A Charlotte faith leader is questioning the actions of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers in the moments leading up the fatal shooting of a protester Wednesday night in uptown Charlotte.
The Rev. Robin Tanner, who chairs the Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice, said she was outside the Omni hotel with protesters about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday when Justin Carr, 26, was shot and mortally wounded. He died Thursday at Carolinas Medical Center.
Tanner, lead minister of the Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church, said CMPD officers in riot gear began striking protestors with clubs in the moments before she heard a gunshot. She said she was surprised by the police action because the protest had been peaceful.
“The night began with such promise and beauty, frankly, seeing people come together in our community in protest,” she told reporters during a press conference Thursday at Mayfield Memorial Missionary Baptist Church. “We had children out there. We had young organizers, (ages) eighteen, nineteen, twenty. We had seniors and elders in our community.”
Tanner said she was among an estimated 40 local clergy, all wearing yellow arm bands, who joined the protesters to “bear witness” to the “righteous rage” of the protest.” She said she ended up at the Omni after being summoned there by a colleague.
Shortly after she arrived, she said, she sensed that “something in the air had changed,” and CMPD officers in riot gear soon began to corral a group of protesters into an enclosed area at the hotel.
“They marched us down into the Omni… And then we saw people begin to be struck with the clubs, we saw people falling and hitting the floor. We heard a shot. People began to run. It was chaos,” Tanner said.
It was then, Tanner said, that she heard what she believed to be a gunshot, followed by the explosion of a “smoke bomb.”
“As soon as the smoke bomb was released, we heard some kind of light or sound bomb, a flash bomb, and then tear gas. We could not run out of there fast enough as the canisters were released out into us. People were dispersing. We were running.”
Tanner said she did not have a “clear line of vision” and did not see what happened to Carr.
“I am not saying I know who shot that protester, because it was pure chaos, and I don’t know how anyone could definitively say that without a thorough investigation,” she said. “…People were tripping over each other. Any of the news reporters and media who were there know exactly what I’m talking about… Without an investigation, with a ballistics report — an independent ballistic report — how can we know?”
CMPD Chief Kerr Putney has said Carr was shot by another civilian, not a police officer. But at a Thursday morning press conference, Putney said his department would investigate rumors circulating in the community that Carr was shot by a police officer.
“As I said before, we are here to seek the truth, so we are investigating that to find the truth, the absolute truth, as best the evidence can show us,” he said.
Tanner said events at the Omni were a wake-up call.
“This is a city that made me a minister,” she said. “It’s the first place I served. This is the city where I married my spouse, where I had my children. And now this is the city that tear gassed me… Last night did not have to end like it ended.”
The clergy coalition, which describes itself as a multi-faith, multi-racial and multi-generational organization, was scheduled to return to the Omni Thursday evening to “re-consecrate” the ground where Carr was shot.
The Charlotte protests began Tuesday in University City shortly after a CMPD officer shot and killed Keith Scott, a 43-year-old black man. Putney said Scott was carrying a gun and did not obey officers’ commands to drop the weapon. But residents who claimed to have seen the shooting said Scott was unarmed.
By Wednesday night, the protest had moved to uptown Charlotte, where a relatively small group of vandals, mixed in with peaceful protesters, smashed windows, looted stores and defaced property.