Who Was In The Charlotte Protests, And What Progress Has Been Made Since 2016?

May 30, 2020

The image of a police line pushing the crowd back as orange tear gas swirls overhead is not new to Charlotte. It beckons back to 2016 when protests erupted following the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. Those protests lasted four days and saw numerous clashes between protesters and law enforcement.

Glenn Burkins
Credit QCitymetro

In the months after, city leaders vowed to take bold steps toward repairing the trust between law enforcement and communities of color. Glenn Burkins covered those protests in 2016 and the city's response for his news website, QCitymetro, which serves Charlotte's black community. He's the founder and publisher, and he's with us now.

Nick de la Canal: Glenn, good morning.

Glenn Burkins: Good morning.

De la Canal: Well, let's start with the protests Friday night. You say that some of the protesters may not have been from Charlotte.

Burkins: I was not there on scene personally, but that is the worry that I'm getting from our readers. I woke up this morning to a number of emails. Plus I was on the phone last night with Rev. Ricky Woods of First Baptist Church - West. His church is just around the corner from that police precinct. He was there. And there are strong questions about who actually led the violence Friday night. Everyone I talked to said they recognized a lot of local faces in the crowd, but those were not the faces of the people throwing things. There were people there who were armed with assault-style rifles. No one knew who they were. And there are rumors that this will continue at other police precincts in the days ahead.

De la Canal: And that's something worth looking into. I want to move back to 2016 and the protests that Charlotte saw then following the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. After those protests happened, which rocked the city, city leaders said that there needed to be things done to repair the trust between those communities of color and police. What did the city say actually needed to happen?

Burkins: Well, a lot of those things were actually economic in nature. I think the city started to recognize or address some of the problems that were happening along certain corridors. Economic problems, educational problems. There were then, and there are still now, certain parts of this city that do not get the same attention that other parts get. Schools don't get the same funding -- or maybe not funding, but schools are low-performing in certain districts. So they started to push more economic resources into some of those corridors.

And the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, itself, began to meet more regularly with young people from those communities, with faith leaders from those communities. So a number of things were done.

De la Canal: Do you think that any of those measures have worked? And have they addressed the real underlying issues?

Burkins: Well, that's a very difficult question to answer, because we don't know where we would be had nothing been done. I think some of those efforts have helped to some degree. But the biggest problem is much more systemic than addressing isolated corridors in any particular city. As some of the people said in your broadcast, this really goes back to a very pernicious problem that our country faces: We have not dealt with the issue of race. We have not dealt with the issues of inequality on a nationwide scale. We still live in a nation of basically whites -- and others. And until we address the disparate treatment of those groups, we're going to always see these problems popping up.

De la Canal: Do you think that at this point, after all of the police killings that this country has experienced and seen, that there can ever really be any trust between some members of communities of color and law enforcement?

Burkins: I think there can be. I believe part of the problem there is that -- and I've said this before -- one of the hardest things to do in our criminal justice system is to convict a law enforcement officer of a crime against a black person. That is one of the toughest things to do in our criminal justice system. In North Charleston, for example, we saw an officer video -- it was videotaped -- we saw an officer fire multiple times at a fleeing traffic offender, kill that traffic offender, and then go to court and was essentially acquitted. I believe it was a hung jury. Even with all that evidence, courts did not convict that officer.

Our courts act as a pressure valve, if you will. And when that pressure valve does not work, then people feel no recourse but to go to the streets, to resort to some type of violence or to resort to some type of protest. And I think that's what we're seeing here. There is this feeling that black and brown people, when they are victims of the system of police, of white vigilante types like we recently saw, that when they go to court, they're not getting due process. They're not getting the same justice that everyone else is getting.

And so I think when our courts and when our prosecutors begin to become more aggressive and begin to actually convict those who do wrong against black man, against black lives, I think that will be the beginning of addressing some of these issues.

De la Canal: What's something about these recent protests that gives you hope here in Charlotte and around the country?

Burkins: Well, I guess what gives me hope are the many, many people who are out there to protest peacefully. The people who show up with guns, the people who show up to hurl rocks, they will always get the headlines. But I went online Saturday to Nextdoor and I saw a resident of that particular community on the West Side who wrote a letter thanking that division, the Metro Division officers, for their restraint Friday night. And so things like that really give me hope that there are people out there who want to do the right thing. There are people out there who want to peacefully protest when these things happen. And there are people who recognize that everyone in blue is not a bad guy.

De la Canal: That's Glenn Burkins. He's the founder and publisher of QCitymetro. Thank you so much.

Burkins: You're welcome.

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