CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte city leaders, including council members, commissioners and the police chief, gathered Friday afternoon to talk about recent tragedies across the nation, including two deadly police shootings and a deadly shooting at a peaceful protest that left five officers dead.
The shooting occurred in Dallas, Texas Thursday night during a Black Lives Matter protest. The protest was one of many across the country in response to two black men killed by police officers this week that were captured on video.
Alton Sterling, 37, was killed by officers in Baton Rouge, LA, and Philando Castile, 32, was killed during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, MN.
"The suspect said he was upset about Black Lives Matter," Dallas Police Chief David Brown said. "He said he was upset about the recent police shootings. The suspect said he was upset at white people. The suspect said he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers."
Twelve officers were shot, along with two civilians. Five of those officers died.
Charlotte city leaders gathered Friday afternoon to discuss the recent violence and its impact on the city.
"We are a diverse city and a diverse country [...] and there are a lot of people who want to use that against us," Charlotte-Mecklenburg Kerr Putney said.
Mecklenburg County Commission Chairman Trevor Fuller says he even though he is an elected official and a lawyer, he's not free from being targeted.
"Despite all that, I am an African-American man in America. And despite all those credentials, when I'm on the streets of this city, or any city across the nation, I am an African-American male," Fuller said. "I don't get a chance to give my credentials."
"I'm also a father - the father of a young, African-American boy - 16 years old and driving on the streets of this city," he continued. "And I fear, every day, when he leaves our house that he'll return again. This is not the world we all want to live in."
Putney echoed Fuller's comments, saying even he sometimes takes pause.
"Even now when I see blue lights, it hits me in the stomach. I've had that reaction since I was eight years old," Putney said. "But what you don't know is I'm sometimes more fearful when I put this uniform on. I'm gonna tell you a secret, I'm always black - I was born that way, I'm gonna die that way, but I chose to put myself in harm's way with the honorable people who wear these uniforms to protect the people who need us most."
Both men talked about Facebook Live video that showed the aftermath of the deadly shooting of Castile at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota.
"No one could watch the videos we saw on Facebook, no one with humanity could watch those videos, and not be chilled by it," Fuller said. "Chilled by it because of the man who was shot, his fiancé or wife and child in the back, but that police officer, too. If you paid attention to that video and heard the police officer's voice there was anguish all around."
Putney said it hurt him to watch the video.
"It hurt our profession," Putney said. "We hide behind 'Well, we don't know all the facts.' I don't need to know the facts to see another dead, black body in the street and say 'That hurts me. That disappoints me. We have more work to do'."
FULL SPEECH: CMPD Chief Kerr Putney speaks on recent tragedies
"People talk about unconscious bias and we're embracing that," Putney said. "What I can tell you is yes, we all have unconscious, implicit biases, but your police department is hitting that head on."
He says the department is rolling out an eight-hour class that all CMPD employees will attend. There is also a year-long program that will be a deeper dive into the issue for all of the department's supervisors.
"Ask what other organizations in this profession have made that level of commitment," Putney said. "We're different in Charlotte, y'all. And we're a good kind of different. We're a good kind of different."
"Our experiences are all different - as different as we are as individuals. But what brings us together is we swear to an oath, an oath to protect the freedoms and liberties of all our citizens and all of our community members," Putney said. "This oath supersedes everything else in our lives when we put our uniforms on."
Fuller says he hopes to see the community come to together, rather than divide in light of the tragedies.
"There are many police officers in this room who are honorable, who are hardworking, who put their lives on the line to protect us every day," Fuller said. "We can't allow ourselves to be pitted against each other and that's what I fear is happening."
"For those who are terrorists, who hate America, this is exactly what they want," he continued. "They want us to be at each other's throats, but we cannot give them that victory."
Fuller say race issues are a challenge across the nation, but they must first be addressed in our own communities.
"If we are speaking truth to each other, we have difficulty having that conversation. We must not fear to have it, we must have that conversation," he pleaded. "This is not just a conversation to appease one community or another. All of us are in this together because the violence that affects me and my family, as African-Americans, affects you and your family, too."
He says until we can have those serious conversations together "we can't hope to succeed."
Putney admits that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is not perfect, but says they get it right a majority of the time.
"I can tell you - although we're not perfect - 97% of the time our people get it right. Ninety-seven percent of the time. We're not perfect, so three percent can lead to tragic consequences and we accept that - the full responsibility of it. And we're committed to try to change that."
"My challenge is when are we gonna roll up our sleeves and change outcomes," he continued. "When are we gonna commit deeply to changing systems? When are we gonna reform the whole system and stop looking at optics and narratives and get confused about why we exist."
Fuller says now is the time for the community to come together and link arms.
"We have an opportunity now to do that and the question for all of us is 'will we do it?'," he said. "And the glimmer of hope then that I have is that we will. More than that, we must."
"Let's turn this tragedy into an opportunity. Let's turn it into another occasion for us to join together as a community - white, black, Asian, Native American, Latino - across religious lines, across political lines," Fuller continued. "Let's use this now as an occasion to actually get something done."
Fuller choked up when he talked about the five officers with the Dallas Police Department who were killed Thursday night.
"And who couldn't be horrified by the notion that police officers assisting with a peaceful protest would find themselves [pause] shot dead in the streets," Fuller said. "This has got to stop."
"We hurt, too. And from a personal standpoint, I stand before you representing men and women who don't have the luxury to run away when bad things happen - they run to it," Putney added about CMPD officers. "And because of them, we're a great city and a free country."
Fuller says despite the recent tragedy and the ongoing stigmas, he has a glimmer of hope that a bigger conversation will spark change.
"And we start that with having a conversation together - truthfully, honestly, without fear," he said. "I think Charlotte is ready for that. I think we must be ready for that."