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‘I’m not shy to tell them how I feel,’ young black girl says of wrenching Charlotte testimony

Speaking at a citizens' forum in front of Charlotte's city council, a young girl named Zianna Oliphant made a tearful plea to her city, saying "We are black people and we shouldn't have to feel like this." (Video: City of Charlotte)
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Almost too small to reach the microphone, 9-year-old Zianna Oliphant stepped to the podium Monday at the Charlotte City Council meeting.

Six days had passed since the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott — a period marked by anger and unrest in North Carolina’s largest city. Zianna had come to discuss race relations. More specifically, the young girl wanted to talk to city leaders and police about being black.

“I’ve come here today to talk about how I feel, and I feel like that we are treated differently than other people,” she said. “I don’t like how we’re treated. Just because of our color — doesn’t mean anything to me.

“I believe that …”

Then, she bowed her head and broke down in tears.

“You’re doing great,” someone shouted from the crowd. “You’re doing a great job.”

“Don’t stop,” another adult chimed in. “Do not stop!”

Amid pressure, Charlotte police release videos in shooting of Keith Lamont Scott

At the first council meeting since Woods was fatally shot, many Charlotte residents sharply criticized Mayor Jennifer Roberts, Police Chief Kerr Putney and other city leaders for how they responded to the deadly encounter and for how information was conveyed to the public.

Protesters had clogged the city’s streets night after night, calling on police to release video of the shooting. Putney first said he had no plans to release the footage to the public, telling reporters that “transparency is in the eye of the beholder.”

The department ultimately released two videos, neither of which answered a key question: Was Scott pointing a gun at police when he was fatally shot? (As it turned out, one of the officers failed to turn on his body camera when he responded to the call, which goes against department policy.)

On Monday night at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center, less than 10 miles from the scene of Scott’s fatal encounter with police, residents flooded the council meeting to voice their displeasure.

“Hands down! Shoot back!” they shouted. “No justice, no peace!”

They also demanded that authorities “release, release — the whole damn tape,” according to the Charlotte Observer.

One speaker, Henry Lee, demanded that the mayor and police chief step down.

“The way it was handled, the secrecy, the lies — we don’t deserve this,” he told the council, according to the Observer. “People are losing their lives, and you are backing these people with these policies. You don’t deserve to be the mayor of this fine city. You are on the verge of bringing this fine city to its knees — step down.”

Two lives in Charlotte, cut short by violence, are forever linked

Zianna later told CBC News that black people in Charlotte are protesting because, “All we want is just to have our equal rights and we want to be treated the same way as other people.”

She also told NBC News that she knew the “grown-ups” would not say that. So, although she was a little nervous Monday night, “I just decided to go up there and tell them how I feel.”

During the emotionally charged council meeting, the young girl got up to say her piece. She wore a T-shirt decorated with a rainbow-colored skull-and-crossbones, with a bow and hearts floating from it.

A young boy helped her lower the microphone.

“We are black people, and we shouldn’t have to feel like this,” Zianna said, sobbing. “We shouldn’t have to protest because y’all are treating us wrong. We do this because we need to and have rights.”

Zianna said she was born and raised in Charlotte. But until recently, she said, “I’ve never felt this way.”

“I can’t stand how we’re treated,” Zianna told the city council, as tears streamed down her cheeks.

“It’s a shame that our fathers and mothers are killed, and we can’t even see them anymore. It’s a shame that we have to go to that graveyard and bury them. And we have tears, and we shouldn’t have tears.

“We need our fathers and mothers to be by our side.”

On Tuesday, Zianna explained why she was crying.

“I was just feeling like what the police are doing to us, just because of our skin, is not right,” she told NBC News, “and I was kind of emotional because, like, the things I said is like powerful to me, so that’s why I started crying.”

Zianna’s mother, Precious Oliphant, told the news station that her children are in a police youth league and have grown up seeing law enforcement officers as role models but that they have also seen discrimination in their day-to-day lives — such as the times, she said, she has been pulled over for what she considers irrelevant issues.

“I was also emotional because I shouldn’t have to enlighten my kids on discrimination and racism,” she said. Oliphant added that those who are protesting do not hate the police.

“We hate how we are treated by the police, how we are targeted by the police,” she told NBC News.

For her part, Zianna said, she plans to ignore people who talk about her and “move on with my day.”

“Kids, they’re, like, shy,” she told the news station. “But I’m not shy to tell them how I feel about it.”

Read more:

Charlotte struggles to return to normal after fatal police shooting

Two years after Ferguson, where is the police reform?

The unwinnable position of Cam Newton amid Charlotte’s civil unrest