Police bashed protesters with bikes and pepper spray as demonstrators denounced President Trump and Republicans this week.
Outside the Republican National Convention Monday evening in Charlotte were two very different types of protests, but the challenge to a pronounced police presence was the same.
The actions at the RNC this week reflected a broader national civil rights movement against police brutality, which has seen renewed focus after a police officer shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times in Kenosha, Wisconsin, over the weekend.
In North Carolina, Resist RNC—a grassroots coalition of progressive groups that mobilized in 2019 to plan demonstrations during the 2020 Republican National Convention—rallied in Marshall Park in downtown Charlotte. While the event represented a diverse array of grievances with the Trump administration and GOP, racial justice figured largely.
[Scroll below for more photos of the Marshall Park protest.]
Around 75 people were in attendance, some waving signs that read “Liar in Chief,” “Veterans Against Treason” and “Take Your Knee Off Our Necks.” More than 26 activists representing advocacy groups for racial justice, housing security, voters rights and educational equity took turns on the microphone.
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“Having the RNC in Charlotte is not an honor. They are at best indifferent and at worst show hostility to the welfare of our people,” said Mars Earle of Charlotte Reproductive Action Network. “The GOP refused to extend $600 a week to 30 million unemployed Americans but could deliver a $1 billion-dollar tax break to the top 1%. They are benefitting from this crisis and doubling down on white supremacy. The poor pandemic response only underlines that we are not valuable to them outside of our labor. When we are no longer profitable, we turn disposable.”
“One of the cops came from behind and sprayed a kid in the face at close range. I got hit with the spray. They didn’t care that I saw them, that there were cameras rolling.”Corine Mack, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg chapter of the NAACP
Justin Perry, representing Charlotte 4 Black Futures, called the treatment of essential workers “an extension of the plantation paradigm of 400 years ago.”
“The RNC is going to be a loss. It’s a gain for the people sitting in the Westin [where convention attendees stayed] right now. It’s going to be a gain for their money and their campaigns and social capital, but in terms of this city, the people who live and work here and actually built this city are gaining nothing from this. The only thing they’re gaining is a loss of security, increased police surveillance and a greater threat,” Perry said.
Other speakers talked about the history of resistance and need for unification, and several denounced the police for brutal tactics against people of color. But at times, their voices were drowned out by a smaller but more vocal counterprotest nearby.
On the grassy lip above the tiered amphitheater where Resist RNC set up, seven religious fundamentalists with bullhorns shouted slogans. They were surrounded by a ring of 25 Charlotte Mecklenburg police officers on bicycles. When the competing noise became disruptive, they were verbally challenged by anti-counterprotesters. That’s when police got aggressive.
“We’re just here to keep the groups from physical altercation,” said one officer who refused to identify himself. But officers, still in a protective formation around the counterprotesters, began to shove and yell at those outside the circle. Police then began picking up their bikes and hitting protesters with them. They pepper sprayed a Black teen and appeared to arrest at least one individual.
Corine Mack, president of the NAACP Charlotte-Mecklenburg branch, said she was both a witness and victim of the assault. She was on the sidewalk being interviewed by WCCB Charlotte when the melee began.
“I was doing a news interview around 5:35 when I saw cops hitting kids with their bikes in the street. I stopped the interview and yelled, ‘No, stop it.’ And one of the cops came from behind and sprayed a kid in the face at close range. I got hit with the spray,” Mack said. “They didn’t care that I saw them, that there were cameras rolling. I couldn’t believe it. Racist and bigoted cops feel empowered to do what they want. It’s the first time I saw how really devastating it is to be young and Black in this country.”
Monday was the third day of RNC protests in Charlotte. Sunday night, marchers reported seeing police driving around downtown planting stacks of bricks, which protesters in other cities have said is a tactic to bait people into vandalism as an excuse to enact violence. CMPD later tweeted that they were “collecting loose bricks from streets in Uptown so they could not be used for property damage.”
Organizers of Resist RNC had initially planned to have protests every night of the convention, but the pandemic forced a change in their plans. Liz Millsaps Haigler, the founder, said the group decided to pare down activity to opening night.
“The Republicans’ damage to Charlotte, North Carolina, and our country is still ongoing,” Millsaps Haigler said. “They want to defund everything but the police and here in North Carolina they’ve been very successful at that. On the national level … they are stalling the Heroes Act, while people are losing their homes and their jobs. We need them out.”
Daily demonstrations by other organized Charlotte organizations will be ongoing through the RNC.
This article originally appeared on Cardinal & Pine.