Law enforcement used pepper spray after ‘Defund the Police’ demonstrators clashed with ‘Blue Lives Matter’ protesters in a Charlotte park.
Two days after a Charlotte judge dissolved a restraining order barring Charlotte police from deploying riot-control agents (RCAs) such as pepper spray and tear gas, the city’s police used pepper spray on a crowd of “Defund the Police” demonstrators Saturday.
A video shared with WCNC by Charlotte journalist Jeff Taylor shows CMPD officers pepper spraying Defund the Police demonstrators, and forcing the group back.
After the pepper spray was deployed, Blue Lives Matter demonstrators chanted “USA” repeatedly.
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After distributing food, water, and services to prisoners just released from the Mecklenburg County Detention Center, close to 50 members of the activist group Charlotte Uprising marched to nearby Marshall Park, Charlotte Magazine reported.
There they confronted 120 attendees of a “Blue Lives Matter” rally. The event was organized by Blexit North Carolina, a NC affiliate of a national organization that encourages Black voters to break away from the Democratic Party.
The two sides exchanged hostile words.
Antoine Thomas, one of the Blue Lives Matter organizers, grabbed a counter-protesting woman by the throat, Charlotte Magazine reported.
Maya Pillai, a “Blue Lives Matter” supporter and founder of “Reopen Meck,” a group that seeks to have COVID-19 related health and safety restrictions removed, was at the rally. She told WCNC that Black Lives Matter protesters flipped over tables that Blexit had set up for the event.
“We were met with violence from white supremacists but also violence from the police,” Ash Williams, an organizer with Charlotte Uprising, told WCNC.
“When one protestor attempted to steal a patrol officer’s bicycle, officers deployed pepper spray on that individual,” CMPD posted on its Twitter account. “No other agents were used during the event.”
No arrests were made.
Taylor’s video and photographs published by Charlotte Magazine show more than one person being sprayed.
Taylor responded to CMPD’s post, disputing the department’s version of events.
“This isn’t what happened,” Taylor wrote. “No one tried stealing a bike, it was a shoving match and the cops sprayed more that one person. Check my timeline for the truth. This isn’t it.”
Charlotte attorney Michael F. Roessler also responded to CMPD’s post.
“This is a lie,” Roessler wrote. “The officer pushed a bike into the protestor and the protestor reacted in self-defense. There is video of the incident.”
“That’s really unfortunate that CMPD is back to their old tricks,” Williams told WCNC.
Williams might be referring to a lawsuit filed in June by local protesters represented by attorneys from the NC chapter of the ACLU.
The suit was based on a June 2 incident in Charlotte where the plaintiffs claimed they were deliberately funneled into an ambush by two lines of Civil Emergency Unit (CEU) officers in riot gear. Once the protestors were trapped, they alleged, police bombarded them with tear gas and pepper balls.
The demonstrators supported their suit with live video shot as the clash occurred.
Days later, the Charlotte City Council voted to bar all present and future funding for the police department’s use of chemical munitions.
On June 19, Mecklenburg County Superior Court Judge Karen Eady-Williams issued a temporary restraining order restricting CMPD’s use of RCA’s unless police or the public “are faced with an imminent threat of physical harm” or if protesters are committing “threatening acts.”
On July 9, the demonstrators’ attorneys asked for an extension of the restraining order.
But on Thursday, Superior Court Judge George Bell denied that request and dissolved the restraining order against the CMPD, clearing the way for the department to deploy pepper spray.
Police attorney Jessica Battle cited three incidences of violence against police officers leading up to the June 2 clash, WBTV reported. Based on this information, Bell deemed the incident a riot, despite evidence that the June 2 demonstrations “were mainly peaceful and most individuals were protesting their grievances lawfully,” Bell wrote.
At the same time, Bell disputed findings by the NC State Bureau of Investigation that protestors had two clear avenues of escape on June 2. According to the NC SBI’s findings, the police enclosure therefore did not constitute an ambush.
As reported by Queen City Nerve, an alternative Charlotte newspaper, Bell wrote: “This court has reservations about the NCSBI‘s conclusions on whether the crowd had clear paths to escape, noting viability to this claim; however, even if the plaintiffs’ due process rights were violated … this Court finds no irreparable injury.”