When I arrived to the Express Mart across the street from the CMPD Metro Division office on May 29 to attend a protest in response to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, I felt like I had been in that same situation many times before, and yet I truly did not know what to expect.
I have been covering activism in Charlotte for around 10 years now. It’s how I started my career in journalism, from Occupy Charlotte on through the years.
From climbing through thick woods around Duke Energy’s Marshall Steam Station to find where activists had stopped a train full of coal from leaving Mooresville, to following the round-the-clock protest marches surrounding the Democratic National Convention in 2012 until my feet were too blistered to walk.
I’ve also closely watched the growth and evolution of a movement that has grown impossible to ignore around the country in recent years — one that focuses on holding police accountable for their all-too-often unchecked violence against Black bodies.
Most popularly recognized as the Black Lives Matter movement, or the Movement for Black Lives (though both of those terms refer to specific organizations, so use them at your own discretion), Charlotte has unfortunately been all too familiar with the trauma of police violence.
Jonathan Ferrell, Janisha Fonville, Keith Lamont Scott and Danquirs Franklin were all shot and killed by CMPD officers, and those names come directly to mind because of the community reaction I witnessed in response to their killings. However, they’re just a fraction of the real toll.
And yet, something about George Floyd’s murder, the video of officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s back as his consciousness slipped away for the last time, just felt different.
We’ve all watched from afar as different cities have responded to police killings in their own way in the past, then sprung into action when it’s happened in our own cities. But something about that video of Floyd’s death struck a nerve, and the country rose up together for the first time.
Not only were organizers across the country planning simultaneous action in a more widespread way than we’d ever seen before, but folks who had never paid attention before suddenly started to realize this was no longer something they could ignore.
As Queen City Nerve publisher Justin LaFrancois and I stepped out of his car on that Friday night of May 29, he nonchalantly asked if he should “Go Live” from our Facebook account, meaning to live-stream the protest. I said sure, it couldn’t hurt, and went on my way tweeting some pics and videos and documenting the goings on of the evening.
What happened that night and through the weekend you can read about in this week’s cover story on page 6, but what happened on that Facebook Live page was something I had never seen before. Thanks in part to this new awakening that the country was experiencing, and also to Justin’s raw reporting skills and willingness to put himself in danger to tell the story truthfully as it was happening rather than rely on spin from any side of the issue, people locked in on his daily streams.
Justin and I walked around 30 miles each that weekend, with him walking even further as he continued nonstop coverage while I worked to put this paper together. The reaction he got showed us both why we risked everything to start this paper in the first place.
As of this writing, all of his live-streams collectively have garnered over 1.5 million views, a staggering number for two guys who just figured we’d check out a protest on a Friday night and stream it to see what happened. I don’t say all this to brag about social media numbers, I do not want to make it sound like an entire population’s trauma is our success story. I say it for quite the opposite reason.
We started this paper to bring people the news stories they need to know about from the viewpoint of the folks living through them on the ground without spin from politicians, officials or filtered through mainstream media outlets.
As a nation grieves, we want to connect people with others going through the same process, and the reaction we’ve gotten from community members has been overwhelming. It’s getting hard for Justin to move around and do his job without someone coming up and thanking him for his work.
It’s not about a cult of personality, or Justin getting locally famous off the grief of a community following George Floyd’s death, it’s about people who wouldn’t have been aware of what was happening if it weren’t for our work, and that’s what makes it all worth it. People have approached us continuously and told us that they wouldn’t have joined the protests if it weren’t for him, or that they haven’t been able to find a single source that covers these demonstrations in such a way that they feel they can fully trust it like they can trust Justin in his storytelling.
That is actually a depressing thought, but it also why we exist in the first place, and I’m so happy that we do in this time when it’s important to hear the stories from the folks on the ground who are putting their bodies on the line to fight for what they believe in.
Now as President Trump, who’s built an immovable base of support by convincing his followers that the media is the enemy, begins to huff and puff and threaten to send in all his military might to suppress protests across the country, it’s more important than ever to have these independent voices telling stories as they happen.
We’re more than happy and humble to serve that purpose, and we thank every one of you who has followed along.