Charlotte-area activists are lobbying for changes in police training and oversight after a Charlotte-Mecklenburg officer shot an unarmed African American.
Organizations ranging from Mothers of Murdered Offspring to the Nation of Islam and Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP urged greater authority for the Citizens Review Board and improved training for officers at a Sept. 16 press conference at the Government Center.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer Randall Kerrick, who has been on the force two years, was charged with voluntary manslaughter and released on $50,000 bond on Sept. 14, hours after he shot and killed Jonathan Ferrell, 24, in East Charlotte.
Ferrell, who was unarmed, approached three officers after crashing his car early Sept. 14. Police responded around 2:30 a.m. to a call by a woman who reported someone banging on her door.
CMPD Chief Rodney Monroe reported police tried unsuccessfully to stop Ferrell with a Taser before he was shot multiple times. Ferrell died at the scene.
“We’re not asking, we’re demanding they initiate an independent citizens review board,” said John Barnett, founder and president of Gastonia-based Truth and Healing Under God. “Why? To oversee the CMPD.”
Since its initiation in 1997 as a response to a spate of deadly confrontations between police and African Americans, the review panel has been roundly criticized for its findings in favor of police.
A poll of Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents cited by Matt Newton, an activist with crbreform.com, found that 30 percent of respondents have a negative view of police.
“That bond of trust has broken here and it continues to erode to the tune of a quarter of a million people,” he said.
Race has become an issue in the debate over how and why deadly force is used by police against African Americans. Barnett and Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP President Rev. Kojo Nantambu cited six CMPD-involved shooting deaths over the last 15 months as well as confrontations from New York and San Francisco that generated national media attention as confirmation that police accountability is warranted.
“It’s painful to know that on any given day in this country that an African American male can be killed for no reason by the people who are supposed to protect him,” Nantambu said: “This is not an anomaly for this country, nor is this an anomaly for this city. We need to remember Amadou Diallo, who was shot 41 times reaching for his wallet. We need to remember Derrick Bell, who was trying to celebrate the end of his single life and wound up losing his life with a car riddled with bullets for no reason.”
Said Barnett: “We do have problems. It’s not a Trayvon (Martin) incident. This young man was trying to get married in the upcoming year.”
Barnett also urged revocation of Kerrick’s $50,000 bond, charging that the seriousness of the crime deserves a higher threshold.
“(Kerrick) is out on $50,000 as if Afro-American lives doesn’t mean anything,” Barnett said. “A mother lost her son. (Ferrell) wasn’t a thug or hanging out on the streets. He went to college. Aspired to marry his (fiancée) next year.”
“We’re asking that the Citizens Review Board be strengthened and given the power it was put here to do in 1997,” Newton said. “Today is a day that should not happen. Saturday was a day that should not have happened. We are calling upon City Council to do the right thing. It’s there in front of them.”
Dick Hester, president of the Charlotte chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, agreed. “This story is not just a Charlotte story, it’s a national story,” he said “My question would be how could they ignore it?”
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