When I first met LaWana Mayfield she was making a lunchtime presentation on for-profit prisons to a handful of elderly white folks at Myers Park United Methodist Church. It was around 2010, months before she announced her bid for city council.
While the District 3 city councilwoman's platform has since expanded, her message has remained much the same as it was back then when she could be found marching through the city's streets protesting inequality in its various forms — something she did for more than 25 years as an activist, she says.
One thing she wants her haters to know: she's not planning to shut up now.
"I'm doing exactly what I said I was going to do when I first ran for office, and that is highlighting what is happening in my community," she says.
Controversy has surrounded Mayfield since recent tweets of hers have made the news, including one on March 26 that equated some police officers with "homegrown terrorists." That led the president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Fraternal Order of Police, the police chief and wives of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers to speak out against her. Many people called for her to step down from the Charlotte City Council.
What I haven't seen reported is the text from the tweet that Mayfield was retweeting and commenting on when she made her controversial comment. Posted by NBC, via @NBCBLK, it refers to the shooting of Stephon Clark, shot and killed by two police officers in Sacramento on March 18. The original tweet reads, "Stephon Clark's grandmother Sequita Thompson: 'Why didn't you just shoot him in the arm, shoot him in the leg, send a dog, send a taser? Why? ... I just want justice for my baby.'"
On March 31, as the dust settled on news of Mayfield's tweets, the Associated Press reported: "Sacramento police shot Stephon Clark seven times from behind, according to autopsy results released Friday by a pathologist hired by Clark's family, a finding that calls into question the department's assertion the 22-year-old black man was facing officers and moving toward them when he was killed."
Charlotte media outlets have covered the Twitter-gate story by saying Mayfield is "under fire," with WCNC writing, "According to her Twitter page, Councilwoman Mayfield still has more than 4,000 followers, but she may be losing some voters after the latest Tweet." When she defended herself, also via Twitter, the headlines said she's "doubling down."
After Mayfield posted a tweet on May 31 specifically asking "So who is going work [sic] to remove the BAD cops?" WSOC reporter Paul Boyd posted a screenshot of the tweet, stating, "Fresh calls today for [Mayfield's] resignation after unequivocal broad statements like this that lump together all police officers."
According to Mayfield, whose district is in southwest Charlotte, her reality is different from the media's assumptions. "Good cops aren't paying attention to the media hype," she said. "I see them in the community every day. I've got support from officers — current and retired — that have come up to me and thanked me because they recognize that bad officers make their work more difficult."
More importantly, while the Charlotte media focuses on Mayfield's tweets it has failed to discuss what prompted her posts: the death of yet another young black man at the hands of the police.
I must admit, I feel a bit responsible for Mayfield's recent Twitter rant. When I thought to reach out to her for this column I reviewed our correspondence. The last written words to pass between us, the end of a conversation about First Amendment rights, were these, circa 2012, and they were written by me: "I'll urge you to be your own media. Video tape and take photos and blog. Show people what's going on. Don't wait for the media to notice. They probably won't. They want page views, because that's what drives ad revenue."
It's advice I've offered to many people over the years, though few take it. I realize it's not self-serving in a time when newspapers like this one could use that ad revenue. At the same time, I know how thinly stretched my media cohorts are as newsrooms slash staffs while the tenor of the day demands that the reporters who remain take on more and more work.
So when clickbait comes along – like a city councilwoman tweeting with a strong opinion, one who shared a link about a 9/11 conspiracy theory (stupidly, yes) in April – it's irresistible, since clicks equate to revenue for media companies.
"For seven years, I have posted so many things around housing, around community, around job creation, around coming out to the meetings to speak on the budget and those posts got no attention from the media," she said. "So all of this stuff I've tried to talk about to educate us, to try to uplift us, to try to put us in a position of power – the media doesn't want to talk about any of that, but they're going to focus on Twitter. So, I'm like, alright if that's the game we're gonna play then I'm just going to go straight to the people and say what I've got to say."
Don't expect her to hush up any time soon.