CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - One year ago this week, I was sitting in the dentist chair wincing my way through a root canal. A few hours later, I was driving myself to work with the sound of the drill still echoing in my head. I remember hoping for an easy day.
On September 20th, 2016, we held our 3:00 news meeting where reporters pitch ideas and are assigned their stories for the day. I believe mine was rising gas prices. I loaded up my car and headed out to create TV magic.
Then, around 4:00, the phone rang. It was my producer, Brian Dresdow, re-routing me to an officer-involved shooting in North East Charlotte.
This wasn't out of the ordinary. In my five years as a journalist, I've covered too many shootings to count. Officer-involved ones don't happen every day. But I've unfortunately reported on plenty of those too. I hung up and headed that way.
When I got to Old Concord Road everything seemed routine. Well, as routine as a tragic loss of life can be. Responding to bad situations is apart of the daily reality when you're a reporter. Sadly, you get used to it.
Yellow police tape blocked off the apartment complex parking lot. CMPD Chief Kerr Putney held a rushed press conference. He said his officer (Brentley Vinson) perceived an imminent threat and fired at an armed man (Keith Scott) killing him. Their names weren't released until later in the evening.
Soon after, Scott's daughters came out to speak with the crowd of reporters. They were angry and shouting about the police officer that killed their daddy. They said he wasn't holding a gun, as police were saying. Instead, a book. I remember feeling surprised to hear that. Those two objects looked nothing alike.
Police later released a photo of the gun they say Scott was holding, along with a holster attached to his ankle, but the "book" narrative quickly spread on social media. In the next few hours, I watched the crowd grow from five to ten to 100 and then I lost count. People were showing up holding signs that read "it was a book". Many of these people had never met Keith Scott, but they didn't have to. They were angry and wanted answers.
As the sky darkened, the anger turned to rage. Water bottles and rocks were being tuned into projectiles as they were thrown full speed at CMPD officers. The windows of a police cruiser were smashed in as officers' daily uniforms were quickly replaced with shields and helmets.
I remember calling my producer right before we went on the air at 11:00. I told him our "plan" had to be scrapped. Reporters Coleen Harry, Alex Giles and photographers Jordan Sawyers, Kyle Connolly and Devin Futrelle were all out there with me. We were all in different spots with different scenes behind us and we spent the next hour describing exactly what we saw. There wasn't any room for commentary or opinions in those moments. We had a responsibility to not make things worse. It was already bad.
Between live shots, someone hurled something at my back. I still don't know what it was but it felt like a softball. The impact knocked me to my knees as Jordan and Observer reporter Ely Portillo dragged me to safety. That night, Coleen was hit with a rock and photographer Kyle was taken to the hospital when someone threw a brick at his head.
I remember how disheartened I felt in those moments. Why were we being attacked for doing our job? Our managers had left the decision to stay out there to us. Other TV stations had pulled their crews for safety reasons. But we felt very strongly about staying out there. As journalists, we document history and that's exactly what was happening in front of our eyes.
The crowds started to move. Eventually ending up on I-85. With everything I saw that week, those moments were the scariest. Rioters were setting fires to big rigs and hurling pieces of concrete at innocent drivers speeding by. I watched from the overpass above in disbelief. It seemed like another planet. And to this day, I'm still surprised no one was killed out there.
Coleen and I finally got back to the station about 5 am. I headed home, but how could I sleep after witnessing all of that? Little did I know I'd need the sleep for the days ahead.
I don't think anyone expected night two would be as bad as it was. The protests had moved into Uptown and started peaceful. The majority of the crowd was made up of good people with good intentions. They were angry about the shooting and wanted answers, but was hoping to get out their message in the right way.
And then, like the night before, it went from zero to 60 in an instant. Rioters, not protesters, rioters, started smashing up the Epicenter. I watched from feet away as they looted a convenience store and destroyed a luxury car parked outside the Ritz Carlton. Soon after, I heard the gun shot that killed protester Justin Carr.
Again, I found myself in a state of disbelief as I inhaled my first breath of tear gas. My eyes started burning as tears mixed with mascara rolled down my face.
Hours later, after dozens of live shots, a producer from CBS news sent me a text saying "gently wipe underneath your eyes when you get a chance". I used my phone to look at my reflection and saw two black eyes and a face stained with mascara from the tear gas. For a second I got snippy with my photographer. I had been on TV for hours, why didn't he tell me? And then I quickly realized how silly that was. My makeup didn't matter. The chaos and hurt did.
A few months ago, I was in Ireland with my mom and we started chatting with a random couple. They asked where I was from and I said Charlotte. Their response caught me off guard. "Oh, that's where the riots were, right? she asked in her Irish brogue. I said, sadly, yes and wondered if this is what the Queen City is now known for across the world.
The first two nights of the unrest were bad. But the other four were not. And unfortunately, no one talks about those days. I witnessed compassion and kindness.as protesters and police walked mile after mile through Uptown. There were people there that week that made a difference. People like Major Mike Campagna who took the time to stop and listen to protesters. People like activist Curtis Hayes who wanted answers himself but encouraged the right way to get them. Those two men made an impact on me and I try to interview them any chance I get.