'Conversations versus Confrontations' forum sparks discussion about race relations, police

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte's Black Political Caucus held a special forum Saturday morning entitled "Conversations vs. Confrontations."

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) Chief Kerr Putney was the special speaker.  Putney spent time answering questions from the audience about what more can be done to keep African-American males alive when confronting police.

The forum opened up mentioning the not guilty verdict handed down Friday in the Philando Castile case, in which a Minnesota police officer shot and killed Castile after he was pulled over for a broken tail light.  People at the forum can't believe Castile was killed.

RELATED: Protesters of Castile shooting largely cleared from freeway

"Who did everything right, everything right, but still he lost his life," Black Political Caucus Chairperson Colette Forrest said.

The Castile case got people in Charlotte rethinking about what more can be done to keep black males safe while driving in Charlotte.  Chief Putney told the crowd if they get pulled over, they need to listen to the officer. Putney then said if they feel mistreated, they need to report it so they can have their day in court.

"In an emotional highly charged encounter, that is not the time to plead your case," Putney said. "That is not the time to take a position that can risk your life, because legally all it takes is the perception of an imminent lethal threat."

The chief told the crowd that police officer's standard for imminent threat is very low. Charlotte's top cop believes officers need to connect with neighborhoods more and training for officers needs to continue to build trust.  Officers will continue with their implicit bias training so officers can understand different cultures, but Putney thinks training can't do it all.

"I can give you all the training in the world," Putney said. "I can't train your heart. Our focus now is - who we bring in."

People who showed up to the town hall appreciated the candid conversation from Putney. Putney says CMPD will be trying some new things this summer to help officers better connect with the community.

The chief says officers who work the third shift will work different hours so they can have an opportunity to connect with people in the community who they don't see often. People thought the forum was a step in the right direction.

"It's time for us to stop being so angry and have conversation about it," Charlese Frazier said, who attended the event. "What I would like to see is - more people that are so angry to come out and take a part in this because we need it."

Charlotte's number of homicides also came up at the forum. There have been more than 40 so far in 2017. Putney says what the community can expect from CMPD to help keep peace in the streets.

"We are going to continue to reach out," Putney said. "If you reach out to us, we'll reach out to you."

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