By Kendrea Mekkah Collins
North Carolina currently ranks 6th in the nation – with 27 People killed by police this year, according to The Counted. The legislature implementing policies like the recent HB972, restricting citizens from reviewing police body and dash-cam video footage is only one example of how calls for police transparency and community oversight are being ignored. Charlotte CMPD is not living up to the directives established in the Civil Liberties Resolution or the guidelines of the President’s Council on 21st Century Policing which it likes to brag about being a member of.
Charlotte has a long history of police killings, yet Randell Kerrick – who killed Jonathan Ferrell in 2013 – was the first CMPD officer in 30 years to face charges for excessive force. The dash-cam footage was a huge factor in that case, and shortly after there was an outcry for reforms to the Charlotte Citizen Review Board, and CMPD policy and directives.
SAFE Coalition NC worked with the community to pass the Civil Liberties Resolution which led the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department to change policy directives around arbitrary profiling, de-escalation, search and seizure and how to handle protest. We have yet to see this policy translated into practice. Three years later, the community literally had to riot to get dash-cam and body-cam footage released.
In the aftermath of protest and national outcry over Keith Lamont Scott’s murder, we must be mindful that there are many more cases that fell below the radar. When the national media leaves and Charlotte returns to “business as usual,” who will hold Charlotte City Council and CMPD accountable?
Although the lack of police oversight and accountability disproportionately affects African-Americans, this is not just a black problem. When the powers of law enforcement go unchecked, all citizens feel the ramifications. In August, another person with a disability, Daniel Harris (Deaf) was killed by State Troopers here in Charlotte. De-escalation and dealing with people with disabilities is a persistent issue.
Broken promises and a lack of accountability are only fueling the fire around Police brutality. When people participate in government and their civil servants fail to live up to their end of the bargain, trust is broken, and righteous indignation builds like steam in a pressure cooker. The recent unrest in Charlotte is the trill sound of a city collectively letting off steam.
After fighting for change and seeing it ignored, Charlotte is desperately in need of the kind of lasting change that can prevent future incidents. SAFE Coalition NC helped write and lobbied for the State Prohibition of Discriminatory Profiling Bill (H193).
That legislation would have allowed all cities in NC to establish citizen review boards empowered with subpoena power, investigative power and the power to discipline officers. Standards would have been set on what is considered discriminatory profiling and required training on interactions with people with disabilities.
H193 would have required all law enforcement to uniformly report homicide data (justified and unjustified) and to share the data with the public annually. In addition, it would also have established state commissions to oversee all police training, promulgate rules around training and issue yearly reports on the training of police officers, state troopers, sheriff deputies, private security and neighborhood watch programs.
The Legislature decided not to allow H193 to be heard at all but rushed to pass HB972 instead. HB972 requires a court order to release “law enforcement video” and went into effect on October 1, 2016. It was endorsed by every major law enforcement organization in the state of North Carolina: The N.C. Fraternal Order of Police, N.C. Police Benevolent Association, and the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys.
In the wake of Mr. Scott’s murder there have been petitions for the dismantling of CMPD, and Chief Putney’s resignation, and several boycotts have been proposed. SAFE Coalition NC stands with the community and the DOJ in demanding that CMPD release all footage leading up to the death of Keith Lamont Scott. We also call for Charlotte City Council and CMPD to enact the polices laid out in the Civil Liberties Resolution. Charlotte’s citizens are dying for change, and demanding better for their children.