“I don’t even know what to say. It’s not often I’m at a loss for words, but I’m at a loss for words because we continue to see the harm that this administration causes to our community.”
Protesters in Charlotte, North Carolina, took to the streets every night during the Republican National Convention, demonstrating against both the Trump administration and police violence.
The police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, reignited protests throughout the country against police brutality in the midst of the GOP convention. Charlotte Uprising, a local coalition that works to end state violence against Black and marginalized communities, helped organize events in the city.
COURIER spoke with three activists who were out on the streets of Charlotte during the RNC despite the threat of police violence. These are their stories.
Kristie Puckett-Williams—Statewide Campaign for Smart Justice Manager, ACLU of North Carolina
Kristie Puckett-Williams believes the best way to show support for the Civil Rights movement is to put your body on the line.
“People are saying they support us,” Puckett-Williams told COURIER. “They show [it] by sending money and things like that, but the most important way a person can show that they stand in solidarity is to come out, is to be a body in this movement.”.
Puckett-WIlliams was one of the featured speakers at the Resist RNC rally on August 24, where she criticized the Trump administration for implementing policies that target marginalized communities.
“I don’t even know what to say. It’s not often I’m at a loss for words, but I’m at a loss for words because we continue to see the harm that this administration causes to our community,” Puckett-Williams said in her speech. “What we have seen from them is what we’ve always known about police; what Black people have always known about police. It’s white people that are just now getting to the cookout. And now you’re on the receiving end of what we’ve known for centuries.”
Two days later, in an interview, Puckett-Williams said the skin on her face felt like an alligator’s, as burns from pepper spray got worse. After drying off after a shower, she said her towel was stained with orange from the spray used by Charlotte police.
There were several documented moments of police aggression throughout the RNC—as there have been at protests around the country in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis earlier this year. Charlotte police used bikes as weapons, including rolling over an individual who was lying on the ground yelling out in pain, and then pepper spraying those who came to her aid. The same night, they sent two people to the hospital on stretchers.
All of this came just one day after Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles thanked police for keeping protesters “safe.”
Puckett-Williams said white supremacists and anti-abortion protesters were not pepper sprayed or assaulted by Charlotte police.
“They did a great job at protecting them,” she said, before adding that she felt white supremacists became “emboldened” by the Trump administration to act violently.
“I don’t know what has to happen [to get more people out], I don’t know if I gotta get shot seven times in my back before it motivates people to do what they need to do,” she said. “I don’t know what it’s going to take for people in this city, for people to be outraged the way that we are outraged by the use of militarized, state-sanctioned violence.”
Nada Merghani—Founder, Charlotte chapter of Feed the Movement
Nada Merghani noticed something when she was out protesting after the police shooting of George Floyd earlier this summer: People who had been marching for hours had no food, aside from the occasional snack that was passed out.
She remembered when she was a young college student, low on funds, and said she would often attend community organizing meetings to make sure she had a meal for the day. This led her to getting active with her community, and inspired her to bring food to demonstrators during this spring and summer’s protests.
What started as a plan for a one-time meal soon became something bigger. Merghani realized there was an ongoing need for the service she was providing.
“So we were like, let’s try to actually collectivize and make this into something legitimate so we can continue to keep providing food,” Merghani said. That was the start of the Charlotte chapter of Feed the Movement, which has been providing hot meals to protesters and community members in need.
“I think protests and mutual aid are inherently aligned,” she adds. “We protest for the right to take care of each other.”
Merghani is one of the countless people who have been pepper sprayed by the Charlotte police. She said she is continuing the fight that her ancestors were forced to take part in. She hopes these efforts will contribute to a better world for her future children and grandchildren.
Feed The Movement is expanding beyond making meals, and recently announced a kitchen appliance and supply free store.
Andrew Woods—Local Activist
The Trump administration’s child separation policy is what got activist Andrew Woods protesting for the first time.
“I’ve been protesting ever since,” Woods said in an interview. “But, in particular, after the film was released of the murder of George Floyd.”
“It’s one name after another, after another, after another,” Woods said. “And no matter how many times statements are released, or companies change their social media profile pictures for one day, it doesn’t do anything to reduce the violence. And out of a sense of desperate and righteous anger, marching in the streets seems to be the only thing that gets any attention.”
Woods said he is not out on the streets to see small changes made around policing and that continued protests are needed to “drive a change for justice.”
“And we have seen no change yet in the discourse within the Charlotte government and within the law enforcement community here,” Woods said. “We haven’t even seen a real discussion of what is happening to citizens in Charlotte who are being violently and needlessly attacked by the taxpayer-funded police department. We have not even been heard yet. So, we have to march until we are the only thing that they can hear.”
This story has been updated in regard to Merghani’s work background.