Commentary

‘Language of the Unheard’

Charlotte must listen to the voices of those who marched in protest of the police killing of Keith Scott. They represent a part of our community that has been too often overlooked.

Protesters march through the streets of uptown Charlotte after Keith Lamont Scott was fatally shot by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer. (Photo: Qcitymetro.com)

COMMUNITY SHARE: Qcitymetro welcomes views from its readers and the elected officials representing our community. Email editor@qcitymetro.com.


U.S. Rep. Alma Adams

U.S. Rep. Alma Adams

Ferguson. Minneapolis. Baltimore. Now, Charlotte.

The shooting of yet another black man and the subsequent protests have shocked our community.

You may know the quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “a riot is the language of the unheard.” Though unacceptable acts of violence took place during the first two nights, the vast majority of protesters and the subsequent protests have been peaceful. We should not condemn the peaceful protesters, as far too many have.

It is understandable why so many of our fellow citizens feel unheard. The number of deaths in this country from gun violence — black, white, officer-involved, citizen-on-citizen — are far too many. African-Americans have legitimate concerns about a system that values black lives less than other ones.

Charlotte’s shooting happened against the backdrop of a community ranked at or near the bottom for social mobility, a problem we have not yet solved. Not only are many unheard; many feel they have no hope.

Dr. King went on to say that, “in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay … Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”

As a lawmaker in Congress, I know the winters of delay all too well; but Charlotte isn’t Washington. The Queen City can be better. There are actions we can take and progress to be made. Body cameras are a great first step, but body camera footage needs to be public record, including the complete footage from videos in the Scott shooting.

North Carolina should repeal the legislation that goes into effect on October 1st that makes it almost impossible to release body camera footage. Furthermore, if officers are leaving the cameras off, they should be disciplined.

Police training that deescalates tense situations has to be a priority. We need rules of engagement that draw red lines for the use of deadly force and provide more non-lethal options that allow law enforcement to do their job while keeping police safe. Video of the Keith Lamont Scott shooting may not provide concrete answers, but it certainly gives the impression that we can handle these situations without the loss of life.

As we rebuild trust we can also bring more people to the table in our city’s conversation about poverty and upward mobility and act on their concerns. While Charlotte is making important strides – including our work on housing-first solutions for chronic homelessness, and the Charlotte Opportunity Task Force – the gulf between rich and poor has rarely seemed so wide in our country, and in Charlotte it tends to be deeper. We can and should make investments in education and public education that connect more Charlotteans, North Carolinians, and Americans to opportunity.

These issues are interconnected. An unaddressed gun violence epidemic means more people will continue to suffer no matter how well trained our police are. Transparency and training will build trust in our police and our elected officials, who are essential community partners in efforts to improve social mobility and improve our city. Improving social mobility lifts every jewel in our crown, and includes more people in civic life.

Barriers — from poverty to systemic racism — can make it hard to participate in this conversation, and even harder to be heard. Many of us don’t notice it, but a light rail track or local office hours can be a civic lifeline for people who want to participate but don’t have the means. The difference between a 15-minute car trip and a 90-minute bus ride can be the difference between whether or not someone will attend a city council meeting or a community forum. Sometimes it’s easier to protest.

Inclusion is a revolutionary act because it forces us to open our eyes and ears to people we may not normally hear from. If you don’t know there are systemic failures in our society worth protesting, listening to someone new is a good first step. You can’t increase social mobility without inclusion.

Many people were finally included on Monday night, and many of the unheard spoke out. I weep for the elementary school age girls who stood up in front of the City Council talking about why they fear for their lives in this country.

I don’t agree with everything that’s been said. For example, I don’t see how a wholesale resignation of city officials solves anything, but Charlotte needed to hear these voices.

The language of the unheard may be a new language to Charlotte, but it is a language worth learning. We need to listen.

Alma Adams is a member of Congress, representing North Carolina’s 12th congressional district, which includes parts of Charlotte.

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