The Charlotte City Council meeting following the fatal police shooting of Keith Scott was full of strong emotions. There was also a lot of sharply and loudly worded critique of council. Julie Eiselt was on the receiving end of those angry words a year ago.
She’s an at-large city council member and chairs the council’s committee on public safety.
What do you think the community as a whole has learned a year after the shooting of Keith Scott?
I don’t think we are a community as a whole. I think we’re a lot of different communities. We have to understand that we are a city of various communities and some of those communities have different realities than the others. I think that’s the starting point that we really have to be more willing to talk about.
What kind of conversations have you had with community members in the past year?
People are mad. They’re angry. Some of them…people just want to learn more. There are conversations that happen where people are saying, ‘What’s the anger, the frustration all about?’ And that’s a good thing. That’s what we need more of.
Did all the angry words directed at you and the rest of council have an effect on how you receive criticism and how you deal with it?
Every little bit of criticism you get when you’re on council, it chips away. And you can take it. You can be defensive about it, and some of it’s very upsetting. Because, frankly, when people sit there and swear at you, no good really comes of that. But when people want to have conversation. That’s different. I’m always willing to sit down and talk to somebody, if they want to have constructive conversation. And if they need to let out anger first to do that, then that’s okay. I’m all right with that.
At that first council meeting after the shooting, you addressed the crowd and said that you feel often times African Americans wouldn’t return your calls because you’re white. Do you feel that’s still an issue?
Definitely, which I get. There’s a trust factor. That’s what was frustrating for me, since the one year I’d been in office and I’d been a public safety advocate for ten years. And when I started my organization, Neighbors for a Safer Charlotte, there were a lot of people that wouldn’t take my phone call and I would hear through back channels that they need to trust you first. So I get that. I’m not going to fault that. But there were a lot of people there [that night], who were yelling, that I’ve tried to have conversations with. If you want to yell and want your voice to be heard, then we all need to be able to talk to each other. I understand the reason for the distrust, but if we want to move forward and make progress, we’ve got to put aside our assumptions about each other and be willing to talk to each other.
How do you approach that?
I try to be vulnerable about it and to show my vulnerabilities and to say I might sound stupid. I might not know, but tell me about it. I’ve tried to do that in my years of being an advocate because I’ve learned I’ve had to. I’ve learned that it’s okay to say, ‘You’re right. I grew up in a bubble. I might live in a bubble still, but I’m willing to listen and learn.’ Unless you’re able to do that, you’re not going to begin to have conversations. Especially for a lot of white people, we get our guard up and say, 'I’m feeling really guilty right now. It wasn’t my fault.' And that’s a conversation stopper.
Where would you like Charlotte be a year from now?
On this trajectory. I do think that we’re making progress. These are systemic, insidious issues that resulted in where we were the night we were on September 20th, the night Mr. Scott was killed. That was a flashpoint. We knew those things were boiling over. We saw that with the Jonathan Ferrell case, the frustration and anger at the judicial system. I do believe that we’re talking more. I do believe there are more conversations. I do believe people are willing to listen to each other more and more, not necessarily enough. I do believe the police department is looking at their own policy and procedures in how they interact with citizens. They’re getting out. They’re responding quicker. The city council is responding quicker. We realize that was an issue…how we respond to people. So we are moving forward.