Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Kerr Putney hosted a divided crowd at a town hall meeting on Thursday night just blocks from where one of his officers shot and killed 27-year-old Danquirs Franklin outside of a Burger King on Beatties Ford Road on Monday.
Thursday’s event at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church was dubbed “Let’s Talk” by CMPD, and attracted people whose emotions ranged from angry to fearful to thankful for Putney and his department.
Putney began the event by restating what he’s often discussed publicly in the past; that he personally understands the widespread distrust for police and that at some points in our history it has been earned.
“However, we have to be careful when we combine that history with a flashpoint and an incident like we had earlier this week,” Putney said. “It’s hard to differentiate emotionally.”
After CMPD lawyer Mark Newbold addressed the crowd about the legalities involved with the use of lethal force by police, Putney opened up the floor for a Q&A that lasted for the rest of the event. Many of the questions he answered centered on race and policing. For example, one woman who said she worked in banking asked why so much of the question around an “imminent threat” to an officer is subjective, to which Putney responded that it is far more objective than many people believe.
Another man asked why officers weren’t trained to aim at a suspect’s legs, arms or weapon. Putney told the man that officers are trained to aim for the largest target, which is the chest, so as not to miss and harm anyone else.
About halfway through the event, a group of more than 20 protesters who had been setting up a memorial for Franklin at Burger King entered the room and sat in some pews up front. Some reacted loudly to comments from Putney and others, drawing a reaction from Pastor Clifford Jones, who asked that the new arrivals be respectful, then implied that they were only there to be loud and get seen.
The pastor’s reaction underscored the divide in the room. When he pointed at the rows of pews where the protesters were seated and said, “This will not make a better community,” it drew a standing ovation from about half of the audience.
In comparison, when Myka Johnson, an organizer with local activist group Charlotte Uprising, told Putney that the protesters were not there to listen to what he had to say but rather to “show you that some people in this room are watching the shit that you’ve been doing to the people in our communities for years,” it was met with applause from other parts of the crowd.
Just before 8 p.m., activist Andrew Woods gave a passionate speech directed at Putney in which Woods stated that he had picked up a shell casing related to Monday’s shooting after detectives had left. Putney would later state that CMPD have possession of all shell casings related to the case.
Woods questioned the competence of CMPD’s investigative teams before turning to the crowd and shouting, “Do not talk to these fucking people,” and marching out. Many of Woods’ fellow activists would follow him outside, where about 30 of them stood facing more than 20 police officers milling around the entrance of the church. Some debated police while others live-streamed the goings on around them.
Questions still remain about Franklin’s shooting, as eyewitness accounts have differed regarding the circumstances around it. On Thursday, Putney reminded those in attendance that he does not have the power to release any body-worn camera footage from officers involved in the incident, but that a superior court judge will make the decision in due time.
“What I can tell you is when you look at the video, just like with any case, your perspective can very well be supported before you even see it,” Putney said. “If you believe every time the police come out they’re hunting black people, men in particular, you can see that. If you believe every time an officer raises his weapon against somebody who’s armed it’s justified, you’re going to see that, too.”
Outside of the church on Thursday, Charlotte Uprising organizer Glo Merriweather told Queen City Nerve that they weren’t surprised by the reaction the activists faced from those in attendance who cheered any time someone told them to quiet down.
“This is a church and we understand respectability politics. When folks are clinging to prayer and to all those different spaces, they may not have as much respect for the disruption, even though the disruption is biblical, too,” Merriweather said. “We understand that, but we also understand that those people also have fear, they’re afraid. So our job is to do what radical folks have always done. We’re always a small group, we never expect for people to fully understand or fully believe that the future can change, but we still have to manifest it, we still have to speak on it.”
After the event inside wrapped up, attendees filed outside where some protesters still milled about. Others had walked back to Burger King to work on Franklin’s memorial.
City council member Justin Harlow, who represents District 2 where the killing took place, said he was happy to see such a large turnout for an event planned on such short notice.
“I’m proud and happy to have a chief like Chief Putney to be vulnerable and put himself out there in front of community members and really take an open forum format and not have much structure to it,” Harlow said. “That can go a lot of different places, we saw a little bit, it can go awry, but I think that having these conversations, giving the community a platform to voice their anger, voice their support, voice their suggestions, is so important. But we do need to go a step further. We’ve been having a lot of these conversations for two-and-a-half years now, so rightfully folks are frustrated with the idea that conversation is just not enough.”
When asked what the viable next step could look like, Harlow was not specific.
“From a policy-making standpoint we have to say, ‘Where can we — within the legal realm and within a reasonable standpoint as well — help shape a different policy or a different outlook on our policing policies while also understanding that we can’t totally fix systemic bias, we can’t totally fix systemic barriers that create some of these situations?’” he said. “What we can do is look at positive ways to train and positive ways to impact our police force while also continuing the dialogue with passionate community members.”
As for Merriweather, they and other activists will continue to communicate with Franklin’s family and make sure that his legacy is respected.
“What we know about when black folks die is people rush to theorize about their deaths before they rush to have any amount of condolences or compassion, so we want to make sure that we continue to remind the city of Charlotte that this was a man, a person, a father,” Merriweather said, “but also we have some big steps coming, that’s for sure. Our goal is that this never takes place again.”