May 25, 2021 - News

What’s changed in Charlotte in the year since George Floyd’s death

Protesters in Myers Park

Protesters in Myers Park

It’s hot again, if you haven’t noticed, and Charlotte’s sidewalks are purple splotches from fallen mulberries again. Just two seasonal reminders that it’s been a year.

One year since all the people walked and walked, night after night, sweating through their masks, calling for justice.

The big picture: George Floyd’s North Carolina-based family members hope to turn May 25 into an annual remembrance called the Day of Enlightenment.

  • Today’s a good day to look back and see how we’re different, if at all, in the year since Floyd’s murder. Statues came down and murals went up and people spent money in Black-owned restaurants, but measuring real progress is tricky business.

Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Chart: Axios Visuals

It was Memorial Day 2020.

Monday, May 25: The day actually started with president Trump dominating the North Carolina news with morning string of tweets threatening to pull the Republican National Convention out of the state if Cooper didn’t relax regulations.

Later that day, 1,200 miles away, George Floyd had died under the knee of officer Derek Chauvin, and the video was about to circulate.

Friday, May 29: Rocks and bottles and teargas flew outside of the police station on Beatties Ford Road, starting two tense weeks in which Charlotte joined cities around the state and country in protesting.

Demonstrations happened all over: In Myers Park one night. In Waxhaw another. One hot Sunday afternoon, teenagers in Huntersville arranged one.

  • Most nights followed a script — peaceful marches in the evening filled with parents and kids in strollers, followed moonlit turmoil.
  • On June 2, hours after a peaceful NAACP march, Queen City Nerve’s Justin LaFrancois was caught with a crowd in an incident where CMPD kettled them on Fourth Street, in what became arguably the defining image of the June protests.

So what’s changed, after all that?

2020 Protests Beatties Ford Road May 29, 2020
A man helps his son get a better look of the protests on Beatties Ford Road on May 29, 2020.
2020 George Floyd Protests Myers Park June 1
Protesters move through Myers Park on June 1, and several folks from the neighborhood stood in their yards to offer support.

Charlotte had already been the scene of large-scale protests following the 2016 police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, so by the time of the Floyd protests, the city had already made some big changes in top positions:

After Floyd’s murder, the changes called for were less about personality than policy. And pocketbooks.

People lined up outside of Black-owned restaurants and shops in those early-June 2020 days.

Mayor Lyles kneeling with protesters
Mayor Lyles kneeling with protesters for nine minutes in George Floyd’s memory. Photo: Paige Hopkins/Axios

“Black restaurants” peaked as a Google search term in North Carolina in those first three weeks of June 2020. Some local Black-owned restaurants, such as Lulu’s Maryland-Style Chicken and Seafood, took off to the point where they’re now expanding.

On the policy side, Charlotte put a year-long halt on buying chemical agents for crowd control. CMPD banned strangleholds and shored up a duty to intervene policy. Kerr Putney retired (as previously scheduled) as police chief on July 1 and Johnny Jennings took over that day.

  • Jennings has worked with the city on reforms, including diverting 911 calls that related to mental health to non-law enforcement services.
  • He’s also now working to implement customer service training for officers.
  • City staff issued a SAFE Charlotte report in the fall that had other recommendations, including  offering residency incentives for officers living in priority areas.

Bigger changes might be coming from the state. Moving through the legislature now is a bill that would add statewide database for officers who’ve been removed from their job, while also stiffening the penalties for rioting.

  • And after the death of Andrew Brown in Elizabeth City, several lawmakers have called for new legislation that would allow families to see body cam video faster.

Of note: Floyd was born in Fayetteville and much of his family still lives in North Carolina. They’re using the George Floyd Memorial Center not just for issues around police violence, but also to raise scholarship money and invest in small rural communities like Raeford.

Some more photos from the tense summer of 2020 in Charlotte.

2020 George Floyd Protests Ballantyne June 7, 2020 (Andrew Weber)
2020 George Floyd Protests Ballantyne June 7, 2020. Photo: Andrew Weber/Axios
NAACP uptown protest June 2 2020
NAACP protest Uptown on June 2, 2020. Photo: Andrew Weber/Axios
rnc marshall park protest 2
Protest at Marshall Park on the night of the Republican National Convention’s one-day stay here. Photo: Andrew Weber/Axios
waxhaw protests
Protesters gathered all over the Charlotte region in June, including in suburbs such as Waxhaw. Photo: Paige Hopkins/Axios

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