CHARLOTTE, N.C. —
Until Saturday afternoon, uptown Charlotte, often called Queen city, and its parks, which served as meeting points for protesters every night this past week, were largely deserted before sundown.
That is except for a few Charlotte residents who periodically dropped off cases of bottled water, vinegar, and masks for demonstrators who would be marching later in the night to protest the fatal police shooting of a man last Monday.
Charlotte residents who aren’t marching are also helping out. Every night this week, unorganized individuals have taken it upon themselves to pick up those cases of water bottles and hand them out to protesters, to journalists and to each other.
“We just had to come out, we couldn’t keep sitting at home in our white privilege,” said Abraham Murray, a longtime Charlotte resident.
“It’s true!” his wife Chelsea chimed in. “We’ve been posting on Facebook — at least to start a conversation, you know, baby steps. If you’re not comfortable coming out it’s cool, but at least do something. It’s much better than saying nothing.”
Despite riots that left many windows broken and one protester dead Wednesday, protests since then have remained calm and peaceful.
“Everybody’s being really peaceful, so I think that should be rewarded with our support,” said Abraham. “We’re here to stand with them, just handing out water so they can keep going.”
Chelsea and Abraham were far from the only ones. As protesters left Romare Bearden Park to continue marching uptown Thursday, some people stayed to pick up empty water bottles and abandoned signs.
Many others were offering medical help to protesters. Joy, who preferred to be identified only by her first name, was quietly walking by herself behind protesters for hours Friday night with a small cardboard sign that read “MEDIC”.
“I have medical training, I’m here to offer it if anyone needs it, and I support this cause,” she said. “It’s important. And if anybody needs medical help I’m here to provide it because I feel it’s my responsibility.”
Joy, who proudly boasted that she was born down the street and stayed here ever since, stopped just minutes later to help a protester who was severely dehydrated.
Many of Charlotte’s police officers showed compassion and their love of their city during the protests.
Captain Mike Campagna of the Charlotte Mecklenburg police department, the same department coming under fire over the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, approached individuals with first aid kits Friday night.
“Are you medical help?” he asked. “Heard someone complaining about a headache ... can you tell people to drink up, avoid dehydration out here? Thanks.”
Self-proclaimed “bike crews” also circled protests, carrying water and snacks, ready to get supplies or help for whoever needed it.
Though a midnight curfew was announced as the city of Charlotte was in a state of emergency since Thursday, police did not arrest protesters marching peacefully after midnight.
“The curfew is a tool that we will use to keep the peace,” Major Gerald Smith of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said. "And right now we have a peaceful protest."
Many protesters have also opposed the presence of the National Guard in Charlotte, and multiple activists have called for their removal from the city.
But when it comes to individual National Guard officers, many of them are Charlotte natives themselves, saddened to see their city receiving so much national attention for a tragedy.
To express their appreciation for the officers, many protesters were handing them flowers throughout the night.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Rickey Dixon, a Charlotte native and Staff Sergeant of the North Carolina National Guard. “It could have been a lot worse, but the city has acted quickly.”
Dixon said he believed deeply in the spirit of his city, its commitment to peace and justice, and to welcoming all those who visit it.
“It’s still the queen city,” Rickey said. “We’ll continue to take care of it.”