CHARLOTTE — Now it’s Charlotte’s turn in an unwanted spotlight. The story is familiar – white police officer, unarmed black man, a shooting and the one without the gun dead in the street. Loved ones grieve, a mother holds a Winnie the Pooh doll from a childhood not too many years past and protesters demand action.
Charlotte is not Ferguson, Mo., or New York City – not this time. Randall Kerrick, the 28-year-old officer who killed 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell in September 2013, was arrested and charged with voluntary manslaughter. And now the public waits for a resolution. Kerrick made his first, brief court appearance on Thursday. The next is scheduled for early next year – this will take a while.
In September 2013, Ferrell was a former Florida A&M football player who was working two jobs and planning to return to college and marry his fiancée. Apparently disoriented after a car accident, he knocked on a door for help, alarming the woman inside who called 911. Three officers responded, with one firing a Taser that didn’t work or failed to stop Ferrell, according to police reports of that night. Kerrick drew his gun and fired 12 times, with 10 shots hitting Ferrell.
With a prompt arrest, grand jury appearances and charges, you could say this Southern city could teach bigger cities something about procedure. The prosecutor specializes in cases against police and other public officials. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, led by chief Rodney Monroe, who is African American, is not Cleveland, where a white police officer shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice as he held a toy gun and the police department was excoriated in a Justice Department report.
Monroe made a presentation at this week’s Charlotte city council meeting on the need for trust between police and the public. He outlined what the department currently does, and what it plans to do – keep track of profiling complaints and put body cameras on officers. On Thursday night’s CBS Evening News, with several other chiefs, Monroe spoke on effective policing policies and the issue of diversity in policing. “How do we get through these instances and communicate with our communities in a way that allows us to move forward?” he said.
Though protests in Charlotte have hardly been characterized by the size or the angry intensity of those seen around the country and broadcast on the national news, the voices of citizens demanding justice are growing louder, connecting the Kerrick case to calls for better relationships between communities of color and the police. Places of worship have been the settings of several of these calls for justice, not surprising in this city of churches. In fact, on Thursday morning in Marshall Park, close to the courthouse, a few protesters gathered in the morning chill for a prayer to start the day, though a planned march around the courthouse was cancelled.
Sunshine Anderson, who was there, said she believes in the power of prayer but said more is needed. The R&B singer’s hit “Heard It All Before” could characterize how she feels about the usual calls for patience. Anderson, 40, who returned to her North Carolina home several years ago, said, “There has been more emphasis on music and clothes. Some young people, they’re lost.” Now, she said, “It’s good to see the protests and rallies,” a reawakening among young people in the activism she said her parents taught to her.
In the Kerrick case, Anderson said she felt the charges should have been “way more than manslaughter.” Ferrell ran toward the police, unarmed, disoriented, looking for help, she said. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand that.”
Later on Thursday, in the early afternoon, a small group waited at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse for Kerrick’s first appearance. Alexis Cureton said she was there to support the family of Jonathan Ferrell, and to change how the world views her 13-year-old nephew. “That’s my baby,” said Cureton, 25. “He’s just getting older and so big. … I don’t want the same thing happening to him. I don’t want him to be afraid.” Cureton said, “We need to keep marching because this is a problem – not just black people – we need to be aware.” In Kerrick’s case, “I want to hear from him, I want him to admit he did something wrong.”