Sunday, September 25, 2016

Protester Expects Big Rally Sunday, Says Silence by NFL Football Team Has Been Noticed
Tom Pelissero, USA TODAY Sports
11:07 p.m. EDT September 24, 2016
(Photo: Diedra Laird, The Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE – Brian Mayes was back on the sidewalk near Independence Square on Saturday, handing chalk to passersby and encouraging them to write personal messages up the street from the words that brought people here: “9-20-16 KEITH SCOTT.”

Demonstrations and protests have continued in this city – peacefully in recent days, after an initial spate of violence and looting – over the officer-involved shooting death of Scott, 43, that was captured on police dash camera and body camera footage released late Saturday.

Mayes plans to be among those carrying the message outside Bank of America Stadium on Sunday before the Carolina Panthers-Minnesota Vikings game. And that demonstration will be even larger, Mayes predicted, to make sure Panthers players can’t ignore it.

“It just seems like they’re focused just on the game,” said Mayes, a 25-year-old warehouse worker. “A little thing here and there, but just one walk from the end of that corner would mean a lot to a whole lot of these people out here.

“You’ve got practice. We understand you’ve got lives. But five minutes to walk down the street and wave to a few people? That’d mean a whole lot more than they believe. I guarantee if you had one or two NFL players walk down here, there wouldn’t be too many people outside the game tomorrow.”

At a time when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem has sparked discussion about racial inequality, police brutality and other issues, no Panthers players have joined in before games and there are no indications they plan to do anything organized as a group Sunday.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the reigning NFL MVP, spoke this week about being an African-American and broader issues of justice and oppression. But he chose his words carefully, saying he’s in a “lose-lose” situation if he addresses topics of racial politics.

“Like when Cam Newton (is) on that microphone, you can’t say ‘I see y’all out there’ or anything?” Mayes said. “You ain’t got to jeopardize your career for something simple. Little things to the community mean so much.”

Among the demonstrations here Saturday were a small group that formed a line in a crosswalk, forcing police to shut down two lanes of traffic. At one point, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Capt. Mike Campagna approached the group and they asked him to pray with them, to which Campagna obliged.

“We’re expecting it,” Campagna said of demonstrations at the Panthers-Vikings game. “I’m certain that there will be some people that will come out and demonstrate there, and that’s fine, too. They can do that. Once again, we’re going to balance the rights of those involved and the rights of those who want to come out and watch a football game, too.”

The National Guard also has a strong presence with tanks and armed soldiers in the streets here. At one point Saturday night, as hundreds of protesters marched through the streets, some broke off and walked toward soldiers positioned outside a hotel, starting chants of: “Why are you in riot gear? We don’t see no riots here!”

James Nickerson, 19, said he expects another large crowd at the stadium to express “support for everything in Charlotte, what’s going on: racism, the (persecution) of black people. They’re shooting people for nothing now.”

Mayes said he’s not aware of any plans for protestors to enter the stadium Sunday, as dozens did at a 2014 Rams-49ers game in St. Louis at the height of tensions in nearby Ferguson, Mo. But any acknowledgment by players of what’s happening outside, he said, would be welcomed.

“We can’t tell you the last time you done seen this many African-Americans outside of a party or something like that, and it’s no confrontation or nothing like that,” Mayes said. “You’ve got people out here that had problems with each other outside on the street and they’re out here. We got way bigger issues.

“Look how open people are to sign their name." Mayes said, pointing to the chalk. “Just speaking to somebody. Like I tell people, man, a smile can take somebody a long way.”

Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero  

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