Emails between top Charlotte officials show a city government juggling hateful emails, safety threats and words of encouragement in the days after a police officer shot an African American man, sparking days of violent protests.
Keith Lamont Scott was shot to death soon after exiting his car parked near his home on September 20. Police said officers had seen him holding marijuana and a gun. Scott’s family has maintained that he was unarmed.
The Agenda reviewed 10 days worth of emails to and from interim city manager Ron Kimble and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Kerr Putney in the immediate aftermath of Scott’s death. The emails were obtained through a public records request to the city.
Here are some of the highlights.
- City officials closely monitored social media for information both on where protesters were headed and what they had planned. Numerous emails sent to Kimble contain collections of Twitter and Instagram messages including live updates on the protests.
- Officials juggled emails from across the country as the national media set up shop in Charlotte. Some praised the city and police chief Kerr, while others condemned their reaction. Others demanded that the officer who shot Scott be prosecuted.
- The city enlisted the help of top Bank of America officials for both “intelligence data gathering” and assistance with crisis communications, emails with the bank’s Chief Administrative Officer Andrea Smith show. The city did not respond to a question about what information was gathered. “I very much appreciate your willingness to help us out in our time of need and crisis,” Kimble wrote.
- Chief Putney was forced to change his cell phone number immediately on the Saturday after the shooting. Social media posts from that time show that some protest leaders had obtained the number.
- The city went back and forth behind the scenes on whether and how to release video of the shooting. Mayor Jennifer Roberts clearly stated “You need to respond to him therefore to explain why the city will not comply,” Roberts wrote while forwarding a letter from N.C. Sen. Phil Berger exhorting the city to release the video.
- They also struggled with how to keep city employees safe. The city changed the delivery protocol to make sure all packages were screened before entering the building.
- Kimble researched de-escalation training from Dolan Consulting Group in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
- City leaders also faced pressure from city councilmembers to keep protestors out of residential areas. In one email, Councilwoman Patsy Kinsey said she feared action from a homeowner. “It would not advance anyone’s cause for a homeowner to get upset enough to try to take matters into their own hands,” Kinsey wrote.
- The city council weighed a response that would have gone far further than they ultimately settled on. Some provisions from Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles would have called for contractors working with the city of Charlotte to “ban the box” on job applications and hire low income people to work on publicly funded projects. The council ultimately adopted a less-ambitious proposal focused on affordable housing and workforce training.
- The city adopted four themes for moving forward: (1) Acknowledge that Charlotte has a problem, (2) Begin the healing process, (3) Effect change through engagement and action, and (4) Rebuild Charlotte’s reputation.
- The police department worked to keep morale up as officers worked long hours in the face of public criticism. “I want to reassure you that your work is never in vain. The vast majority of our community supports and respects what you do,” Putney wrote to all officers. “Do not allow these incidents of civil unrest and the false narrative in social media to negatively influence your resolve.”
- CMPD leaders received 3,483 copies of the same email message, a petition demanding that officers “stop killing black people.”