Judging by the facial expression of the young man with dreadlocks and a personal property bag in his hand, he was not expecting a standing ovation upon his release from the Mecklenburg County Detention Center on a Saturday afternoon, but that’s what Charlotte Uprising’s new Jail Support group is for.
The young man, who walked into the plaza on East 4th Street to cheers and claps from a crowd of about 15 people on Saturday afternoon, told Queen City Nerve he had been arrested for marijuana possession in the early morning hours while driving into the city on North Davidson Street.
Police were blocking a road off, as a small group of Friday-night protesters were still marching somewhere in Uptown, and they stopped him and searched his vehicle. Upon finding a blunt roach in his backseat, the man was taken into custody, with officers telling him they weren’t “taking any chances” with protests continuing around the city, according to the arrestee.
The man’s arrest was indicative of why members of the local activist group Charlotte Uprising formed the Jail Support group on Friday, May 29, as CMPD officers made their first arrests during a protest against police violence on Beatties Ford Road in west Charlotte.
A bail fund that became something more
The group was originally created by core members of Charlotte Uprising as a bail fund and has continued to operate as such, bailing out more than 120 people during its first 10 days in existence. But the space on East 4th Street has also become something more: a pit stop for protesters, a space where marchers can stop and rest or find a friend before walking into Uptown to find where the bigger group is marching.
It’s also become a support hub for those being released from jail, regardless of how they got there, as with the man Queen City Nerve spoke to on Saturday. He was happy to have quick access to sanitizer upon his release, followed by a Newport cigarette and a lighter.
For those who have spent countless hours on volunteer shifts at Jail Support, it’s become a home, too. As Queen City Nerve sat in with the Jail Support group for much of Saturday evening into the late night, group members shared stories of the sometimes chaotic events of the last week.
An older white woman who was working a shift until midnight told group members how she had went home after her last shift and watched videos about not misgendering folks who are trans or nonbinary, as some Charlotte Uprising members and other volunteers identify. “I know about pronouns, I know what to say now,” she said, beaming.
In the afternoon, as the temperature broke the 90-degree mark, a group of five skateboarders rolled up after catching wind that Jail Support had multiple coolers full of water and Gatorade. They were grateful for the refreshments. Later in the night, Charlotte Solid Waste Services employees pulled up with a truck to relieve Jail Support of any full trash bags. At first reluctant to take up volunteers on their offers of food, they then returned to the large tubs holding snacks and each grabbed a bag of chips before heading out.
The chips and drinks are only a fraction of the supplies that Jail Support volunteers have collected in their 10 days outside of the detention center. Tubs and boxes surrounding the space hold menstrual items, towels, clothes, face masks, gloves, cleaning supplies and other household items, along with plenty of first-aid supplies.
“We are trying to fill in the gaps where people don’t even conceive that there is a need or that there is even a gap there,” said Marcelle Vielot, a regular Jail Support volunteer, emphasizing that while one goal of the supplies is to keep the ongoing protests sustainable, that’s only a piece of the mission.
“Especially people who have been incarcerated, to be able to come out here and get not only the physical assistance but also the mental assistance, with the love,” Vielot continued, “because that community love is so uplifting and recharging, and that allows people to be able to not just come back and protest but just know that they are accepted by their community whenever they come out. This isn’t just strictly for protesters, this is for our community.”
More than jail support, Charlotte Uprising holds teach-ins and workshops
Ash Williams, a leader with Charlotte Uprising since the group formed during the Keith Lamont Scott protests in 2016, was in Winston-Salem when the protest on Beatties Ford Road took a turn on May 29. Williams immediately got on the phone with other core members of the group who were in Charlotte and made plans for Jail Support.
“I was like, ‘Can I set up a Google number for jail support? Are y’all ready?’ And they were like, ‘Yes,’” Williams recalled matter-of-factly. “And that’s it, that’s how it all started.”
Williams came to Charlotte the following Wednesday, and has been helping to lead trainings, not only for volunteers at the site but for community members throughout the city.
On June 5, Charlotte Uprising members hosted People’s University, a series of workshops at Freedom Park for which more than 200 people showed up. The event featured 20-minute teach-ins about the history of resistance to police violence in Charlotte, direct action, jail support and protest safety.
The following day’s protest medic training at Veterans Park turned out more than 100 people, but was cut short when police arrived and claimed it was a protest, though it looked more like a picnic. They told organizers that they would call in backup, so the group dispersed.
Despite that bittersweet conclusion, Williams told Queen City Nerve later that day that the turnouts for Charlotte Uprising workshops have lifted the spirits of organizers who had come to believe that their efforts in 2016 had all been for naught.
“I thought that there was actually a lack of invigoration since 2016,” Williams said. “Like when the city successfully pivoted everybody to affordable housing [away from police violence], we thought that we failed. And a lot of things, including how we’ve gotten people out of jail, but just the impact of our jail support program, show that this shit is thriving, this shit is alive, this shit is lit as fuck. And it’s just going to get more lit because more people are getting more informed.”
Despite recent arrests, the mission continues
The Jail Support group doesn’t plan on slowing down that mission, despite one obstacle on Sunday, June 7, when two Charlotte Uprising members found themselves as the arrestees rather than the ones tasked with getting people out of jail.
During a march just before midnight, some protesters in a small group of about 30 people confronted Captain Brad Koch, who has been marching alongside protesters throughout the past week. One protester with Charlotte Uprising, Glo Merriweather, demanded that Koch not walk with the group. Merriweather’s fellow marchers got between the two of them, afraid that Merriweather would be targeted for arrest.
Quickly, officers on dirt bikes who had been waiting nearby arrived at the scene and pulled up on the group. After the pushing that ensued, Merriweather was arrested for assault on a government official, though a video of the incident filmed by Keep Charlotte Boring and posted to the CMPD Twitter account hardly shows anything that could be defined as an assault.
Merriweather and another member of the group who was arrested in the fracas were out and back at Jail Support by 2 a.m. thanks to the efforts of those who have gotten used to this process over the last 10 days.
The group plans to continue their work this afternoon at the People’s Budget Speakout, planned for 4 p.m. in front of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center. The event will take place before a 5 p.m. Charlotte City Council meeting at which council members will vote on the coming year’s fiscal budget, 40% of which is marked to go to the police department.
Williams said they’re aware of council member Braxton Winston’s campaign to defund all chemical agents used by CMPD in light of the ongoing protests, but doesn’t feel it goes far enough. As they have since 2016, Charlotte Uprising supports a full defunding of the police department, closer to what the Minneapolis City Council committed to yesterday.
“I’m paying attention to it as a way to remind people that it’s not enough,” Williams said of Winston’s PowerxVote campaign. “And Braxton naming that is also part of the problem, because he knows the impact of the police violence. He should understand the extent to which the police have ruined people’s lives who are protesting, but also people who are not. We want to say that he, if no one else, should be advocating for more. We are disappointed in his reform ideas as we have so loudly said that what we need is a total change or an abolition. ”
Winston has responded to these critiques online, stating that he agrees that they should go further, but he is struggling to find support from other council members for even his current campaign, which he views as a first step.
The CashApp handle for Charlotte Uprising’s bail fund is $MeganVanFleet19. The VenMo is @Megan-Van-Fleet-19. The bail fund hotline for those looking to get their friends or loved ones out is 980-224-2097.