Rally for Jonathan Ferrell is prelude to weeks of protests

Published: Jul. 20, 2015 at 12:59 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 19, 2015 at 12:59 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (Cleve R. Wootson Jr./The Charlotte Observer) - In what amounted to a prelude of upcoming demonstrations, dozens flocked to a north Charlotte church on Sunday demanding justice for Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer in 2013.

Officer Randall Kerrick's voluntary manslaughter trial starts Monday in uptown Charlotte. He's accused of killing Ferrell during an early morning confrontation and is the first CMPD officer in at least 30 years to be charged in an on-duty shooting.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police expect protests, and city leaders worry the demonstrations could turn violent. Similar protests grew out of control in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., after officers were accused of killing black men. Kerrick's case has already drawn angry demonstrations. He has been cursed in the courtroom by a spectator and heckled by other demonstrators as he walked to his car.

John Barnett, the founder of True Healing Under God (T.H.U.G.) Civil Rights Organization, which sponsored Sunday's event, said planned protests starting Monday morning would be nonviolent.

"We plan to have demonstrations at the courthouse every day," Barnett said. "Jury selection could take three weeks, but we've been waiting two years. We can wait another two months."

When asked whether the demonstrations could turn violent, Barnett said: "We're peaceful. We're Christian."

Still, speakers at the event said there's anger in the black community and a strong demand for justice.

"One of the beautiful things about Charlotte is we try to pride ourselves on being diverse and, 'Let's go eat some ice cream and talk about racism,' yet (black men) are still getting killed in the streets," said radio personality B.J. Murphy, one of the speakers. "We don't want more of that soft talk or kumbaya. What we want is justice. Or else."

Ferrell had wrecked his car after giving a co-worker a ride home on Sept. 14, 2013. He knocked on the door of a nearby home looking for help, but the woman at home called 911, thinking he was a robber. Kerrick was one of three CMPD officers who answered a 911 call for what they presumed was a break-in.

Police say Kerrick shot the unarmed Ferrell 10 times as the 6-foot-2, 220-pound former football player approached him.

According to police, Ferrell ignored the officers' orders to get on the ground and ran straight into Kerrick. Former Police Chief Rodney Monroe said at the time that a video shot from a nearby police car showed that Ferrell was clearly unarmed and that unnecessary force had been used.

Kerrick's attorneys said Ferrell charged at the officer while grabbing for something in his waistband. They say the shooting was self-defense.

"We are not anti-police, we are anti-police brutality," said Jibril Hough, a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Charlotte, who spoke at Sunday's event. "While many of these cases across the U.S. have cops shooting black men, the real problem is an abuse of power. A lot of work needs to be done. The work begins tomorrow as we march for Jonathan Ferrell."