More hugs than bullets in Charlotte | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 23.09.2016
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More hugs than bullets in Charlotte

After several days of unrest, the latest protests over the shooting of African-American Keith Scott in the US state of North Carolina were relatively peaceful. DW's Ani Tramblian reports from Charlotte.

"Release the tapes" is just one of many slogans shouted during the third night of unrest in Charlotte, North Carolina. With the National Guard in place and helicopters hovering above, Charlotte braced itself yet again for the city's response to the death of Keith Scott, an African-American man who was killed by an African-American police officer.

Unlike previous nights, the protests were largely peaceful. National Guardsmen armed with rifles protected storefronts and restaurants - almost all of which were closed for business. Many shops were boarded up in the front due to the violence from the night before. Hundreds of bike cops and a sizeable riot squad complete with shields and batons seemed to make it more difficult for confrontations to heat up to the point of violence.

"There have been multiple instances where the police have killed us. This time, we are actually speaking out about it," says Tiffany Holloway, a 22-year-old activist and native of Charlotte. She says that she has experienced racism in the city, and insinuates that many African-Americans have experienced some form of racism at the hands of law enforcement. "At the end of the day, police need more training. They need to learn about psychology so they can deescalate situations instead of using guns." While she is angered by police violence in her city, she is also a very proud resident of Charlotte. "I love Charlotte. We have a lot of spiritual, peaceful people here."

USA Protesten in Charlotte

Hundreds of police in riot gear were present in the city

As the hours passed, the city's mood became more aggressive. While the crowd comprised of people of all races, ages, shapes, and sizes, young African-Americans made up the crowd's largest demographic. They led the chants, shouting phrases like "Hands up don't shoot," and "No justice, no peace," both of which refer to previous incidents involving law enforcement and perceived racism. Many protestors approached law enforcement officers and yelled in their faces - a stunt that was not praised by all.

National Director of the Justice Action Mobilization Network, 57 year-old Joel Segal, sees these confrontations as detrimental. "When these kids taunt these police officers, it doesn't help anything. I come from the Martin Luther King Jr. tradition, the tradition of non-violence and respect." He thinks there needs to be a change in the criminal justice system, including an independent prosecutor. In his eyes, the mayor and community leaders should be working together more to decide how they should be policed.

Charlotte's mayor implemented a midnight curfew to decrease the chances of violence. While the protestors did eventually make their way down to one of the interstate highways, they were quickly dispersed by law enforcement, who used rubber bullets and tear gas. As the group approached the downtown once more, it was much smaller in size. People appeared to be heading home, loudly complaining of being hungry or having tired feet. There was some talk about continuing protests into the days to come.

USA Protesten in Charlotte

The protests had a more peaceful tone than in previous nights

Not all exchanges between protestors and law enforcement were tense. Many protestors exchanged fist bumps and hugs with authorities - even as small a gesture as a head nod signaled mutual respect and appreciation. A particularly touching scene involved a national guardsman and a young African-American man. The young man extended his arm towards the guardsman and said "I love you man, thank you for what you do." The guardsman had to move his rifle out of the way to embrace the young man. Their smiles remained even after the embrace was over.

The tone of this event was peaceful and positive; a hopeful sign towards the mending of relations between citizens and law enforcement - an issue that has polarized the American people. Both presidential candidates have made attempts to appeal to minority communities. While the protestors sent no overt political message in reference to the elections, it seems that anything Donald Trump could say in to regards to Charlotte would only make things worse, regardless of his intentions. North Carolina is a swing state, and these protests could swing the election in either direction.