Cover Story: DNC 2012 - Charlotte's image

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Keeping the peace during DNC 2012.  Is CMPD up to the task?

National headlines are raking Charlotte over the coals for our pre-convention readiness.

Police say they know who pulled the trigger during a deadly melee in Uptown Charlotte.  They just can't find him.  They're looking for Antonio Thompkins.

Detectives believe he's responsible for the murder of Antwan Smith during a near-riot after Food Lion Speed Street.  70 other people were arrested that night.

A lot of people are concerned about that chaos and the potential for more violence when the massive crowd for the Democratic National Convention comes to town next year.

They're worried that history could repeat itself.  Rewind 44 years. Chicago. 1968.  10,000 protesters clashed with police. Tear-gassed and beaten on live TV.

And just a few days ago in Uptown Charlotte, our police put on their riot gear to quell the violence.

The chief says his officers were in control the whole time.

The question on many peoples' minds is if it can happen in a little event like Speed Street.. what's to say it won't happen with something big like the DNC?

The violence Sunday morning didn't just make news here.  It went national in a heavily-read website the Drudge Report had it:  Gang-related riots in city to host 2012 DNC.

Not pretty.  It could be why we saw the police chief out yesterday downplaying it.

"At no time at no time did we ever feel like we lost control of the inner city," said Chief Rodney Monroe.

With so much riding on the line with the Democrats coming to town next year, politics watchers say the city is going to be very image conscious from here on out.. conscious of how negative publicity will play around the world.

Don Reid, a Republican and former Charlotte City Councilman, believes the spin has just begun.

"It was a riot. It was not a melee. The Mayor and Police Chief are dead wrong. He talked about control. It wasn't out of control. I'd like him to define out of control for me," said Reid.

Denver, Colorado went through image control prior to its convention in 2008 in an attempt to keep down the negative.

It changed its arrest policy for protests detaining people who were arrested instead of just issuing a summons to appear in court.

Critics say the policy was designed to silence dissent and presumably discourage protests and bad behavior.

There were still protests during the convention.

But Denver prior to its convention didn't have anything like what Charlotte experienced Sunday morning in Uptown.

One person was shot to death.

It raises questions of whether the city will be able to keep the peace during the convention.

"It's a fair question.  But it's ridiculous actually when you see what happens," says Chuck Plunkett who covered the convention for the Denver Post.

He told us if the past repeats itself we won't recognize Charlotte DNC week.

"You will feel like your city has been occupied by an invading army. There will be a police presence unlike anything you could imagine that swoops into town," said Plunkett.

The chairman of the DNC's local host committee and former county commissioner Dan Murrey agrees.

The city's expecting to get an allotment of $50 million from the feds for security in special gear and training.

"And I think people have to recognize that there's gonna be a whole different level of infrastructure in place when that event happens," said Murrey.

The $50 million Denver got for security was pitched as a "Well, this will protect you from terrorism."  But a large part of it in reality was spent on dealing with protests.

It'll be a very different environment 15 months from now.

The local Host Committee is taking shape

The group tasked with raising the $37 million the Democrats will need to host the convention here announced its leadership team Wednesday.

It includes a long-time congressional aide and people who have years of marketing expertise.

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