By Fred Clasen-Kelly
The Charlotte Observer
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police and the city’s top leaders are preparing for potential protests Monday when they release video of an officer fatally shooting a 27-year-old black man at a west side Burger King.
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, City Manager Marcus Jones and Police Chief Kerr Putney have met with local clergy, community organizers and activists in recent days, according to people who attended the meetings or were given advance notice of them.
CMPD, Lyles and a city spokeswoman would not answer questions from the Observer.
But people who attended the meetings said it was apparent that city leaders are concerned about public reaction to the video showing CMPD Officer Wende Kerl fatally shooting Danquirs Franklin on March 25.
The shooting has already led to a school walkout and other protests and added to the debate about the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police officers.
CMPD and some activists have provided conflicting accounts about what happened.
By law, police officers can use deadly force if they or others face an imminent threat of serious bodily harm or death.
Activists have raised questions about whether Franklin was armed at the time of shooting and others have asked whether Kerl resorted too quickly to lethal force. Police have said Franklin had a gun and was shot after he did not follow commands to drop it.
In response to a court petition from local media, a judge on Thursday ordered CMPD to release the video on Monday over objections of Kerl’s attorney and the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office.
The Rev. Rodney Sadler, a leader from the Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice who has advised CMPD in the past, said city leaders met with about 20 ministers on Thursday.
Putney talked about the department’s procedures for body-worn cameras, but would not discuss details about the shooting or video.
Officials assured the ministers they would give people room to protest peacefully and officers would try to avoid actions that escalated tensions with crowds, Sadler said.
“The leaders of the city are being cautious,” Sadler said. “They are trying to be pre-emptive.”
He said he believes police and other top officials have learned lessons from 2016 when violent protests erupted after the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.
During the meeting at a community center near uptown, Sadler said, ministers criticized the city, saying reforms that were promised after the Scott shooting never happened or didn’t go far enough.
“In the aftermath, we don’t think there was a sufficient response,” Sadler said. “Why haven’t these problems been resolved?”
City officials faced similar criticism Friday when they met with more than a dozen community organizers and activists, said Kass Ottley, a protest organizer, who attended the meeting.
Unlike in the past, Ottley said city leaders appeared receptive to activists’ comments.
“It’s sad it had to take the city being afraid of another uprising for them to really hear us,” Ottley said. “The reception was really different. It’s a tiny step. There’s so much to get done and we’re running out of time.”
Robert Dawkins, a leader of Action NC, a social justice group, said there’s a good chance the video will prompt more protests, but he doesn’t anticipate they will become violent. He’s a frequent organizer of protests.
“It is amazing how much Charlotte lives in fear,” he said. “They are worried about protests instead of worrying about police accountability and transparency.”
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