Photographer Alvin C. Jacobs Jr. Photo by M.D. Strickland/Qcitymetro
Photographer Alvin C. Jacobs Jr. Photo by M.D. Strickland/Qcitymetro

“No Justice, No Peace,” a rallying cry heard over and over in protests around the country — Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, New York, St. Paul, Minn, Tulsa, Okla., among others — rang out in Charlotte on the night of Sept. 20, 2016.

The fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott that Tuesday afternoon triggered sporadic and sprawling protests through the night that spilled out onto Interstate 85. And the eyes of the nation turned its gaze on Charlotte.

The following night brought more, larger, organized protests that at times turned violent. Images of fire and rage played over and over on TV screens, and daybreak left many a Charlottean fearful and wondering “How could this happen in our community?”

The Levine Museum of the New South’s new exhibition, K(NO)W Justice, K(NO)W Peace, doesn’t seek to answer that complex question; it’s a conversation starter that’s all about historical context and reaching for understanding.

The exhibition seeks to “provide context for current issues in a way that fosters understanding and empathy for everyone involved,” said Kathryn Hill, president and CEO of the Levine Museum. Hill said the museum wanted to show multiple perspectives and “imagine how we might engage in constructive and productive dialogue.”

A week after the protests, the Levine Museum held a town-hall conversation that was packed, Hill said. But “we knew that could not be the sole contribution” to our understanding of these complex events, she said. That’s when the Levine decided to fast-track an exhibition on the impact of police-involved killings that had been scheduled to open in 2018.

When you see your city become part of that national narrative, says Levine Museum historian Brenda Tindal, it really hits home. It is especially important now to help make sense of what has happened, she said. “What happened in Charlotte did not happen in a vacuum.”

Levine exhibit

Exhibition in four parts:

The exhibition is roughly laid out in four parts. The first two are locally focused and provide a historical overview of issues that have shaped Charlotte discourse, particularly in the aftermath of the September events, said Tindal. A large timeline — starting with the 1965 Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education lawsuit and ending with the Scott shooting —dominates the wall as you enter the exhibit.

In “Charlotte Responds,” stark photographs of moments from the protests capture the voices of protesters, police, clergy, and others as they reflect on their feelings and perspectives. The exhibition also includes murals, painted on plywood, that once covered windows that were smashed during rioting outside the Hyatt House hotel.

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The latter portions seek to place Charlotte into the national narrative of protest and aftermath.

“Lives Beyond the Hashtags” grew out of a project in Dr. Tiffany Packer’s history classes at Johnson C. Smith University. With so many of these officer-involved fatalities, seemingly those killed had become a number, said Packer.

The student project seeks to humanize and restore the identities of those victimized, she said. They collected objects, photographs, and testimonials from family and friends. The walls are lined with more than a dozen such faces of men, women, boys, killed at the hands of police, dating back to 1994.

The showcase and final portion of the exhibition is a powerful array of photos from protests around the country by  Alvin C. Jacobs Jr. He has been in the middle of protests ranging from Ferguson — he drove 14 hours straight from Charlotte and arrived there even as the ashes of the burned-down CVS still smoldered — to Baltimore, Chicago, and New York.

Jacobs was in D.C. for a protest at U.S House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office on Sept. 20 when he heard about the Charlotte protests. He said he immediately headed back to Charlotte — “my city” — and pulled off I-85 at the W. T. Harris exit, where he captured protest scenes from an overpass.

Jacobs, called a “modern-day Gordon Parks” by Tindal, sees his work documenting these protests as a responsibility – one that is on the increase. He says people have been marginalized, but now they have a voice. The big question: What are we going to do now?

A starting point

Sponsored by Bank of America and other organizations, the exhibition opens Friday and is a starting point for more interactions. The Levine Museum will convene many conversations around this exhibit, including a book club, Hill said. And they welcome the opportunity to facilitate dialogue among groups. Events already booked include:

Book Club: “They Can’t Kill Us All” by Washington Post writer Wesley Lowery. Lowery was detained by police in August 2014 while reporting on the unrest in Ferguson, Mo.
March 2, 5:30 p.m., Duke Energy Theatre, Spirit Square, $15 per person, $8 per student
Breaking Bread with Levine Museum: Women in Social Change: The Issues, the March, the Movement. March 30, 6:30 p.m., Levine Museum of the New South, $40
Film screening of “Officer Involved” — an expository documentary detailing perspectives of police officers involved in shootings… April 13, 6:30 p.m., Levine Museum of the New South
• Panel Discussion: Activism — artists will discuss art for social change…. April 25, 6:30 p.m., Levine Museum of the New South
• Book Club: Clint Smith, Counting Descent – Smith is a 2014 National Poetry Slam champion. May 2, 5:30 p.m., UNC Charlotte Center City, $15 per person, $8 per student

More details: Levine Museum of the New South