The scene at Marshall Park, directly across from the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, was calm and dreary Tuesday night, but there was an underlying sense of anxious anticipation that permeated the somber setting. Dozens of posters reading: “We indict the system,” and “Black lives matter,” among others, were held high while event organizers passed around clipboards for signatures and reporters took comments from members of the crowd filtering in.
Around 200 people gathered there to show support for the family of 18-year-old Michael Brown, and others like him, following Monday’s announcement that officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted over the fatal shooting of the unarmed teenager that occurred on Aug. 9 in Ferguson Missouri.
The local event seemed, at first, to be more light-hearted than the situation’s background suggested. People brought their children (some in strollers), there were T-shirts being distributed, and people were introducing themselves and sharing laughs. But that illusion quickly disappeared when the rally began.
“No justice, no peace,” “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and similar phrases echoed frequently throughout the night. Rally leaders also provided an open platform for people to voice their opinions freely. Those voices carried wildly different messages, but one commonality was obvious throughout: Unity and accountability are key in the struggle to bridge social, racial and religious divides like the one tearing apart the small town of Ferguson, just outside of St. Louis, and we need to start taking action to prevent future incidents of racial injustice here in Charlotte.
Terrell Lawing, who says he’s personally been the victim of police brutality in the Queen City, wore a shirt that read: “No justice, no peace,” and he elaborated on that message later. “If I feel safe, then what, I’m at peace, right? If I’m at peace then I know I’m safe. See, you can’t have one without the other,” Lawing says. “Love, truth, peace, freedom and justice. These are principles we’re supposed to live by, but we don’t. If we don’t try, we’ll never know."
The rally began at the aforementioned Marshall Park and concluded on the steps of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department building at 601 E. Trade St. after a four-block march through Uptown.
The march provided an opportunity for the crowd to release a small buildup of tension that sprouted during a small confrontation between a young black woman and a young white man. The young man, who made sure to let everyone know he was an anarchist, had his face covered. The leaders of the rally had openly discouraged the use of any masks or bandanas simply because it’s illegal. The squabble came when the young woman told him to leave if he didn’t want to take it off, but rally leaders had made it explicitly clear that the night was going to be a peaceful one, and the crowd reinforced that notion, quickly diffusing the situation.
Once at the CMPD building, an extended moment of silence was taken. It lasted four-and-a-half minutes to represent the four-and-a-half hours that Brown’s body laid in the streets of Ferguson, in sight of his friends, family and neighbors, before finally being taken away for examination.
Major Jeff Estes of the CMPD lead the police force that kept an eye on the rally and stayed right with the crowd for much of the event. Estes says that he takes pride in protecting people’s right to free speech and assembly even when events like this one focus on controversies regarding police. “We’re sworn to uphold people’s constitutional rights, which include free speech. This is the essence of what we’re supposed to be doing, making sure that people can express their rights freely, speak freely, and protect that. It doesn’t matter what the message is. It could be anti-police, anti-government, anti-right-to-assembly, whatever it is we support it. We can’t pick and choose what speech is, we protect it all.”