A team of outside reviewers is in Charlotte this week to begin examining procedures and community relations at Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department. The Police Foundation's first public meeting Wednesday night was billed as a "listening session," but there were lots of questions, too.
The two-hour meeting at the fire department training center on Seventh Street was the first chance for residents to address reviewers. The city hired the Washington-based police research group after the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott last September sparked a week of protests uptown.
One Latin-American woman, Amalia Deloney, described the police response to the demonstrations as overly aggressive and hostile.
“We felt that we were under martial law, when we were ordered home and under curfew. That when we saw tanks roll into our city, for standing there with grandmas … it was a problem, that's a problem, that was the problem, not us being out,” she said, drawing applause.
About 50 people were at the meeting - a mix of African Americans, whites and Latinos. That was fewer than organizers hoped, but speakers had plenty to say.
Some talked about the need to recruit more African American and Latino officers. Others complained about implicit bias among many officers. Some thought the root of Charlotte's problems isn't the police, but poverty and the lack of economic opportunity.
Kass Ottley told the reviewers to look at other police shootings in Charlotte.
“And when you talk about what led us to this: Michael Laney led us to this. Jonathan Ferrell led us to this. Janisha Fonville led us to this. We have had multiple shootings in Charlotte, by police, CMPD, that we don't even know what really happened,” she said.
Police were cleared in those cases. But Ottley said many people don't believe the police accounts of those shootings. She said CMPD needs to rebuild trust.
Betty Gregory of the Shamrock Hills neighborhood in east Charlotte, wanted more ways for young men and police to get to know one another.
“I think that it's important to have dialogue between the CMPD with those youth and their fathers that are interested, with those youths, on a personal basis, so that each can find out that the other is simply a human being,” Gregory said.
The audience had lots of questions for the foundation's four reviewers as well. One woman wondered if they could really be independent - since three of the four have policing backgrounds. (The fourth is a preacher.) Another wanted to know if the foundation gets funding from corporations that sell weapons and other services to police. (It doesn't).
Near the end, someone asked what would come of the review. Lead reviewer Paul Straub said the final report would be public, but it would be up to local officials to act.
“We can provide a road map for the community and the police department and government officials to follow. But at the end of the day, the honest answer is you can bring a horse to water, but you can't make the horse drink,” Straub said.
“Thanks for your honesty,” said the woman who had asked the question.
The foundation plans more public meetings in the next few months as well as smaller gatherings at restaurants, barber shops and other sites.
Find out more about The Police Foundation at http://www.policefoundation.org