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Charlotte, N.C., Police Shooting Echoes 2013 Death Of Jonathan Ferrell


To understand why some people in Charlotte are so angry, we're going to talk about another police shooting there. In 2013, a Charlotte police officer shot and killed Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed black man. Last year the officer was tried for voluntary manslaughter. The trial ended with a hung jury, and prosecutors chose not to retry the case. The officer later resigned in a legal settlement with the city.

Mary C. Curtis is a columnist at Roll Call and an occasional contributor to NPR. She's a longtime resident of Charlotte, and she joins us from there now. Welcome to the show.

MARY C CURTIS: Thank you for having me.

MCEVERS: So tell us about the shooting of Jonathan Ferrell.

CURTIS: Well, the refrain now from the city leaders and faith leaders and others is, this is not the Charlotte we know. But the question comes back. Do you really know Charlotte? And when that case happened, he was the so-called pristine victim, the ex-football star working two jobs, the fiance. Yet he got into this car accident, went to a door for help. And when the resident called the police, he ended up dead - shot many times.

And it looked like the system worked. We had a black police chief, as we do now. The officer was charged with voluntary manslaughter. And then there was a hung jury, and they decided not to try him again. And so for many people, they felt the system worked; let's move on. But for many others, it was a wound that has never healed.

MCEVERS: Were there protests at the time?

CURTIS: There were. There were protests at the time, nothing like this. But I believe that many people felt there was a period placed on that. And because Charlotte has so many community relations, boards, committees, community building initiatives and they're always having conversations with faith leaders and others in the community - but so often I feel they talk past each other, so there is not a sense of maybe lingering anger and even rage because that's not the Charlotte way.

That's why the city's a bit in shock - because even though the protests started as very peaceful, when it turned violent, it didn't go down well with people who think of the city as the un-Chicago, the un-Baltimore. And it caused them to think again. Have we really been listening, and are we really the diverse, progressive New South city we think that we are?

Or as I wrote earlier for NPR, we have an integrated city where it's very easy to live a segregated life. And that's why there is this mistrust. So when the police chief says this is what the evidence shows, people are saying, I want to see the video.

MCEVERS: Do you think people in the streets protesting in Charlotte right now are also thinking about the Ferrell case?

CURTIS: I do. It's not just the Ferrell case. That means that Charlotte is not immune. But it's Tulsa. It's Minnesota. It's all of these other cities, the cumulative effect of black death. And I think it does affect people. And Charlotte does have this lingering case that's out there that has never been put to rest for many in the community.

MCEVERS: So people don't have closure.

CURTIS: No, they do not. They feel they don't have closure, and many feel they don't have justice. And no matter what the facts are in this case - and of course we don't know all the facts at this point - it's just another thing, one more of the long list. And I guess it's a wake-up call for Charlotte to realize that this one case in 2013 - Jonathan Ferrell - and now this case - they just want what is considered justice of a sort.

MCEVERS: Mary C Curtis, a columnist at Roll Call and a longtime Charlotte resident, thank you very much.

CURTIS: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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