Monday’s march brought together residents, community activists and some law enforcement in a predominantly Black Charlotte neighborhood.
“Enough is enough,” said Katrina Cherry. “The time is right now.”
Cherry, a resident of west Charlotte’s University Park, carried a sign that read “Black Youth Matter.”
“I cannot stay in my house anymore,” Cherry said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s scary or uncomfortable. I’m no more safe in my bed than I am out here in these streets. We can’t be afraid to stand up for each other. We’ll never get any change otherwise.”
Cherry was one person in a crowd of 50 to 60 that gathered at Charlotte’s Friendship Missionary Baptist Church Monday afternoon to march down Beatties Ford Road and commemorate the lives lost and those injured in the wee hours of the morning. (Scroll below for Cardinal & Pine contributor Grant Baldwin’s photos of the event.)
Police said shooters fired into a crowd of hundreds at a neighborhood block party early Monday, killing three and injuring others.
Organized by Million Youth March of Charlotte and Salisbury (MYMCS), which has been active in the near-daily demonstrations downtown, a coalition of city officials, activist groups and independent Charlotteans walked over three miles in 91-degree heat, silently remembering Kelly Miller, 29, Christopher Antonio Gleaton, 28.
Later on Monday, police announced Jamaa Keon Cassell, 39, had also died.
Mario Black, who heads MYMCS, instructed attendees before setting out that the march was to be silent–no chanting, not even side conversation–as the group progressed through the neighborhood, “out of respect for Beatties Ford corridor and the families who are enduring the loss of someone, and the people at home recovering from their injuries. It’s our way of showing our love and support and our respect.”
The Beatties Ford corridor, a historically Black Charlotte neighborhood, has long been economically depressed and is currently in a precarious stage of gentrification. Residents are fighting to preserve its cultural character and legacy as a place Black Charlotteans could gain home ownership and build economic power through the businesses lining the thoroughfare, once known as Charlotte’s Black Wall Street. Friday and Saturday saw various Juneteenth celebrations that drew hundreds well into the night, without incident. Sunday night’s sudden violence jarred many.
“It does hit you personally, because that could be your child, and at the end of the day that was someone else’s child,” said Kass Ottley, founder of Seeking Justice CLT, a Charlotte-based nonprofit that advocates for criminal justice reform and police accountability.
“It just makes no sense,” said Ottley. “We’re out here being peaceful. That came from outside the community. And it just hurts me that it’s not this community but it’s always in this community. People reacted to it, but if you look at the video and how it happened, I don’t believe [the shooter] was this community.”
Black led the procession down Beatties Ford to the corner of Catherine Simmons, across the street from the Food Lion. Marchers were silent, but passing cars were not. Drivers honked in solidarity and called out encouragement from their windows.
“Black lives matter! I love y’all!” a woman shouted from her SUV.
“I’m proud of you! It’s hot out here!” called another.
Krystal Barringer marched with her son, Kaiden Okam, 9, and her mother. It was their first participation in a march, but the Mooresville native said it was important because her son loved civil rights icon John Lewis and wanted to march.
Approaching the stopping point at Catherine Simmons, West Charlotte activist Gemini LaDaire exhorted the crowd to get their family members and friends involved. “I need my strong Black men to get up, stand up and show out. We have to get shoulder to shoulder and heel to heel to protect our community,” LaDaire said.
He also criticized some broadcast and print news outlets for connecting the shootings to the weekend Juneteenth celebrations, which took place Friday and Saturday, not Sunday. Sunday’s crowd was an impromptu gathering, not a coordinated event, and no Juneteenth program had taken place that day.
“Stop using the narrative that it had something to do with Juneteenth because it didn’t!”
Tiffany Fant, one of the organizers of Friday’s Juneteenth Liberation Drive-thru, agreed. Friday’s official festivities, which included a parade and had no police involvement, saw about 300 people gathered along Beatties Ford from LaSalle Street to Catherine Simmons, cheering on cars, playing music and sharing community connections. Many attendees were masked. The program ended at 9 p.m. and residents continued to party through the night.
“The community love and pride displayed was a fraction of what can be done with proper investment into the community,” Fant said. “The most important part of community is people, and we have to honor those who lost their lives. They are the catalyst for how we press forward. We can’t afford to lose focus here, especially in the midst of attempts to celebrate liberation and freedom.”
Neighborhood members have also called for more police accountability. Several videos on social media show a uniformed CMPD officer aiming an assault rifle at survivors following the shooting. And on June 4 a George Floyd protest was met with dozens of SWAT team members, rubber bullets and tear gas.