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5 Things To Know: CMS Supt. Announces Clear Backpacks, Other Safety Measures

...and four more stories from Nov. 28 - Dec. 4, 2021

CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston said he has ordered clear backpacks for CMS high schools but they won’t arrive until February. (AdobeStock)

CMS Superintendent Announces Clear Backpacks for High Schools

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Earnest Winston wrote a letter to staff and parents on Friday addressing what he called “a crisis of student aggression and violence within our community and our schools,” and describing a number of new safety measures his staff is considering. 

In a message sent to CMS families through the school system’s Connect 5 notification system, Winston wrote that he met with District Attorney Spencer Merriweather, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the “Charlotte Mecklenburg chief of police” (though it’s unclear if he met with CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings or CMS Police Chief Melissa Mangum), and other city and county leaders on Thursday to discuss and evaluate solutions to rising violence in schools. 

Winston stated that his office has ordered clear backpacks for CMS high schools, though delivery will be delayed until February; dedicated a team to implementing a tool for middle- and high-school students to report threats anonymously; and doubled the number of random safety screenings in secondary schools. His team is also considering implementing metal detectors and/or wands in schools, as well as exploring potential violence-interruption programs like the Alternatives to Violence program being implemented elsewhere in Charlotte

Parents and officials have been calling for action after a year that has seen more than 15 guns confiscated from students in CMS schools and a number of incidents in which schools have been locked down due to widespread fighting on campuses, including at Hopewell and West Mecklenburg high schools following incidents at those schools in November. 

“The news of the tragic shooting this week in a Michigan school is disturbing and hits close to home as we see increased fights in schools and more guns on campus. This is unacceptable,” Winston wrote. “We are facing a crisis of student aggression and violence within our community and our schools. Guns do not belong in schools or in the hands of children.” 

Kamala Harris Visits Charlotte to Discuss Infrastructure

Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Charlotte on Thursday to discuss the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and its effects on North Carolinians. The visit was a part of her efforts to advocate for the administration’s investments in national infrastructure, as well as climate action and environmental justice. She was joined by Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Rep. Alma Adams of Charlotte, Gov. Roy Cooper, and Mayor Vi Lyles. 

While in Charlotte, Harris toured the public transit facility at the Charlotte Area Transit System’s bus garage, getting a look at the electric buses the city is using as part of a pilot program. She also met with transit workers and delivered remarks about how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will upgrade North Carolina’s infrastructure.

Vice President Kamala Harris (facing camera, far left) visits the bus garage in Charlotte with, from left, Gov. Roy Cooper, U.S. Rep. Alma Adams and Mayor Vi Lyles. (Photo courtesy of Office of Alma Adams)

Ahead of the visit, Rep. Adams released an infographic explaining how the bipartisan infrastructure law will benefit North Carolina. 

“This is a critical moment for transportation and mobility in our growing region,” Adams wrote in a statement following Thursday’s visit. “That’s the reason Vice President Harris and Secretary Buttigieg visited Charlotte: mobility. Not only in terms of roads, bridges, buses, and rail; but also in terms of social and economic mobility. A strong network of roads, rail, and pedestrian options can help move people not only to jobs, church, school, and the doctor but also into new opportunities and eventually the middle class.”

County Expands COVID-19 At-Home Test Kit Distribution Program

​Mecklenburg County Public Health announced Friday that, starting Monday, Dec. 6, free COVID-19 at-home test kits will be available at additional locations around the county. MCPH partnered with Charlotte Mecklenburg Library to offer at-home test kits earlier this year to residents facing barriers to testing such as difficulty accessing local testing sites or inability to purchase an at-home kit elsewhere. Test kits are available via curbside pick-up at designated library branches and public health locations, which you can find here

Test-positivity rate in Mecklenburg County. (Graph courtesy of MCPH)

According to the most recent COVID-19 data release on Friday, there were 162,292 COVID-19 cases and 1,288 deaths due to COVID-19 reported among Mecklenburg County residents at that point. That’s an increase of 5,984 cases and 33 deaths since the last data release on Nov. 3. 

According to more in-depth data on cases that occurred through Dec. 1, there had been an average of 174 confirmed COVID-19 cases per day over the past week, and on average, 155 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 on any given day, both increasing trends. The 7.9% average test-positivity rate among county residents over the last week was also an increase.

Latin American Coalition Purchases Longtime Home

Latin American Coalition (LAC) executive director José Hernández Paris announced Thursday that the organization has purchased the building where they have operated for the past 12 years. According to a release that followed a community event on Thursday morning, LAC will launch a cultural center from the building, located at 4938 Central Ave.

José Hernández Paris speaks at Thursday’s event. (Photo courtesy of LAC)

While Latin American Coalition provides services mainly to immigrants in the Charlotte area, Hernández Paris said the goal is to also include children who were born in the United States to immigrant parents to help them stay connected to their roots. The cultural center will allow them to practice conversational skills and typical dances from their countries of origin, among other things.

“That would be a space for the community to use for their own benefit. We are also thinking of improving our relationships with students who will be serving the community while they grow professionally” said Hernández Paris. The organization hopes to be able to increase their annual reach from serving 7,000 Charlotte-area families to 10,000. 

Missing Woman Among Four Murders

A 14-year-old girl was among five people killed by gun violence in a violent week for Charlotte, though her killing was not ruled a murder by investigators. It began at around 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 27, when police responded to an assault call at a home on Olando Street in the Druid Hills neighborhood in north Charlotte and found 14-year-old Vanessa Garcia suffering from a gunshot wound. She was pronounced dead by MEDIC upon their arrival. Police arrested an 18-year-old man at the scene, and after an interview, charged him with involuntary manslaughter, statutory rape, and possession of a stolen firearm. 

Shortly before 6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 27, police responded to a domestic violence call on Sadler Road in southwest Charlotte and found 58-year-old Samuel Gregory suffering from a gunshot wound. He was pronounced dead by MEDIC upon their arrival. 


Shortly before 5 a.m. on Sunday morning, police responded to a noise complaint call at a home on Harland Street in the Oakdale area of northwest Charlotte and found three gunshot victims. MEDIC pronounced 34-year-old Sir Battle dead on the scene, while the two other victims were transported to the hospital with life-threatening injuries. On Tuesday, police announced the arrest of a 29-year-old man who has been charged with Battle’s murder as well as two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and possession of a firearm by a felon. 

Police announced Monday that a 21-year-old woman who had been missing for a week was found dead on Harrisburg Road near J.H. Gunn Elementary School. According to a CMPD release, Denee Rawls was last seen leaving her home on Robur Court in north Charlotte on Nov. 22, and her family reported her missing on Nov. 24. On Wednesday, the investigation led detectives to her body. They quickly arrested a 22-year-old man who was identified as Rawls’ boyfriend, charging him with murder. 

Just after 5:15 p.m. on Thursday, police responded to a shooting call on Lawyers Road near East W.T. Harris Boulevard where they found 48-year-old Detreye Walker suffering from a gunshot wound. He was pronounced dead upon arrival by MEDIC. In a release, CMPD stated that Walker knew his assailant, and that investigators were speaking to a person of interest and not seeking any other suspects. At the time of this writing, no charges had been filed in the killing. 

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