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NC Sen. Jeff Jackson’s account of protests in Charlotte

June 1. FIRST PERSON. By Jeff Jackson. Last night I went into uptown at around 7 pm to do my part to help keep the peace.

Our city had already had a peaceful and powerful protest earlier that afternoon with a message of love and justice and it was important that the evening protest stayed safe and civil.

At the beginning there were roughly 1,500 people. That’s about half the number who were at the afternoon protest. The evening group was also much younger. I’d put the average age at about 24.

That meant the tone was audibly different. The conversations I had were different. It was a more personal perspective from people who weren’t just marching for others – they were also marching for themselves. There were more people in this crowd who felt that this issue directly concerns them and their friends, and you could hear that in their voices.

The leaders of the protest had met earlier that day with CMPD to discuss how to ensure the event was safe. As a result, the leaders placed experienced activists at the front of the march, in the middle, and in the rear. They kept the march moving, occasionally stopping for a few minutes to let people re-group, but not letting too much heat build in any one spot.

Alongside real anger and frustration were constant displays of compassion. I saw a woman trip and hurt her leg and the crowd immediately stopped and tended to her. Lots of people brought water bottles and were handing them out.

Law enforcement was present in various ways. There were some officers in regular uniform walking among the crowd, answering questions and chatting. There were also several officers on bicycles and motorcycles. Most of the police presence was blocking certain streets to keep the march contained uptown.

By the time the march got to the police station it had been going for over two hours and it had shrunk to maybe 300 people. About 10 officers stood outside the front door, motionless. One officer raised his fist in solidarity and was greeted with loud applause and cheering from the crowd. At one point someone threw a water bottle at the police and everyone turned around and yelled at him. There were some very tense moments near the police station, but after about 30 minutes the march headed back uptown.

Now it was about 10:40 p.m. The march had been going for over three hours. It wasn’t a coherent group anymore. There were less than 200 people. It had splintered into lots of little groups and there wasn’t any organization that I could see. I thought it was basically over so I started to head back to my car.

At 10:50 p.m. I heard the first flashbang. Then I saw the tear gas. I was two blocks away so I couldn’t tell what, if anything, precipitated its use (although I later read a CMPD statement that bottles and rocks were being thrown).

But the flashbang had a catalyzing and organizing effect on the remaining protesters, who instantly re-formed.

This marked the point of a clear shift in police tactics. Officers lined up shoulder-to-shoulder and walked block by block, toward the protesters, who similarly lined up shoulder-to-shoulder and waited for the police to move toward them.

Officers would then proceed down one block, wait five minutes, use a loudspeaker to tell the crowd to disperse, and then start walking toward the crowd. Then they would use tear gas and pepper bullets, which would cause the crowd to retreat one block.

This continued for several blocks, until eventually the remaining protesters scattered. Nine arrests were made.

I’m not aware of any injuries. As far as property damage, I heard reports of a few broken windows.

It’s really easy to see one picture or hear a snippet on the news and draw a conclusion about an event like this. What I saw was much more complex, much more human. If it’s one thing we all owe each other right now, it’s looking past the surface and trying to learn a little more about what’s really going on underneath.


What I learned last night is that the tenor of these events can change on a dime. But you can feel it when it happens. I also learned that the vast, vast majority of protesters were there to engage in peaceful, safe protest. Although many of them felt genuine anger, they understood what it meant to channel it productively and what type of conduct would undercut their message.

My thanks to the leadership of this event for working hard to keep everyone as safe as possible.

—Sen. Jeff Jackson represents Mecklenburg County District 37 in the NC Senate