As Charlotte reeled in the aftermath of last week’s police shooting that claimed the life of Keith Scott, 11 African American men met to draft a list of measures aimed at creating transparency and oversight when police injure civilians or use deadly force.
Among their demands: repeal of a new law that will soon deny public access to police video without a court order. The group also called for independent investigations when police use force that result in the death or injury.
But the document also called for changes that would foster economic empowerment for communities mired in poverty and high levels of unemployment.
Qcitymetro recently met with two of the document’s architects – businessman Herb Gray and attorney Harold Cogdell Jr. – to talk about next steps.
The Q&A below was edited for brevity and clarity.
Q. How did the effort to draft this document get started?
Herb Gray: A lot of people were emotionally charged up and emotionally wanting to do something and make some things happen. But we didn’t really see anybody put any agenda out. So Harold, having the most experience having served on city council and county commission, looked at some things, and he talked to me about it, and I think he called Patrick Graham. So he used his Rolodex and I used mine to get a little group together.
Harold Cogdell: Before I was talking to Herb about it, there was a conversation with attorney (James) Ferguson. He had people in his network, and everybody was talking to people in their networks. But one of the things Herb and I hadn’t heard was any kind of clear, specific objectives for what could improve this situation, what could begin to restore confidence in the criminal justice system.
Q. So where do you go from here?
H.C. I think we are going to try to reach out to others in this community, both African American and others, to see if we can get more buy-in for this framework. One thing I think we are committed to is this being a fluid document. Perhaps everybody is not going to buy into everything. This is about consensus building. Nothing happens without broadening your stakeholder group.
Q. Given the current political realities in Raleigh, how likely is it that you can get some of this stuff done?
H.C. You have to start somewhere. You have to be willing to say, “These are the things that we believe can diminish or reduce the likelihood of something like this happening again in this community.” Perhaps this can be a model of criminal justice reform nationally… But to your point, I understand the makeup and philosophy of the General Assembly. But the General Assembly also has got to begin to realize that we have a significant problem with distrust and lack of confidence in our policing and in our criminal justice system. It is so sad and unfortunate, but it has taken the loss of human life to move that needle.
H.G. Out of some tragedies are born movements. If you look at what happened in Charleston (with the church shootings). They said that (Confederate) flag would never come down, right? And it did.
Q. Since you released your list, others have come out with similar demands and proposals. Any plans to work with those individuals or groups?
H.G. Yes, there is an effort to try to work with other organizations… Different groups are marching in the same direction, but now it’s a matter of trying to figure out the four or five or eight or 10 things that we think we can accomplish, some long-term some short-term.
H.C. We have at least a dozen to 20 more people who have already expressed a desire to want to sign on. This is a fluid document; it’s not etched in stone. It provides a framework that we hope will overlap with other frameworks, such as what Vi (Lyles) put out, such as what the NAACP put out. The National Action Network local chapter, I spoke with that group yesterday. They requested a copy of this because they were trying to put together a framework about what they thought should be done. I think attorney Ferguson is using something very similar to this also. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of disagreement.
Q. Was either of you surprised by Charlotte’s reaction to this police shooting?
H.G. It was shocking to me, but at the same time…there is a huge base out here in Charlotte that is trying to get heard, and it’s difficult for them to do that. This was a spark that kind of set that group in motion. So on one hand, I was surprised that it took off like it did, but on the other hand I realize that there is a group out here that’s hurting, that’s looking for a platform to express themselves.
H.C. I’m blessed. I drive from SouthPark to uptown. But I also make a very intentional effort to make sure that I’m familiar with every area, or as many areas as possible, around our city. I understand that there are a lot of neighborhoods that are fragile, a lot of homes where stability is not what it is in many other areas of our city. The bubble that we sometimes find ourselves living in can be a very dangerous thing when you have a spark to ignite the hostility, the frustration, the hurt, the anger that exists in so many communities. There are so many people living every day with no hope that tomorrow is going to be any better than yesterday.
Q. So, were the demonstrations and violence we saw about a police shooting or economics?
H.G. I would say it was about a person who was shot who the majority of Charlotteans did not know. But many people could relate to his shooting, even though they didn’t know him. But a movement can start with a spark on one thing and can branch out into something else. People who are trying to get up the economic ladder…they are just frustrated with some things.
H.C. I think we all bear some responsibility. We all can get caught up in our daily lives; we all can get caught up in our bubbles. I try to be involved and engaged in our community. But it wasn’t until another black man — whether he was armed or not remains in dispute and is unclear — was killed by police…it took that for me and Herb and others to really sit down and have some meaningful conversations with some others in our community. For instance, I spent well over an hour talking with (the Rev.) Cliff Jones on Sunday — Pastor Jones — and I’ve been on the phone with Bishop (Claude) Alexander, and not talking about church service, but talking about the fragility of this community, the lack of hope that exists in this community, the great disparity and growing disparity of wealth in this community. We’ve had conversations with so many people about that subject matter — transparency in government and economic empowerment issues — over the last several days that I think all of us should have been having for years now.
H.G. In spite of Ballantyne, it spite of the resurgence of uptown or Plaza Midwood — everything is moving and looking great — there is a group out here in Charlotte, and it’s a large group, that is really having a difficult time just making it. So any light we can shed on what’s going on, we want to do it.
H.C. I’m going to say this, too, and maybe this is treading on some delicate water… But I have seen very little meaningful progress in this community over the last 25 years about creating economic opportunities for black wealth development. We have a lot of African American in this community who have good jobs, but the opportunity to build wealth within our community…it’s not here, it’s not happening right now. We are hearing the buzzwords of diversity, we’re hearing the buzzwords of inclusion, we hear it from the business community to political leadership talking about it, but implementation of specific measures that really create that opportunity doesn’t happen.
Q. Even if we had more of that, would it be enough to lift those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder?
H.C. Let me tell you why I think it would: I believe I am far more likely to employ African Americans than some of my white legal counterparts. I don’t have empirical data to support that, other than I know who I’ve employed over the last several years. Black-owned businesses, more times than not, have a higher rate of black employment than similarly situated white-owned businesses. We understand, we know our people; we know our folks. And we may be willing to, perhaps, look past that you had some type of criminal offense back 10 years ago. There is a segment of our workforce right now, particularly black men, that is oftentimes not employable with a significant number of employers based on their employment practices and policies.
Q. What can people do to get involved in making things better?
H.G. I think there is a segment that tries to do things. You have groups that have initiatives where they are going out doing tutoring in schools or they are trying to mentor the next generation. I think you have that, so I don’t want to discount it. But I think there has to be a little bit more of a volunteer call to action, maybe from more of our corporate leaders or more from our political leaders.
H.C. First of all, you’ve got to adopt the idea and believe that you can make a difference, no matter how small it is. The other part, I would say, is we have to get past our fear of discussing — in that corporate tower uptown, in your workplace, in your church, in your civic organizations, wherever you are — get past the fear of talking about the immediate need for comprehensive change around racial disparities with our white colleagues and counterparts. It’s easy for me and Herb to sit talk about it, or those folks who look like us to talk about it, but go to a Downtown Rotary Club meeting and have that same conversation. Those who are engaged in organization that are predominately white…you’ve got to be willing to engage in those conversations and not be afraid to say we need some immediate change to address the significant racial disparities that exist in our community, everywhere from education to economic opportunity to health care to our criminal justice system, and not be fearful of that. We, sometimes out of a fear of backlash, aren’t willing to have that conversation in certain circles.