Area resident attends protests, local leaders respond to concerns of violence

Published 12:15 am Friday, September 23, 2016

By Shavonne Walker

SALISBURY — Marc Anderson stood amongst protestors in Charlotte’s Marshall Park Wednesday and later feet away from what he called agitators, who freely looted downtown businesses. It was a scene as if from a movie or certainly something that many would never have thought would strike so close to home.

Anderson, 25, is a Salisbury resident who just wanted to see for himself what was happening in a city less than 50 miles from here. He’d been following the madness that ensued following the Tuesday shooting death of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer.

Police and the family of Scott, a father of seven, differ on circumstances surrounding the incident. Police say Scott was armed with a gun while his family says he was carrying a book. Police were at the Village at College Downs apartment complex to serve a warrant for someone else when Scott was killed.

Anderson went with a white friend, whom he said he became concerned for when tensions began to rise later when people began looting.

He described the gathering at Marshall Park as one where community leaders and others had real dialogue about the violence that has been brewing long before Scott was killed Tuesday.

Anderson said there was no yelling and no cursing. But it was a far cry from what happened moments later when tensions began to rise when word quickly spread that someone had been shot. He said those who’d been at the park quickly left to go less than two miles to the Epicentre.

Anderson felt safe, but the atmosphere was definitely tense.

“I was there to show power, to show support,” he said, “to show solidarity for my brothers and sisters.”

He said there weren’t just black people at the prayer rallies and protests and later during riots, but there were white people standing right along in support of the black people gathered.

In his opinion, there were some who felt silenced and suppressed who, in their minds, felt the only form of recourse was to act out. On the other hand, there were people who were there merely to cause damage and steal. He compared the sentiment to a woman who is abused for years who then kills her abuser after being attacked. Anderson said she’s not a killer per se, she’s a woman tired of mistreatment.

“They want to be seen and heard, but it’s because they haven’t been heard,” Anderson said.

He said some of the people out there were good people. He doesn’t condone the violence and certainly not the looting, but said he can understand it.

“I felt it. People were tired. People are afraid on both sides,” he said of people and law enforcement.

“Both sides want to go home to their families,” Anderson said.

He didn’t feel as though the Charlotte police, dressed in riot gear, were there to shoot anyone, but merely to protect the crowds gathered.

People are more angry about the effect than the cause, Anderson said.

If he could talk to rioters and agitators, Anderson said he would tell them to “be powerful, but not through fear-based actions.”

He doesn’t agree with sitting down, but he doesn’t agree with burning buildings, looting and harming others.

Anderson and his friend were among those who were tear-gassed. He asked his friend if she was ready to go and she said she was there to stand together with others. So they stayed until about 10:30 p.m.

When they were leaving, he said agitators began banging on the hoods of cars, including his friend’s. He said he rolled the window down to talk to them. The men looked inside and said, “Oh, she’s got some color in there. We can go.”

Anderson said that comment made him wonder what would have happened to his white friend if he weren’t in the car with her.

Leaders respond

Local leaders say citizens are concerned something similar to the violence in Charlotte could just as easily occur in Salisbury.

Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes said this is a tragic situation for all involved. He said Salisbury’s thoughts and prayers are with the officer, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the family of Keith Scott.

“We have no indications that something could happen here at this time. We have contingency plans for any emergency should something happen in Salisbury,” Stokes said.

“People need to understand this is not an isolated event. It’s part of an ongoing experience in our culture. What happened to the brother in Charlotte is connected to the brother in Tulsa,” said Mission House co-pastor Anthony Smith.

Terence Crutcher, 40, was shot and killed by Tulsa Police officer Betty Shelby on Friday. The married, father of four, was standing beside his disabled vehicle in the middle of the road when the officer arrived. Police video released shows the man with his hands in the air prior to being shot and killed.

Initially police said they thought he was reaching in the window for something, but officials have since released video that shows the windows to his vehicle were rolled up. Shelby was charged with manslaughter Thursday.

“We have had almost 200 black men killed this year by police. It’s an enormous amount,” Smith said.

He said there are lessons that can be learned from Charlotte especially the lack of sensitivity from those who are affected by law enforcement presence.

“Salisbury can learn not to be insensitive,” he said.

Smith said Salisbury also needs to be transparent in community policing and there needs to be “candid conversation around when there are activities and events that are trying to build trust.”

He said there is a lot of responsibility on the city’s parks and recreation department to be the answer. There should be a collaboration between different units or departments.

“You can’t say ‘we are working on this, just trust us.’ There is no trust. Just to be told ‘we got this.’ We don’t want that anymore. We want to be a part of the process,” Smith said.

“These are sad times,” said Alvena “Al” Heggins, founder of the Human Praxis Institute.

The Human Praxis Institute is a Salisbury-based human relations firm that specializes in strategic planning, racial and equity training and mediation services. Heggins said she wrote the mayor and other leaders asking for the opportunity to present to them a human relations crisis response plan for the Salisbury area.

“My concern, my focus is to do my part in creating the safest, most welcoming, inclusive, healing and restorative community possible,” she said in her letter.

Heggins said her presentation will include more than just a “reactive component; it will include and emphasize the importance of proactive measures.”

“We cannot continue to ignore the deep work that needs to be done around social and racial equity. I believe that our ignoring what must be done is a mockery of our civic duty, a false voicing of shalom and the embracing of a craven disposition,” she said.

“For me, one of the most troubling things is the strained relationship between law enforcement and the black community. The institutional racism that supports and nurtures fear of others. We have to be willing to do the work that needs to be done to build trust,” Heggins said.

City Councilman Ken Hardin said when shootings of unarmed black men occur and protests follow, it’s almost like a split along racial and socioeconomic lines.

The black community sees it as a “manifestation of the anger and frustration we’ve heard,” while the white community he said, seems to not “understand the outcry and public protest.”

As to the people who are looting and rioting, Hardin said they are not protestors. “These are criminals.”

Of the people who ask Hardin if what’s happening in Charlotte and in other states could happen here, his answer is yes.

“There is intolerance on both sides. Blacks are fed up and whites don’t understand why they are upset. It’s created a powder keg not only in Salisbury, but around the world,” he said.

Hardin said Salisbury is not prepared for the violence and unrest that could escalate.

“It could happen. Something is going to happen. Maybe not like what’s happening in Charlotte,” he said.

Hardin also believes the black community should stop talking about inequity when they are not going to get out and vote, attend board meetings and create some long-range solutions.

“That’s my concern is that we don’t have a long term solution. That’s what we’ve got to do, whether it’s the black, the white or the collective,” Hardin said.

He said people should be a part of the solution, including getting involved in civic organizations, the political process, build wealth in their community, clean up the community, invest in the community, create businesses in the community.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.