Thursday marks the second anniversary of protests that exploded around Charlotte for days, following the fatal police shooting of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott. Police say Scott was smoking marijuana in an apartment parking lot and had a gun. His family, including his wife who witnessed his shooting, contends he was waiting for his son and not a threat to police. They are suing the city and the officer, Brentley Vinson.
The shooting of Scott, an African-American man, led to residents demanding more of city leaders economically and in terms of race relations. Some city officials say progress is happening, but slowly.
During the protests that were sometimes violent, residents shined a glaring light on the division that exists in Charlotte on racial and economic fronts. Protesters also called for more accountability and transparency of the Police Department when it comes to officers involved in shootings.
Two years later, Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt says the Scott shooting and protests made officials realize the city was at “boiling point and needed to be more honest about the inequities that existed.”
Eiselt thinks city leaders are looking at the problems residents are concerned about differently now but still have a lot of work to do.
“Have we solved anything? No. These are systemic issues. But I think we’re starting to break down some of the underlying barriers that prevented us from working together,” Eiselt said. “From the city’s standpoint, we started the microgrant program, providing small microgrants to community groups working to reduce crime in the neighborhoods, to give young people options, opportunities.”
Eiselt says so far they have awarded $30,000 in grants of $500 each to local residents. She says they are providing information to grant recipients on how to become a nonprofit, so they can apply for bigger grants from large foundations.
The unrest that stemmed from the Scott fatal shooting is also said to be responsible for the change in Charlotte’s leadership — specifically, the election of then-City Council member Vi Lyles as mayor and six new council members, all under 40. District 2 City Councilman Justin Harlow is in that class. He says he pushed for racial equity and a closing of economic gaps in the city during his campaign. Harlow says he thinks the council is more responsive to residents’ concerns and that the city has changed in significant ways since the Scott shooting.
“I think that the community is more awakened than they have ever been, not just as it relates to police relationships with the community but causes around affordable housing, economic mobility and economic development, racial equity issues,” Harlow said. “We don’t just have just the task force reports anymore. We got a variety of implicit bias workshops, we’ve got more focus on things like the Citizen Review Board and the police foundation report. So many things have come from the uprising.”
Harlow also pointed to the $50 million bond referendum officials hope voters approve in November. He says that money will allow city officials to not simply subsidize housing with tax credits but to preserve and purchase older housing that demands lower rents. With most new housing in the city being high-end, Harlow says they are also partnering more with the private sector to increase the supply of affordable housing.
"That’s where we’ve gone a little wrong in the past," Harlow said. "We tried to solve this by ourselves. We’re challenging the business community, the Bank of Americas, the Novant Healths, the Wells Fargo of the world to participate and acknowledge that, hey, some of these problems have been created by these corporate interests and it’s up to those corporate interests to provide some solutions."
Last month, Wells Fargo pledged $20 million to groups to develop affordable housing projects and help homebuyers with mortgage down payments. The Crescent Communities development company also donated nearly five acres of land in West Charlotte for affordable housing in the large River District that is being developed.