As peaceful protests go, the latest event in Charlotte was a success. The regret that all the community felt, however, is that the peaceful, law-abiding protest was marred by violence and loss of a life.
No city likes having to call in the National Guard. The visual of armed troops on American streets has sent a deliberate message since the 1960's: "Do not question the state's authority to enforce law and order." While it is a statement that few chose to challenge, National Guard and city-wide curfews become a last resort for city leadership in an effort to maintain public safety.
l've come to learn over my years as a Charlottean, that that is not what Charlotte is. That is not who we are. What I saw in the violence and looting in the uptown streets that Wednesday night was the worst of humanity come to bear. There is no comparing the criminals of that night to the community members and community leadership who rightfully engaged in peaceful protest.
If we do not learn from that day, if we do not better our city and ourselves as a result of that action, then all that was lost, and all that was gained, will simply disappear into history.
- Recognizing Peaceful Protesters from Violent Criminals - Peaceful protesting has been woven into the fabric of our democracy since before the beginning of our nation. Peaceful protest is completely legal and encouraged as a means to express values, beliefs or a position on a topic. The peaceful protesters I spoke with during the week were very focused on their message and wanted nothing to do with the violent criminals that were looting our city, inciting violence and injuring others. As a matter of fact, one thing I noticed the night of the riots is that when a violent or criminal act would occur, peaceful protesters would deliberately attempt to distance themselves from the criminal acts. Peaceful protest has always been encouraged in our society and always will be. But those with criminal intent, unfortunately feel they can use this as a platform to conduct illegal acts. Peaceful protesters are exactly that, peaceful members of our community. And those who are violent protesters are criminals. I hope everyone understand the difference, so we do not include those who exercise their constitutional right of assembly with those who "want to see our city burn", as one violent protester from out of town told me.
- Looting of Stores and Businesses - When a city enters into a state of emergency, law enforcement resources are redirected toward the crisis. Therefore, standard off-duty (for hire) law enforcement services that so many businesses rely on, become immediately unavailable. Businesses should already have a contingency plan in place to augment those protection resources with either proprietary (in-house) security or with licensed private (contract) security services. Plan for this in advance so as not to get caught off guard by unlicensed security providers attempting to make a quick dollar from a crisis situation. We saw this after the riots with the arrest of a previously convicted felon who went from looter on Wednesday night, to an armed (unlicensed) security guard on Thursday. We have all heard that "prior planning prevents poor performance" and this could not hold more true than in business continuity.
- Unauthorized Carrying of Firearms - It should not come as a surprise to anyone that criminals bring guns to incidents of civil unrest. While there is no textbook method, that I am aware of, to completely alleviate this concern, more must be done to either A) screen peaceful protesters and turn others away or B) end the civil unrest quickly and disperse the crowds. Many good lessons can be learned from European law enforcement agencies that deal with civil unrest on a weekly basis. Law enforcement did a fantastic job of containing protesters to a mostly four block area, now that education must be furthered in the area of civil crisis contingency planning.
- Activation of State Resources - Much study and critique is sure to go toward the decision to initially delay the response of state resources (National Guard and State Police). This is a subject that I'm sure will be addressed from a slightly different perspective in the future.
And as I write about the future, I know with certainty that police will continue to confront potential threats and they will continue to deal with these potential threats in the interest of public safety. We as a society have bestowed the moral weight of administering deadly force to our protectors. That will not change, because someone, some force, must be there to protect our society. The citizenry does not want that responsibility placed upon their shoulders, and rightly so. Violent, justified deadly incidents will continue to occur, just as they have since the creation of modern law enforcement. As a society we must prepare not only our families, but our businesses and our communities for the eventuality of future civil unrest. We must continue to empower our leaders from the community, clergy, law enforcement and city government to work on our behalf to de-escalate potentially violent situations before they erupt onto our city streets.
We have been social tribes since the beginning of mankind. From that we have learned that as a community we stand strong. As I said earlier, peaceful protest has been a foundation of our democracy, and justice is not a buzz word. It is something we must live out daily in all aspects of our personal and professional lives. We all want a thriving, prosperous Charlotte.