Police took a markedly different approach to managing the protestors marching in and around Uptown as demonstrations against the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott entered their sixth straight day, according to videos shot on the scene and interviews with eyewitnesses.
Officers kept protestors confined to the sidewalk on Sunday rather than allowing them free rein through the streets, and forcibly arrested at least one man who ventured into the road.
Police in riot gear also formed lines to keep protests more contained. Several protestors said they were deliberately kept out of the affluent areas of Myers Park and South End, just as marchers intended to go there.
The new police tactics will likely set a new standard for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department as it handles continuing protests over Scott’s death. He was shot to death near his home in north Charlotte on Tuesday by a police officer after police said they observed him in his car with what appeared to be marijuana and a gun.
Videos of the shooting raised questions about just how much of a threat Scott posed to officers. CMPD Chief Kerr Putney said he would not pursue charges against the officers involved, though a State Bureau of Investigation probe continues.
The city of Charlotte put out a “reminder” on Monday that “citizens may engage in lawful protest activity on public sidewalks and City plazas without the need for a permit,” but that walking in the streets requires a parade permit.
A change in policy
In the first few evenings of protests, large numbers of demonstrators marched through the streets of Uptown, closing the square at Trade and Tryon and by the EpiCentre, and largely walking unencumbered through the center city.
At least twice they were also permitted to close down I-277, at least briefly, before being turned away.
That changed Sunday. In numerous videos, you can hear officers demanding that protesters stay on the sidewalk and out of the street. In one video, you can see a man being tackled and arrested. Officers told passersby he was taken into custody for impeding traffic. An arrest log provided by police showed he was charged with “Standing in Street” and “Resist Obstruct Delay.” Three other people were also arrested for standing in the street.
Protesters also reported a difference in where they were allowed to travel. They encountered a line of police on Tryon Street near Stonewall Street as marchers attempted to move down into South End.
Several protesters livestreaming the march criticized officers for “protecting property, not lives.”
Protesters did march through the Cherry neighborhood, a historically black community just east of Uptown.
A reporter with WBTV reported protesters being turned back at the intersection where Baxter Street runs into Queens Road — a boundary where average home prices move from around $150,000 to $1.5 million. A group of people with megaphones were trying to get into the residential area around 11:30 p.m.
“When we attempted to make our way down Queens into affluent Myers Park, police completely blocked us from every angle, doing absolutely everything in their power to keep us from even entering this neighborhood-not even on the sidewalk,” demonstrator Tabitha Hall wrote in a public Facebook post.
Some protesters questioned why they were turned back there after being allowed in other residential areas.
“So if the purpose of the escort was the protect the protestors and protect the buildings, property, etcetera, then tell me why one neighborhood was valued more than another?” demonstrator Robert Christopher wrote on Facebook.
Leaders of the Myers Park Homeowners Association said they had not heard anything from police.
A CMPD spokesman declined to comment on what police strategy would be going forward. “Every situation we encounter and manage is unique,” spokesman Rob Tufano said. “We have the flexibility to alter our operations as the situation warrants.”
A WSOC reporter tweeted that she asked an officer on the street why the change occurred. “It’s day six,” he responded.
Cover image by Robert Christopher