CHARLOTTE – With the lights of the Bank of America Stadium shining in the distance, Shawn Richardson wobbled from the highway in his Colin Kaepernick jersey, trying to get the pain from his eyes.
Police allegedly deployed a spray when a mostly peaceful protest march arrived at the I-277 loop here late on Thursday, and Richardson was bowled over by it. As he tried to regain his footing, he heard one of the cops say, “You better get up, Kaepernick!”
Only a few hours before, as he stood near where a protester was fatally shot during the unrest here on Wednesday, Richardson spoke of why he chose to wear that jersey.
“It’s appropriate,” said Richardson. “When he first started protesting, I felt it’s a representation of who I am. It’s a representation of what’s going on in the world.”
He’s not alone in that. As the evening wore on, CNN cameras showed a group of protesters taking a knee in the Uptown area as a tribute to Kaepernick.
Many across the country feel the 49ers quarterback’s national anthem protest created more division than it solved. But on the day when Kaepernick appeared on the cover of Time Magazine, it was clear in the streets of Charlotte that he’s buoyed some who have serious qualms with police accountability.
“It’s relevant,” Richardson said. “One of the things Kaepernick talked about was police violence on African-American men.”
One of the destinations of Thursday night’s marches was the police department here, where protesters chanted, “We want the tapes!” It was a clear reference to the video of the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott on Tuesday. While the police shooting of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa was followed by the prompt release of the video and an earnest press conference from the police chief (followed on Thursday by a charge of first-degree manslaughter), there is not the same transparency here. And that’s part of why there’s so much unrest. A petition from the ACLU of North Carolina reads in part: “The public deserves answers.” The New York Times, in a Thursday editorial, said the Charlotte police department had “opted for stonewalling.”
This isn’t to say the police acted improperly here on Tuesday when Scott was killed; we might never know that. (Charlotte mayor Jennifer Roberts said the video is “ambiguous.”) But withholding the footage from public view only underscores the concern that the police aren’t being forthright. “The systems are broken,” said Maria Crank, a registered nurse who brought her children to the protests. “The system that says we are here to serve and protect you is broken.”
That gets to the accountability Kaepernick highlighted.
“There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust, people aren’t being held accountable for, and that’s something that needs to change,” he said last month. “That’s something that – this country stands for freedom, liberty, justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.”
Maria Crank brought her children tonight. “When something isn’t right, we have to stand up and say it’s not right.” pic.twitter.com/HxJnYeQaKE
— Eric Adelson (@eric_adelson) September 22, 2016
Richardson didn’t just wear a jersey on Thursday; he wore a pin as well. It was a photograph of Jonathan Ferrell, the former college football player who was fatally shot by Charlotte police in 2013. Ferrell was unarmed. A grand jury declined to indict the officer, then a second grand jury did indict him, and then a mistrial was declared last year. That led to protests here as well. While Kaepernick’s protest drew a lot of sports fans to debate about patriotism and the national anthem, for many here the memory of Ferrell was brought back.
“Ninety percent of the police here are good people and do a good job,” Richardson said. “But there are five, 10 percent that are rogue. I’ve been falsely arrested before, I’ve been roughed up.”
Myron Barnes, a minister who marched on Thursday night and said he would personally ensure that the events would not turn violent again, spoke openly about how much power athletes have and how much would change if NBA and NFL players sat down more.
“A lot of people ridiculed [Kaepernick], but he’s doing something,” Barnes said. “He’s doing something. So do something. Don’t just talk about it.”
The point of the peaceful protests is to do something. And many of the protesters feel Colin Kaepernick understands their anguish in a way few of the rich and famous can.