Reaction Heats Up Following CMPD’s Use Of Crowd Control On Fifth Day Of Charlotte’s George Floyd Protests
Warning: Video contains strong language and scenes of a distressing nature.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Charlotte leaders are reacting to video shot by Queen City Nerve that shows CMPD officers launching tear gas and firing pepper balls on a seemingly peaceful protest march on Tuesday night. The man who shot the video said they were trapped. CMPD said they are reviewing the incident internally.
Thousands gathered at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center in Uptown Tuesday evening for a “peaceful non-violent protest against police brutality and justice for black lives” – a protest organized by Kidz Fed Up & NAACP Charlotte-Mecklenburg. After several speakers talked to and rallied up the crowd, the protest continued as a march through the streets.
Around 9:30pm, as the march continued down 4th St. CMPD officers deployed crowd control measures towards the hundreds of people in the street – including tear gas and pepper bullets. The incident was all caught on camera by Queen City Nerve publisher, Justin LaFrancois, who was positioned in the march and broadcasting live to their Facebook page. LaFrancois walks past a line of bike officers blocking the College St. intersection. Shortly after, people towards the front of the group are seen running back towards the camera as police block the road ahead, reportedly using tear gas and flash-bangs. The video then shows officers firing tear gas behind where the line of protesters had just passed, effectively blocking the way forward and the way back. LaFrancois can be heard saying how they are all trapped. As people looked for a route to get away, some crawled under a small opening of a security fence leading into a parking deck – including LaFrancois. Once inside, several people are seen treating each other for the effects of tear gas, also including LaFrancois.
Justin LaFrancois called in live from Uptown on WCCB NEWS @ TEN to describe the incident. LaFrancois said how a day-long peaceful protest escalated quickly when police moved in on the section of 4th St. between College and Tryon. “They had officers on the second floor of the parking structure, relentlessly shooting people with pepper balls.” He goes on to say how the only place to go was by crawling under the fence into a parking deck. “A guy that I was standing next to was shot in the face [with a pepper ball]. Every time I tried to take a breath my head was covered in a cloud of tear gas – it was impossible to breath.”
Other members of the march posted to their social media pages describing their experience and venting their outrage. A local commercial photographer & videographer, “Uncle Jut”, posted a video of the incident to their Instagram account, which reiterates how they felt trapped. One line in the video says “Police blockaded all exits.”
“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 building with nowhere to go.” – Chaz Beasley, state representative for NC House District 92
“The deployment of chemical agents in Charlotte needs to end tonight.”– Braxton Winston, Charlotte City Council member At-Large. Winston was arrested at Friday night’s protest for not dispersing on command.
Two-term council woman, Dimple Ajmera tweeted, “I have questions for our CMPD…” followed by “Just talked to our city manager, Macus Jones and he said this will be investigated. Stay tuned!” Pastor Ray S. McKinnon of South Tryon Community United Methodist Church, shared a clip of the incident asking “HOW is this ok?!” Julie Eislet, Charlotte City Council Mayor Pro Tem, responded, “It’s not ok. And we need answers.”
CMPD issued several updates on their Twitter account during the evening. At 9:05pm, they said “Violence is escalating putting protestors and officers in danger” adding that water bottles and fireworks had been thrown at officers. The reports of violence continued as CMPD said a protester had thrown a chemical agent at a bike officer and others were shining lasers at the bike officers. It didn’t appear to be clear at first if that directly led to the response from officers on 4th St. but the following tweet at 9:49pm appeared to suggest it was by stating that multiple dispersal orders were given and protestors had multiple avenues to leave the area, before deploying chemical agents “to protect officers and the public.”
Queen City Nerve’s Justin LaFrancois says he didn’t hear any dispersal orders before officers moved in with tear gas and pepper balls, plus he and many other people on the street believe they were trapped, which would contradict that there were multiple avenues to leave the area. A later tweet from CMPD said they are reviewing the circumstances of the incident. CMPD stated Wednesday, that 9 dispersal orders were communicated.
The day after the incident on 4th St., more Charlotte leaders released statements about the situation.
“The Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, as well as police departments across the country, should immediately and permanently end the use of tear gas. Weapons that are illegal in war should never be used on American soil, especially against our own people.” – Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12)
“Last night in Charlotte, there was an event caught on video in which it appears that protesters – not rioters or looters – were essentially surrounded by law enforcement and gassed.
It appears from the video that they were being told to disperse but were essentially being blocked from doing so. The result was sheer panic.
This happened in the heart of the district I represent, so I believe it is very much my job to address it.
We are internally reviewing the circumstances that developed this evening on 4th Street to ensure policy and protocol were followed.” – Sen. Jeff Jackson (NC-37)
Sen. Jackson goes on to say that he made calls to other city leaders as soon as he saw the video. He says there was broad agreement as to what they were all seeing, yet they knew they had to get more information as quickly as possible. You can read his full statement on Sen. Jackson’s Facebook page.
Queen City Nerve is a media partner of WCCB Charlotte’s CW. You can watch the full video, “Day 5 of the Charlotte protests (pt4)” on Queen City Nerve’s Facebook page. The incident takes place from about the 1:44:00 mark.