at the Black Lives Matter street mural on Tryon. 

As the five black men posed in caps and gowns with right fists raised, the crowd of protesters crowded around and chanted, "We see you! We love you!" 

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Credit David Boraks / WFAE
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WFAE
The bike squad holds off traffic on Fourth Street.

For the past week of protests, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have stayed on the fringes of marchers, and a bike squad has worked to police intersections and traffic to minimize confrontations. Greg Martinez is captain of the bike squad and works to organize the group. 

"We just provide a buffer between the march and police, so that way as they move into an intersection, it's not intimidating," Martinez said. "There's not anxiousness, no nothing. When you see a bunch of police officers holding an intersection, that makes them nervous."

Earlier in the evening, a different kind of peaceful protest took place at Freedom Park. The Rhythm Alliance for Justice gathering featured a drum circle and percussion from various instruments.

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Credit Laura Brache / WFAE
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WFAE
People were encouraged to borrow an instrument to participate in the Rhythm Alliance for Justice gathering at Freedom Park.

Evan Nash was one of the organizers of that demonstration.

"We wanted to be able to do something. We didn’t want it to be any type of violent protest," Nash said. "Drummers are peaceful people and we’re just really happy we’re able to do something and bring people together for a cause."

Later in the night, the group of marchers made its way to South End, the home to numerous millennials and Gen Zers, glossy apartments and trendy restaurants. The march provided for a striking contrast between young people standing in line to go in bars.

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