Officer and activist discuss how to move forward one month after Charlotte unrest
CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Last month, I stood in the heart of uptown Charlotte, my eyes burning from the tear gas, while insults and objects were hurled at our news crews. It was a defining moment for Charlotte. I watched as some chose chaos, but the majority pushed for peace. Out of the hundreds of people I met that week, there are two I'll never forget - an activist and an officer.
The echos of that September week will forever play through the minds of Curtis Hayes and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police (CMPD) Major Mike Campagna.
"My leg is shaking because when you think about everything, you're really like 'wow,'" Hayes said.
Hayes is a 28-year-old Charlottean who worked hard to keep the peace during the unrest. Campagna is a CMPD veteran who walked every step with protesters following the fatal officer-involved shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.
"We did six nights and 60 miles. Lost about five pounds," Campagna said.
I witnessed many of Campagna's encounters with protesters firsthand.
"I was like, 'let me just listen to what they have to say,' and trying not to be defensive and trying not to come up with answers, just listen," Campagna said.
Hayes said that effort meant a lot to protesters like him.
"When they were talking to you and you made the decision to talk back, they were like, what could they do? You de-escalated that whole situation right there in itself," Hayes said.
One month later, WBTV brought the two together to find out how Charlotte moves on. The same two men who I watched disagree during the protests.
"You got outraged at me a couple times in those first few days. And that's alright," Campagna said.
I asked Hayes what the number one thing he wants to see moving forward is. A greater focus on de-escalation training tops the list for him.
"If we're going to sit here and pull our gun out of the holster to make sure it's one swift movement, maybe we can focus a little bit more time on whether we need to use deadly force," Hayes said.
Campagna said CMPD's stats generally say they do de-escalate situations.
"I think we do a good job at it. I think we can do more. So I don't disagree with you at all," he said.
Campagna does think the department needs to do a better job communicating between his officers and the community they serve.
"I am okay with anger and outrage and sadness and disgust and frustration. But I have a problem with fear. I didn't get in this business for people to be afraid of me," he said.
Campagna admits CMPD's African American officers face an uphill battle that he can't begin to understand.
"I don't have to deal with being called a traitor or being called an 'uncle tom.' I don't have to deal with those things, but I assume that adds another dimension to it," he said.
"We're all humans at the end of the day, whether we wear a badge or whether we don't," Hayes said.
Like so many, Hayes hated to see his city crumbling as it did in September, but he does believe something positive came out of the unrest.
"I do feel like some goodness was taken from it because people got their message across," he said.
During the protests Campagna was a CMPD captain, but he was promoted to Major last week. He is now working full-time over training and recruitment at the police academy.
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