I was there on September 21, 2016.
I saw our local police and national guard suited up in militarized riot gear with my own eyes.
I heard the bangs of stun grenades with my own ears.
I smelled the sound of tear gas with my own nose.
I felt frozen in the most brief moment of terror as a police officer no more than thirty feet away aimed a pellet gun directly at my head when someone from further back in the crowd threw a water bottle at a wall of police at least fifty officers deep lined up in a blockade across Trade Street, just outside of the Omni hotel, where no more than an hour prior, Justin Carr was shot dead among the chaos. Fortunately for me, that officer showed restraint, and did not pull their trigger.
These sights, sound, smells and emotions will live with me for the rest of my life. The nights of protests that turned violent and even deadly in the wake of the Keith Lamont Scott shooting are something that should be fresh in the minds of Charlotteans, whether they were there or not. After the protests, many saw the events of that week to be a wake-up call, a moment of action that would spur this city to do better and to be better. In the moment, it felt like we had our marching orders, and the mission was clear: create a more equitable Charlotte that would be a leader among quickly growing American cities in the 21st century. City leaders spoke of inclusiveness, opportunity, a fresh perspective and a step, however small, in the right direction.
All of that rhetoric will be proven false if Charlotte accepts the offer to host the 2020 Republican National Convention. All of the lessons learned on those dark nights of violence and fear that played out on the streets that we walk on everyday will prove to have been quickly forgotten, if ever learned at all. All of the efforts purported to have been made in response to the Keith Lamont Scott protests, the Economic Mobility Report and HB2 will bear themselves a lie if our city leaders move forward with hosting the RNC. Worse still, my greatest fear is that the blood of our own citizens will once again flow through the parquet brick sidewalks of Uptown.
In any normal year, the talk of showing fairness and overcoming differences associated with hosting the RNC just eight years after Charlotte played host to the Democratic counterpart would ring absolutely true. We should all strive to provide equal voice to those whose opinions differ from ours. “I disapprove of what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it.”, spoken by Evelyn Beatrice Hall in 1906, is a standard that lifts us as a society above the fray of rhetoric.
However, it is this exact disposition that has been taken advantage of and bastardized by the very people we would be inviting to our city. The idea that our political views, while differing from one another, are equally valid and worthy of legitimate discussion and compromise, is only sound if the opposing views are presented in good faith.
There is, however, very little about the messaging of the RNC and the current administration that can be classified as good faith. Since embracing the new leader of the party almost three years ago, Conservatives have repeatedly mortgaged their values, integrity and honor in the name of gaining power. They have leveraged weak and less discerning minds to fuel their unquenchable quest for power, with both the carriage and the horse hypnotized by false promises of influence.
The values that represent today’s national Conservative party are based in fear, inadequacy, xenophobia and a yearning to regress back to a time that only exists in their minds. This has lead to calls to roll back civil rights for minorities, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, women and more. To put it bluntly: there is nothing good faith about any of that.
It’s one thing to say we should cut taxes and embrace the free market. It’s something entirely different to legislate discrimination against any members of the population.
The argument has been made that hosting the RNC will result in an influx of business spending and increased tax revenues for the city. Ostensibly, that will lead to more funding and resources that would make Charlotte the more fair and equitable city that every task force convened since the Economic Mobility Report has pined over. However, this too bears false. The same tax dollars that washed into the city in 2012 did little if anything to spur a revival of affordable housing, education, rehabilitation services, mental health services, treatment programs and all of the other things that literally everyone agreed the city needed in the wake of the Economic Mobility Report that listed Charlotte as dead last just four years after the DNC.
The only noticeable improvements that I can see, were the stocking of military-style police gear, the same gear that was used to forcibly repress the city’s own citizens in late September, 2016.
If indeed the economic impact is what is driving Charlotte’s push for the RNC, that alone speaks to a scary disposition. City leaders would in essence be saying that the greater equity of their citizens is not worth the relatively minor influx of money that would come from leveraging our dignity.
In an age of money-driven decisions, it is also quite telling that many more municipalities have rejected the RNC and the money that comes with it.
It has also been argued that hosting the RNC would give the world a chance to see Charlotte’s ability to give voice to both protesters and supporters of the Conservative party. To that, I quote French poet Anatole France: “It is well for the heart to be naive and the mind to not be.”
Charlotte has a small but strong community of activists and protesters, endlessly dedicated people who will absolutely show up on the streets of Uptown. However, they won’t just be holding perfectly Instagram-able signs, chanting catchy phrases and signing songs of peace and harmony as many city leaders seem to think. High-level activists operate off of what they call “actions”. These actions are designed to be peaceful, but disruptive. They are meant to get in front of your face and make you critically think about how your minor inconvenience is relatively small compared to the injustices that people face every day.
These actions include blocking roads, staging “die-ins” where people lay in the middle of heavily trafficked areas, repelling from rooftops to hang signs, banners and even people as physical blockades.
These techniques, while effective overall, invite scenarios that are far from what city leaders seem to think of as possible. There is a growing wave of people who are ready to run over and kill protesters who block roads. There are members of the current administration who think that those who run over, injure and even kill protesters should be legislatively protected.
If this were to happen in the middle of 277, and city leaders were left with the mangled, bloody, dying bodies of their own citizens scattered about the street, would they ask themselves, “Was it worth it?”
In any other year, inviting the core of the Republican party and the people attached to it would be an engaging opportunity to discuss and debate, and to hopefully share our different opinions in a friendly way over a pint at Tyber Creek. This iteration of the Republican party, is not above violence. Much of which, has been emboldened by the leadership of their own party over the past three years. It has manifested itself all over social media. It was most prominently on display in Charlottesville, where one of their citizens died in the streets and many others were injured by the exact same people we would be inviting into our city in the summer of 2020.
The combination of people who aren’t above resorting to violence, plus a proud coalition of activists ready to put their lives on the line is one that I hope I never have to see the result of.
City leaders of Charlotte, you must ask yourself: “Is it worth it?”
“Is it worth it to see violence in our streets spread across national news?”
“Is it worth it to further divide a community that is already split wide apart?”
“Is it worth it to be on the wrong side of history?”