The dominant narrative surrounding Wednesday night’s protests in uptown Charlotte was one of violence, destruction and chaos. But while the late-night protesters were the loudest and most visible, they were not the majority.
Things were much different on Thursday night when protesters mobilized a loud, passionate, peaceful demonstration through Uptown well past the citywide mandatory midnight curfew.
Thirty minutes ahead of the curfew last night, CMPD tweeted that no civilian or officer injuries had been sustained. It was a dramatically different scene than the one 24 hours prior where 26-year-old Justin Carr was shot and killed, four police officers sustained non-life-threatening injuries and 44 people were arrested.
No reports of officer or civilian injuries during tonight’s demonstration. pic.twitter.com/Y9IOCJPAvK
— CMPD News (@CMPD) September 23, 2016Advertisement
One rally organizer said Wednesday night at Romare Bearden Park that “There are no violent protesters and peaceful protesters, just protesters.” Still, those two “sides” have certainly been the most clearly defined and prevalent categorizations utilized by bystanders, reporters, protesters and myself this week.
But it seems that lumping all protesters into one or even two categories oversimplifies a very complex movement made up of very complex human beings.
Within the crowds of people united under one common cause this week was an undercurrent of vastly different and sometimes conflicting movements and messaging.
One voice doesn’t speak for everyone on the streets of Charlotte this week. Here are some of the different voices I heard.
At the intersection of Trade and Tryon on Wednesday afternoon, a young woman recited a moving spoken word piece about the black experience.
She stood with a group led by young professionals in suits and ties that had assembled at 4:30 p.m. in direct response to the violent demonstrations in north Charlotte the night before.
“We just wanted to show the world that it’s not thugs and criminals,” one organizer said, speaking for the group. “It’s people. It’s professionals. It’s doctors, lawyers, businessmen.”
That group stood at a major intersection in the center of the city chanting phrases like “Being black is not a crime” and “My skin color is not a weapon.” Shortly after 6 p.m., they marched to the steps of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department headquarters on E. 4th Street.
A few blocks away in Marshall Park, a small group of people had begun assembling ahead of a planned 7 p.m. rally.
When the larger group from the police station marched in chanting “No justice, no peace,” one woman next to me began gathering her things. “We’re not here for this,” she said. “We’re here to pray. They’re saying no peace.” She left.
In Marshall Park between the hours of 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Wednesday night, the convergence of several different groups made the diversity in protesters’ messaging apparent.
While one group gathered to pray, another man called over them for black business owners to assemble and trade business cards, saying, “We can read the scriptures any time.” He was calling for an economic boycott on non-black-owned businesses.
Also in the crowd at Marshall Park on Wednesday were two protesters working together, one with a “Black Power” sign and another with a “White Power” sign. They were asking people to sign their names to the board with which they side.
Black Power, they said, was for inclusion, White Power for exclusion. The black board was filled with chalk signatures. There were no names on the white board.
But the White Power board was met with some confusion and disapproval. One man urged them to put it away, passionately declaring that we’re all one under one god. The sign was not put away.
Closer to 8:30 p.m., a man in Marshall Park calling for non-violence was met with dissent from other protesters who said sometimes it’s the only way to be heard.
Shortly thereafter on Wednesday night, tensions escalated near the Omni Hotel and the EpiCentre and the chaos that ensued quickly became the only thing seen and heard about the protest, drowning out everything else that led up to it.
Violent, peaceful or somewhere in between, protesters in Charlotte have found diverse ways to express themselves. You just may not have heard it all.