Two men who worked to keep peace during protests look back a year later

(Ben Williamson | WBTV)
(Ben Williamson | WBTV)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - One year after protests erupted in uptown Charlotte over the officer-involved shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott, two men are looking back on the role they played during the unrest.

Toussaint Romain and Curtis Hayes spent every night of the protests in uptown attempting to keep the peace between police and protesters, and having meaningful conversations with both groups.

"I remember the tear gas, and the fights, and mace and pepper spray," said Hayes. "It was intense, we knew it would be intense."

"I still live with it as I am sure the city does as well. It has been a year, but we have not forgotten about it," said Romain.

Both men were seen on video and pictures standing between police lines and protesters every night. The two said they felt it was a chance to lead and do it the right way.

"I could walk up to people and put my hand on their shoulder and say whatever I could say to them, and they would turn and walk away," said Romain.

"Always fight for what is right. That is why I came and that is why I am still doing what I do," said Hayes.

Hayes and Romain often deescalated heated exchanges between officers and protesters, and many officers came to the two for help during those days of unrest.

"We see it, it is there, it exists. It just happened to be under the rug. We had to pull that rug back a year ago to become aware," said Romain. "Folks are becoming more aware, folks are wanting to get more engaged. We live in bubbles here in Charlotte and sometimes it easy to avoid the issue. I think that is changing."

Hayes had many good conversations with police a year ago and says he continues to have them. He is encouraged with the improvements that have been made, t admits there is a lot more to do.

"As far as the word 'change,' I think we should shy away from that. I do not know how much change per-say has happened," said Hayes. "I think the city of Charlotte will be more prepared for it because of the awareness from the first protest."

Both men continue their work in the Charlotte community. Romain is a defense attorney and spends his days bridging the gap between people and government. Meanwhile, Hayes mentors young people not only in Charlotte but across the country.

"We need accountability - and that is the bottom line," Romain said, "and I think we are moving toward that."

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