Community conversation on police shootings ends early as crowd becomes unfriendly
“Let’s Talk” was the invitation given by CMPD Chief Kerr Putney to a community reeling from yet another officer-involved shooting in which eyewitness accounts differ from the official police story.
More than 100 people packed the old sanctuary of Friendship Baptist Church Thursday, May 29, including leaders of community organizations, city council members, the mayor, District 2 residents, and of course, tons of police. And then, the activists showed up.
The event began with CMPD Attorney Mark Newbold discussing court precedents that inform what is legally considered proper use of force. One case he mentioned, Graham vs. Connor, originated here in Charlotte, made it to the Supreme Court, and basically set the standard for “the officer felt their life was in danger” despite lack of evidence to show it actually was.
Newbold stressed that despite these precedents, most police departments now understand the need to train officers on how to de-escalate a situation rather than immediately resort to use of force.
Photo credit: Brian Twitty
Putney then took questions from the audience, many of which are asked frequently when police kill citizens. (Highlights of the Q&A are at the end of this article.)
Some, instead of asking questions, highlighted initiatives Putney has taken to ensure a better police response for certain communities. Fonda Bryant, a mental healthcare provider, cited a program in which eight officers were trained in crisis intervention. A Latina woman, who sounded as though she was crying, said she was grateful he’d added more Spanish-speaking officers to the force.
However, in his responses, Putney sometimes pivoted to talking points of black-on-black crime and general gun violence, and those asking the questions began to show frustration:
“It is undisputed that when it comes to stopping, searching, arresting and sentencing, there are terrible disparities between black folks and their white counterparts,” said Alesha Brown, an attorney and civil rights advocate. “You said there’s violence in black neighborhoods but we need to acknowledge there’s violence in every neighborhood. You cannot equate criminals and the people we pay our tax dollars to protect and serve us. That should never be a part of the same conversation.”
At that point, activists from Charlotte Uprising and Charlotte Revolutionary Collective walked defiantly into the church. They had marched from the vigil held earlier at the Burger King where Danquirs Franklin was shot by police on Monday. They held space at the front of the room, eye-to-eye with Putney. Many in the group raised their hands, but were never called upon.
However, elsewhere in the room, Charlotte Uprising organizer Myka Johnson was called upon, and began by recounting an exhaustive list of names of people killed by CMPD.
“There are people in this room who have nothing to say to you except ‘We see you.’ We’re going to collect our people and make sure the people in this room are safe from your men with guns,” she said. “How can you roll through a neighborhood, armed, where you just shot someone a week ago and say you want to build community? People are scared of you, nobody wants to build community with y’all and we don’t have to build community with y’all. We can keep ourselves safe.”
Putney replied that 542 young people didn’t catch their first charge last year because CMPD diverted them out of the justice system, and 90% of them were Black.
“Ok, but we’re we’re talking about the ones you killed,” Johnson replied.
At this point, Pastor Clifford A. Jones, Sr. of Friendship Missionary Baptist stepped in to attempt to regain control of an increasingly divided and hostile audience. He asked the crowd to show respect. Several shouted at Putney, “You don’t give us respect,” and another person yelled for them to “Shut up!”
Then, a woman with the activist groups said to the pastor, “Cops killed Jesus.” Jones responded with an incredulous “Excuse me?” while an onlooker shouted “You better watch it, little girl!”
“I’ve been in this community for 37 years,” the pastor said. “I didn’t just show up for a meeting to be loud and seen on the media. If you cannot respect this place, you need to go out into the street.”
The event shut down shortly thereafter, concluding about 30 minutes earlier than planned. But not before activist Andrew Woods grabbed the microphone and asked Chief Putney why CMPD failed to recover a shell casing at the scene of the shooting Monday. His group found it while live streaming there shortly after police left. Putney has stated that only one shot was fired to kill Danquirs Franklin, so ostensibly, that shell casing could be a primary piece of ballistic evidence that is now inadmissible because it was left behind to get tampered with.
Putney later said CMPD had recovered all ballistic evidence.
As the crowd left the church, activists linked arms and faced a line of police, shouting “Long Live Frank [Danquirs Franklin]!” and “No Justice, No Peace!”
Many of them were irate, saying they felt having the event at the church was a tactical maneuver to silence community anger and ensure deference to those in charge.
“Regardless of the venue, we are not here at [their] courtesy,” said Woods. “We’re here at this church so that we’re not outside the police station having this conversation on our own terms.”
“You say you want to talk to the community. Every meeting [Putney] has, it’s always in a church, and there’s an overwhelming presence of police, which makes people uncomfortable and afraid to speak,” said Kass Ottley, a long-time activist and organizer. “Then, he places key people throughout the room to talk about how wonderful he is.”
“They want to tell us when we can show up, where we can show up, and now how we can show up,” said Jennifer Vollmer.
“How many of these conversations do we have to have?” said Ottley. “We have one every time someone is killed. We want people to stop getting killed.”
Highlights of Questions and Answers
Q: What were the legal precedents cited by the CMPD attorney?
A: Tennessee vs. Garner, which ruled shooting someone who is fleeing is not constitutional; Graham vs. Connor, which established the “objective reasonableness” standard; and Terry vs. Ohio, which established the police right to “stop and frisk.”
Q: How can someone have an excessive use of force case heard by the Citizens Review Board?
A: Call police internal affairs to file a complaint and launch an investigation. If you don’t like the police internal review board’s findings, you can appeal for your case to be heard by the Citizen’s Review board. In its 22-year history, the CRB has ruled against CMPD only once.
Q: Will Putney please send Black police to Black communities?
A: No, he refuses to police based on race. However, he would love help recruiting more young Black cops for his force.
Q: Why won’t officers shoot to disarm/disable instead of shoot to kill?
A: It’s too difficult. There is a concern with accuracy and they don’t want to accidentally hit an innocent bystander.
Q: What kind of background checks does CMPD perform on officers before they’re hired?
A: They check “everything,” including social media posts.
Q: Why do black or brown people always seem to get shot and killed by police while white people seem to get apprehended alive?
A: They kill white people too. (Then, a pivot to gun control and an assertion that gun violence was far more prevalent in the Black community.)
Q: CMPD officers have so much gear and weapons. Why are they so afraid?
A: Out of 600,000 outcomes last year there were 5 fatal shootings. Putney did not offer numbers on non-fatal shootings, but asserted that data doesn’t back up the narrative that his officers primarily resort to force.
Q: What efforts is Putney making to build trust between officers and the community?
A: An effort called Footbeat has been launched, with officers in each division (six total) who attend neighborhood meetings and get to know the community.