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Charlotte PD Appears To Have Learned From Ferguson

REUTERS/Adam Rhew/Charlotte Magazine

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent
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Charlotte’s Police Department is responding to recent riots with riot gear and police batons, instead of armored personnel carriers and military surplus equipment, and the results have quickly become apparent.

Riots in Ferguson, Mo., after the fatal police shooting of teenager Michael Brown were fraught with images of police looking like tricked out soldiers, responding aggressively to protesters. St. Louis County and Missouri Highway Patrol rocked ballistics helmets, military camouflage and prominently displayed firearms.

One widely circulated photo showed St. Louis County police in a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle launching tear gas into the crowd.

The police response spawned several articles and editorials, police killing aside, questioning both the militarization of domestic police forces and their tactics for riot suppression. The New York Times Editorial board lamented that “Ferguson’s 53-person police force have pointed M-16s at the very citizens they are sworn to protect and serve.”

After a fatal shooting involving the Charlotte Police Department and a black man, crowds in downtown Charlotte erupted in protest. The police responded by deploying officers with batons and riot gear; they occasionally used tear gas to disperse crowds. Their game was appeared to be more focused on damage control: area denial and property protection, suspension of aggressive arrests and pursuit.

Just look at the numbers: Ferguson, population 21,000, erupts into protest; the police force, on a budget of $5.3 million, rolls out in force with armored vehicles and officers brandishing semi-automatic rifles. By the end, 16 people are injured, including six police, and 321 arrested.

Meanwhile, Charlotte, population 800,000, erupts into protest; the police force, on a budget of $200 million, picks up batons, shields and tear gas. Only 10 people are injured, 44 arrested.

Police also moved quickly when a protester shot another protestor, quickly getting the man to a hospital. Reports indicate the man was gravely injured and remains on life support.

Charlotte officials demurred on declaring a curfew on the city, unlike Ferguson, despite anticipating a third night of protesters. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency and deployed the North Carolina National Guard to help restore order in Charlotte. Charlotte officials told reporters Thursday the additional resources would be used to protect local businesses, while simultaneously keeping order.

Images on social media show that the Charlotte Hornet’s NBA store was broken into and looted during the protest. “We are working very hard to bring peace and calm back to our city,” Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts told CNN Wednesday.

Update: This post has been updated to reflect that St. Louis County Police and Missouri Highway Patrol led the response to the riots in Ferguson and that the 321 arrests were not solely residents of Ferguson. 

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