“This Is a Rebellion”: A Protester Speaks From the Front Lines in Charlotte

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Charlotte, North Carolina saw its second day of protests on Wednesday, as tensions between police and community members continued to escalate following the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott on Tuesday. Family members say that Scott, a 43-year-old Black man, was reading in his car when he was approached by police, and was ordered to step out of his vehicle. Police say that they have recovered a gun that Scott brandished. Yet Charlotte’s Black community and local organizers remain highly skeptical of the city’s version of events.

Authorities claim they are still examining a video of the incident. Mayor Jennifer Roberts told CNN that she had not yet viewed dashcam video, but would do so on Thursday. Roberts said she had no plans to make the video public.

Video footage of another police shooting, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that took the life of 40-year-old Terence Crutcher on Friday, has further inflamed the ongoing social conflict between police and Black communities nationwide. Video evidence released on Monday confirms that Crutcher — a Black man — had his back to police and his hands in the air at the time of the shooting.

Much of Wednesday’s physical escalation between police and protesters occurred outside Charlotte’s Omni Hotel. There were numerous reports of injuries on social media, and scattered reports of property damage.

By 10:00 p.m. Wednesday night, Gov. Pat McCrory had declared a state of emergency in North Carolina, and activated the National Guard.

Shortly after the shooting, protesters reported via Twitter that they had lost the ability to livestream on Facebook. It is not clear at this time if this was an intentional intervention on the part of the social network, but Facebook’s recent cooperation with police, during the standoff between Baltimore police and the now deceased Korryn Gaines, has fueled suspicions that Facebook may have shut down the livestreams at the request of law enforcement.

After confirming that a protester was shot during the protests, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police initially confirmed witness accounts that the victim had died of his injuries. But by 10:00 p.m., the city had issued a correction, stating that the victim was not deceased, but in critical condition. Police claim the potentially deadly shot was fired by a civilian assailant, whereas protesters insist the victim was fired on by police.

In the aftermath of the shooting last night, I interviewed labor and community activist Dhruv Pathak, 22, who has been on the ground amid the ongoing clashes between protesters and police. The interview was conducted under intense circumstances, with Pathak periodically pausing to catch his breath as he and others were forced to run from advancing police, flash grenades and clouds of tear gas.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Kelly Hayes: It’s clear from social media that things have continued to escalate out there. What can you tell us about what’s happening on the ground?

Dhruv Pathak: Multiple rallies were called throughout the day. People came out in the thousands, filling the streets to protest the death of Keith Lamont Scott, and police brutality everywhere.

Tensions have obviously been high out there since the protests began, but how did the situation escalate tonight?

We were marching in the streets, but when we marched into Charlotte’s main intersection, at Trade Street and Tryon, we were met with a walls of riot police, decked out in SWAT gear. They were trying to box us in.

[Pathak paused, yelling was heard in the background.]

I’m sorry. I’m running here. This cop has been chasing us. [Paused again to catch his breath.] They tried to stop us from marching. When we took over the intersection, they tried to box us in. People were protesting outside the Omni Hotel, making a lot of noise, and the police were intense and angry.

What can you tell us about the shooting? How close were you when it happened?

Close.

What did you see?

I didn’t see the actual shots being fired, but I also didn’t see anyone with a gun other than the police, and I talked to plenty of people afterwards and nobody saw a gun in the crowd.

How has the shooting affected the tone or behavior of people in the streets?

From what I have seen, people are outraged, but also a little bit scared.

Do you think the shooting will slow the momentum of the protests?

I think for at least the next week or so, people will be out here. I think the shooting — this moment — is going to galvanize the movement in a powerful but tragic way.

Is there anything else you want to people to know right now, about what you’re all experiencing and feeling on the ground?

Yes. There are so many people, scattered throughout the city of Charlotte. We’re out here, and at every turn, we’re being met with an army. They’re dropping tear gas and throwing flash bombs. They’re firing rubber bullets, trying to disperse people, and people are not backing down. This is a rebellion, because people just can’t take it anymore.

Thank you. And lastly, I just want to ask, are you safe?

I’m in [a] safe location, for now.

Do you think you will be headed back out tonight?

I’m going to go where the people are, to support in any way possible.

Thank you for talking to us under such strained circumstances. Stay safe out there.