Just a year ago, candles lit, feet marched and voices raised. Keith Lamont Scott was killed, just a few miles from UNC Charlotte’s campus and his death contributed to a nationwide conversation on police brutality. Ultimately, Scott’s death changed the city of Charlotte.
Scott, a black man, was shot at The Village at College Downs by a black police officer on Sept. 20, 2016, after he exited a vehicle with a handgun, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD). After the shooting was labeled justified by county prosecutors, the officer faced no charges.
Yet, that didn’t quiet the city, including the UNC Charlotte campus.
The days following Scott’s death, the university community chanted and shared stories of police brutality. Some students united. Others, divided. Whites held signs reading “I stand with the black community.” Blacks held signs reading “don’t shoot.” A march took over the streets of UNC Charlotte. Craver and Mary Alexander roads shut down, disrupting the flow of campus.
Kris Long, a now-senior, didn’t plan to speak that day. Still, he gravitated toward the forefront of a protest at the Student Union. With hundreds of students and a few faculty members behind him, news cameras and observers in front, Long spoke out on the fear he had for his young black cousins and provided comfort to other grieving protestors.
Long remembers the days prior to the rally. He first read the news of Scott’s killing in the silence of his bedroom. As tears streamed down his face, he grabbed a paper and pen, then began writing.
“I was sitting there like, ‘What could I say that people are going to pay attention to?'” Long said.
In the morning, Long stepped onto campus with a large whiteboard. In black sharpie, he had written a statement, renouncing his American citizenship “until [he sees] justice for Terrence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott.”
“I’m tired of being an outsider in my own country,” he wrote.
In his art history class, Long stood on a chair mid-lecture and held the sign high, reading his statement aloud.
“My teacher was mad at first but started a conversation,” he said. “A lot of people cried, a lot of people had tears in their eyes. It was like a moment where people, at least for a second, understood the gravity of the situation.”
Long stood outside of the Student Union for those next few days.
“At one point, I had about 60 people surrounding me,” he said. “Which was like, ‘Woah.’ I didn’t know this was going to do something like that. I was just trying to grieve.”
Long knew his sign might garner negative attention, but did not anticipate the extent. One man brought him the documents to renounce his citizenship.
“He kept saying how I should be appreciative of being an American… my point is we’re not being treated fairly,” Long said.
He was surprised that even some black people expressed anger toward his statement.
Friends and family of Long urged him not to make a statement on campus. They thought he’d be hurt or killed.
“To this day, I don’t know how I feel about the whole situation, to be honest with you,” Long said.
Since that September, Long believes not much has changed. He mentioned Colin Kaepernick, the black NFL player who was criticized after he took a knee during the national anthem in an attempt to express his discontent with oppression in America. Long also talked about Donald Trump, who has often been labeled a racist, and the change since Barack Obama’s term ended.
“I still hold faith that white people, black people, everybody can come together because this is an American issue,” Long said.
In the week following the march, a vigil was held in the Student Activity Center. UNC Charlotte’s gospel group Voices of Eden sang songs such as “Lean on Me.” Its organizer was Spencer Blackwell, the president of Building Better Brothers (B3).
The vigil was held later in the month in hopes the community wouldn’t forget Scott too soon, as well as Justin Carr, the black protester killed by another protester in Uptown Charlotte earlier that week.
“I have an organization of young black men so I just felt like it was my place to have a voice in it because these are my brothers,” Blackwell said. “I felt like I would’ve been doing an injustice if I had not spoken out, not had planned the vigil.”
Established by Multicultural Academic Services, B3 was designed to push minority students toward graduation.
Blackwell feels that as a city, Charlotte has progressed.
“I really think [CMPD is] trying to inform the public, trying to train the officers on how to deal with situations where it doesn’t have to turn out tragic or with lethal force,” he said.
CMPD Police Chief Kerr Putney released a statement on the anniversary of Scott’s death saying he had put body cameras on the majority of officers.
“I am fully aware that we still have a long way to go,” Putney said. “I am a chief of police and yet, I still get that uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when an officer pulls behind me in traffic.”
As for the progression of the country, Blackwell is not so sure.
“I think we still need work because of the historical mindset that the country has had,” he said.
The Scott shooting started a campus-wide conversation about furthering diversity initiatives, including a petition for a chief of diversity which Chancellor Philip Dubois responded with, “As chancellor, I believe that it is my duty and responsibility to serve as chief diversity officer.”
Dubois briefly mentioned the events of last September to the UNC Board of Governors during a tour on Friday.
“When that shooting happened and there was civil unrest downtown, our students wanted to protest on campus. They did so very ethically, responsibility … had no issues,” he said. “Our student body is a terrific group of young people.”