On Tuesday, April 16, I got a Twitter message from a friend I had met covering activism in Charlotte a few years ago. She has since moved to Atlanta, so she reached out with just six words, but they were enough to send chills down my back. “Why isn’t the city on fire?” the message read. And I didn’t really have an answer.
She sent the message 24 hours after the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department released body camera footage of the shooting of Danquirs Franklin by CMPD officer Wende Kerl that happened outside of a Burger King on March 25, followed by a longer video released on April 24. Officers were responding to multiple calls about a man in the Burger King with a gun, aiming it at people and starting fights, when they came across Franklin in the parking lot. At the time of their arrival, things seemed to have de-escalated a bit, as Franklin was calmly kneeling at the side of a vehicle, talking to the store’s general manager.
Upon the officers’ arrival, they begin shouting at Franklin to drop his gun, which was not in his hand. After about 20 seconds of shouting, Franklin reaches into his pocket for the gun, and as soon as he brings it out, Kerl shoots him twice. Franklin does not aim the weapon at anyone, nobody seems to be in direct danger. He appears to be trying to comply with the demands, lowering the gun so as to drop it.
What sticks with me is not the words that Danquirs Franklin utters after he’s shot, it’s the face he makes as he looks back at the officer who just put two bullets into his body, eventually killing him. You can hear him say, “You told me to,” but he doesn’t need to say it. His face screams it.
Monday’s release of the body cam footage was harder to watch than anything I’ve seen in quite some time, and I’ve watched plenty of those videos, unfortunately. It seems clear to me that, though he took some time to do so, Franklin was doing as he was told.
After it happened, he looked dumbfounded, staring back at the officer who just effectively ended his life as if it to say, “What on Earth made you do that?” Racial fear? A slip of the trigger finger? A true belief that her life or the life of someone else was in danger? We’ll never 100% know the answer, though it would be hard to justify the latter now that we’ve seen the video.
We’ll also never really know the answer to my friend’s question about the lack of community response — namely in the form of protest. On the evening of the video release, about 50 people gathered at Marshall Park to pay their respects to Franklin and speak about community issues around police violence. Much of the talk was about self-sufficiency within the black community and not waiting around for local government to fix the problems they see.
I’ve covered activism in this city for many years now. In recent years, these incidents have become all too common, yet the community reaction hasn’t. I was there in 2015 when protesters showed up in droves to march peacefully through the streets of Uptown in response to the mistrial of former CMPD officer Randall Kerrick, who shot and killed an unarmed Jonathan Ferrell in 2013. I was there in 2016, when the reaction to the killing of Keith Lamont Scott was more swift and destructive, beginning on the night of the actual shooting and turning into the Charlotte Uprising. And I was there in 2019, when Franklin’s shooting was met with a somber vigil and calls for nonviolent community organizing.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, and it’s not my place to critique or analyze the reactions of a community I’m not a part of to the repeated traumatic experience of watching another member of that community die on camera. Some people march. Some people call for justice through the courts. Some people call for that same justice system to be abolished.
I do worry about the effects of watching these videos on those who are so invested in their communities. I’ve watched people tire of this over the years. I’ve seen them check out.
I can’t in good conscious say I wish the city were burning, I certainly don’t, but I do wish I had an answer to why it’s not. It’s a question of human nature, which isn’t predictable and doesn’t always make sense.
What we will get an answer to in a couple months’ time is whether Kerl will face charges for the shooting. After watching the video, I believe she probably will, but I wouldn’t be surprised at the decision going either way. Whatever decision comes down, it won’t change that face looking back at her. And I wonder if that expression has stuck with her the way it’s stuck with me.