The first time I saw a Black person killed by police I was 5 years old. Living on Burkland Drive meant you could see the entirety of the Grier Heights neighborhood, known by me and my fellow residents as Griertown, from the top of the hill that I lived on. My cousins and I survived poverty not because we were exceptional but because our mothers put their wellbeing on the line to scrape together a way of life that could remind us that a different way of living was possible.
That storyline of struggle is one that permeates throughout the city of Charlotte; it’s a story of Black exceptionalism that does not benefit anyone, but instead feeds into neoliberal notions of success and derails the ways that policing surveillance and white supremacy nurture the world we live in — a world that kills black people for white comfort.
Charlotte has responded yet again to civilian uprisings in reaction to the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. This city, however, is not new to this.
Since the death of Keith Lamont Scott in 2016, organizations like Charlotte Uprising and the Southeast Asian Coalition have led and propelled a radical political shift in the city, to nurture the need to defund the CMPD.
The power of necropolitics is that it demands the state, more specifically the police state, and in this case the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, to be the judge, jury, and executioner, deciding how some people may live and how others must die in the name of social and political power.
In the neighborhoods where I grew up — Griertown, Little Rock, and Boulevard Homes — poor Black people have known since birth that our lives could be snatched away at the quick movement of a police officer’s finger.
Charlotte Leaders Need the Will to Defund the Police
Charlotte’s city government has a long history of centrist mayors who have feeble politics but are saddled with the job of trying to get their fellow representatives to see the value in Black life. Systems hold power and resources, and while a performative gesture to commission the painting of “Black Lives Matter” on a street in Uptown can feel like a real victory in these times of upheaval, it erases the hard-fought struggles that black creatives in Charlotte have had to fight for institutional investment in their work.
It also does not stop the terror that rains down on poor Black communities at the hands of the CMPD — communities that are being pushed out via gentrification while those who are left are over-policed due to the rapid influx of new white neighbors who are quick to call the police on Black people for just about anything. Their dialing hands may as well be trigger fingers.
The call to defund CMPD is a call to trust our communities. It requires us to no longer provide resources to systems that show us time and time again that they are dependent on our marginalization to sustain themselves. No amount of reforms, community conversations, or holding hands with the police will change the core of what the police do. Police protect property over the lives of people, that will not change unless we defund their ability to target and kill Black people.
As Mariam Kaba said in her latest essay for the New York Times, “We should redirect the billions that now go to police departments toward providing health care, housing, education, and good jobs. If we did this, there would be less need for the police in the first place. We can build other ways of responding to harms in our society.”
A Tragic Cycle of CMPD Violence
Much of my life has been marked by certain milestones. I was a junior in high school when Jonathan Ferrell was shot and killed by CMPD officer Randall Kerrick, a freshman in college when Janisha Fonville was shot and killed by CMPD officer Anthony Holzhauer and a sophomore in college when Keith Lamont Scott was shot and killed by CMPD officer Brentley Vinson.
In those same years, I have also seen Charlotteans take for granted Black trans and queer organizers as they put their bodies on the line for Black people over and over again.
Charlotte has a pattern of engagement: A Black person is killed, the city council responds by saying their hands are tied, a charming Black police chief responds by saying that they “engaged in the community” and leaders across the city organize community conversations that leave everyone feeling good about themselves. Everyone walks away apathetic to the legacy of Black death that we have all become accustomed to … until it happens again and the cycle repeats.
CMPD currently receives $290 million of taxpayers dollars — more than 40% of the entire city budget — to target, brutalize, kill, and defend structural property over the safety of the people they are supposed to work for.
The call for defunding police asks that our society create a new common sense, one that asks to trust our communities’ abilities to handle harm. The mass incarceration system does not keep us safe.
Charlotte for Black Futures Demands Change
The newly founded coalition Charlotte For Black Futures, of which I am a partner, has released demands that would begin the process of defunding the police. We have called for the divestment of CMPD from all Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, colleges and universities. We also ask that no department salary increases occur with funds from the 2021 Charlotte city budget, but instead that all those funds be used to increase salaries for other city workers, or be put toward affordable housing, reentry programs, transportation, mental health, and other community health and wellness infrastructure.
Lastly, we demand that the city of Charlotte acknowledge and take accountability for our pain and injustice by issuing a proclamation apologizing for their historic role in slavery and the lasting, negative impact of slavery on current generations of Black people and that a board and task force be created to explore monetary reparations for Black individuals in Charlotte.
A Charlotte that is actually invested in prioritizing Black life will be one that is able to face the hard truths. It will be a Charlotte with the political will to show up for Black people in tangible ways. That requires us to be brave regardless of how it may implicate ourselves and our culpability in the new world we need to build.
As a thriving center for business, cultural production, and commerce, Charlotte has been largely left out of the national conversation on police violence. Charlotte is burdened with the crutch of white liberals and Black politicians focused on protecting their positions as beacons of social change rather than the safety of Black people.
In order to see a day where the police stop targeting and killing Black people, it requires us to look at abolition, not as a catch-all but a way of seeing a world in which we address Charlotte’s internalized white superiority head-on.
If not, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes, at the price of Black people’s lives, and the blood will remain on our hands.