Tuesday marked the fifth day of protests in Charlotte in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Several thousand people participated in what was one of the city's largest demonstrations in recent memory. But just as in recent days, a peaceful afternoon protest gave way after dark to confrontations between police and protesters uptown.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police reported at least two arrests, including one person with a semiautomatic rifle.
Participants marched through uptown for several hours Tuesday night after speeches at the Government Center. The protest was organized by the Charlotte chapter of the NAACP and a youth group called Kidz Fed Up.
Charlotte NAACP leader Corine Mack led the rally, urging people to keep fighting for an end to institutions that oppress black people.
"The system must be broken, and we must break it. We must sacrifice ourselves now so that our children and their children's children live. That's what love looks like," Mack said.
Another young speaker called for an end to immunity for police officers and other reforms and for justice for George Floyd. Although an officer has been charged in Floyd's death, he said an arrest or charges aren't enough: "We want a conviction, for a conviction is the only thing that changes matters."
Speaker Kendrick Cunningham said African Americans must vote to replace elected leaders —from President Trump to members of the Charlotte City Council — who he said are not serving their interests.
"They've forgotten we put them in office, we put them where they are today. And in 2021, it's a city election. And it is time for them to go. It is time for them to go," he said to applause and cheers.
By the end of the rally, the crowd had swelled. Protesters began marching around uptown under the watchful eyes of CMPD officers on bicycles and in SUVs.
At one point people chanted as a work crew boarded up the windows on an office building. But this was a peaceful expression of anger filled with chanting.
The #naacp and #KidzFedUp march has paused for more speeches on the steps of @CMPD Headquarters in #CLT. More demands for action and speaking out against racism and for voting out leaders who aren't responsive to calls for change. Morbelater on @WFAE pic.twitter.com/JO7zFyE2CF
— David Boraks (@davidboraks) June 2, 2020
#CLT protests night edition: protesters are marching through the Trade & Tryon streets intersection chanting #GeorgeFloyd and other victims' names. @donnellyclairee and I are out here for @WFAE pic.twitter.com/9yJgivUJsy
— David Boraks (@davidboraks) June 3, 2020
Charlotte Hornets player Nicolas Batum was among an estimated 6,000 who attended the march.
— Nicolas Batum (@nicolas88batum) June 2, 2020
Marchers Seek Change
As they marched people talked about their desire for change. A woman named Karissa who didn't want to give her last name held a sign that read "If all lives matter, then why the (heck) do I have to do this." She was marching to make that point.
"The basic principle is, all lives of course do matter, but black lives are being targeted," she said. "It's evident. Tt's obvious by this point there's not justification for it, so we have to acknowledge that in this moment."
At one point, the march stopped for speeches on the steps of CMPD headquarters on Sixth Street. Despite the tensions and confrontations in recent days, there were at least some in the crowd willing to consider reconciliation. Officer Jesus Rendon of CMPD's Constructive Communication Team talked with 21-year-old Joshua Ryant about what he and fellow officers think about the George Floyd Killing.
"We think what happened in Minneapolis was wrong. It shouldn't happened and it was murder, straight up," said Rendon.
"Yeah, straight up," Ryant said.
"People should go to jail. We should be held accountable," Rendon said.
Rendon said he hopes the protest leads to change.
"Something good should come out of this, you know. Getting angry over and over again isn't changing anything," he said.
"We need to be proactive, and find a solution," Ryant responded.
"Absolutely," said Rendon.
Ryant welcomed Rendon's approach.
"We have to remember it is not all cops that are doing this," he said. "There are people who are cops — bad people. There's a lot of people behind the badge that have good hearts and that's why they're out here marching with us."
Marchers left police headquarters and made a couple of more stops at the Government Center and Romare Bearden Park. Their numbers kept shrinking until only a few hundred protesters remained after dark.
By 9 p.m., there was no more talk of reconciliation — just another night of tear gas and pepper balls.
Large group walking through Uptown. While some are being lawful some have begun throwing bottles of water at officers. Violence is escalating putting protestors and officers in danger.
— CMPD News (@CMPD) June 3, 2020
Around 9:30 p.m., CMPD tweeted that a "chemical agent" was thrown at an officer on a bicycle.
A protestor threw a chemical agent at a bike officer. He's being treated on the scene. Officers continue to encounter violent behavior from some protestors.
— CMPD News (@CMPD) June 3, 2020
People live streaming the violence on social media said it was unprovoked. In one incident caught on video by Queen City Nerve, protesters could be seen trapped in a parking garage with officers on both sides using flash bangs and pepper balls.
Police have trapped protesters in a parking garage and begun hitting them with flashbangs and pepper balls unprovoked, our publisher @lafrancois_j is inside and filmed it all. Tune in here: https://t.co/GWOcZtkwbX
— Queen City Nerve (@queencitynerve) June 3, 2020
CMPD blamed protesters for throwing rocks, bottles and chemical agents.
But then at midnight, CMPD said it was "internally reviewing the circumstances that developed this evening on 4th Street to ensure policy and protocol were followed."
That video caused at least two local representatives to tweet that they wanted an examination of CMPD's tactics.
I am absolutely FURIOUS with @cmpd right now.
This video shows @cmpd firing upon peaceful protestors with tear gas, flash bangs, and pepper balls from THREE sides. Trapped against a bldg w/ nowhere to go.
— Rep. Chaz Beasley (@ChazBeasley) June 3, 2020
I have questions for our CMPD and have already reached out to city manager.
— Dimple Ajmera, CPA (@DimpleAjmera) June 3, 2020
Flash bangs near the EpiCentre. Protesters running. I can hear more in the distance pic.twitter.com/qYjwDpyjXT
— Joe Bruno (@JoeBrunoWSOC9) June 3, 2020
A protestor was just arrested with an AR Rifle with two 30-round magazines.
— CMPD News (@CMPD) June 3, 2020
WFAE's Jodie Valade contributed to this report.