'We Need Change Now': 8th Night Of Charlotte Protests Marches Through Uptown, South End

Jun 5, 2020

Updated 11:15 p.m.

A forecast of thunderstorms Friday evening led Charlotte city leaders to cancel a planned Community Conversations meeting at the Mecklenburg County Government Center. But that didn't stop demonstrators from marching through the streets of uptown -- and to South End, for the first time -- for an eighth straight night to protest systemic racism and police brutality.

Wilfred Nagbe leads chants during protests on Friday, June 5.
Credit David Boraks / WFAE

The past week-plus has been life-changing for both protesters and police officers alike. 

Wilfred Nagbe, for instance, was one of the demonstrators who led chants on McDowell Street in uptown around 9:30 p.m. He encouraged those listening to contact their city council representatives to support a proposal by Charlotte City Council member Braxton Winston that would defund tear gas as a riot control agent and set up a council task force to push for police reform.

"At first when I came out here, I was just part of the protest," Nagbe said. "Something in my mind was like, 'This is what you was born for.' I'm tired of us not being heard. We're the youth, we're the future. We need to be heard. If ain't nobody going to stand up, I signed up to do it."

Nagbe urged anyone who wants real change to demand action and to hold elected officials accountable.

"City council said they're listening to us," Nagbe said. "We're going to see in a year. If they ain't listening to us, were going to vote them out. If you don't do nothing this year, in November, go vote. It is a constitutional right. It is a civic duty to vote. Please, go vote. We need change, we need change now."

Protests remained peaceful for a third straight night, as those in the crowd worked on policing each other. One leader spoke into a megaphone, telling everyone he wanted no skirmishes with Charlotte-Mecklenburg police. Since an incident Tuesday night where a video from alt-weekly Queen City Nerve appeared to show police officers boxing in protesters at both ends of a city block while releasing tear gas, there have been limited confrontations with officers.

"We want everybody to go home safe," the man said. "Y'all feel like you want to agitate anybody or you're agitated ... please sit down and take a rest."

CMPD Capt. Brad Koch called the protests -- which he has walked in for seven of the eight nights -- a "watershed" moment in his life.

CMPD Capt. Brad Koch walks alongside protesters on Friday, June 5.
Credit David Boraks / WFAE

"Nothing like this movement has ever happened, or I’ve never had the opportunity to be a part of a movement like this," he said.

Koch said it was painful for him, too, to watch the video of George Floyd pleading for breath as a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

"It was an absolute tragedy," he said. "I understand the pain. It was a very difficult video to watch. There’s nothing good about it. It was a stain on the profession of law enforcement. Being out here in every single walk, every minute of every hour of every day, I’ve really felt the pain and the frustration toward law enforcement because of an incident like that."

He hopes things are changing -- not just in the way demonstrations in the last three nights have been peaceful, but in the way police interact with the community.

"That’s the beauty of walking," Koch said. "Once you get past the anger and once you get past the emotions, you can have some real conversations."

One man marching, Marcus Spears, was impressed with the crowd's positive energy.

"I feel that these are the emotions of the people," Spears said. "I feel that this is truth. I feel as if this is good. This is powerful."

To begin the night, although the formal gathering of city leaders was canceled, City Council member Winston still was outside to speak with about 50 people who had gathered at the government center around 6 p.m. -- as rain had cleared out of the area after a short downpour a couple hours earlier.

People gathered to release balloons and sing "Happy Birthday" to Breonna Taylor, who would have been 27 on Friday. Taylor was killed in March when police officers executed a no-knock warrant at her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment.

For the first time, protesters marched to South End, the neighborhood of abundant shiny apartment complexes and trendy restaurants, and home to many millennials and Gen Zers. At around 8:20 p.m., they paused for a moment of silence outside Charlotte Beer Garden.

Protesters march back uptown after moving through South End.
Credit David Boraks / WFAE

By 8:30 p.m., a few hundred protesters had joined the march. They remained peaceful but pointed, chanting, "Black Lives Matter," "No good cops in a racist system" and "No justice, no peace, no racist police."

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