The sergeant was giddy about the brutality to be unleashed.
It was the night of June 2. Citizens were winding their way through uptown Charlotte to protest the recent murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers.
Around 9:30 p.m., demonstrators began walking up 4th Street, traveling from College Street toward Tryon Street.
As they approached Tryon Street, police officers stationed there launched tear gas and flash bangs at the protesters, who tried to escape by turning back toward College Street. That’s when the cops on College Street fired their chemical weapons. Meanwhile, officers overlooking 4th Street from the second level of a parking deck opened fire with pepper balls.
The people were trapped, ordered to disperse with nowhere to go — while the gas ate at their eyes and airways.
“Kettling” is the word used to describe the tactic that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department used that night. It’s a simple idea, really: trap protesters and then abuse them with weapons, chemical or otherwise. There’s no escape, which allows the cops to more successfully inflict violence on the people.
The police department, of course, can’t admit that’s what happened.
So CMPD has steadfastly denied what everyone could see: Video recorded by Queen City Nerve, an alternative weekly newspaper, captured the images and sounds of people trapped by the cops and desperately scrambling to find an escape from the gas.
For some, it didn’t matter what the video showed. The cops, to paraphrase George Orwell, told the public to reject the evidence of their eyes and ears, and many obliged.
Then, to give the impression of an independent, outside inquiry, the State Bureau of Investigation was called in to assess CMPD’s actions that night. To no one’s surprise, the state cops concluded that the local cops did nothing wrong. There was, the SBI concluded, no kettling.
But that was untrue, something now beyond dispute because of CMPD body camera footage released by order of a superior court judge.
To hear the police department tell it, CMPD sought release of the footage to provide the public with proof that the department well and truly serves the people. “CMPD proactively petitioned the court asking for the release of the videos because it is critical that the community has the opportunity to see the way that they’re served,” the department tweeted this morning.
There’s just one problem with CMPD’s spin: An officer’s body camera caught him explaining to his colleagues, in great detail, the department’s premeditated plan to attack the protesters on 4th Street.
He’s a bicycle officer — a sergeant, we’re told — who, on the night of June 2, pedaled to a spot on 4th Street between College and Tryon Streets, along the very path that protesters would follow to their ambush. He and his fellow officers lined up on the south side of 4th Street just as the protesters approached.
His first remark was flip: “So we’re going to stand here and watch the show,” he said. For the cops, gassing citizen-protesters is a show.
Then he got down to the nitty-gritty, explaining exactly how the kettling was going to unfold:
“Rorie’s got a platoon on Tryon, out of sight. Dance’s platoon is staged now on College Street out of sight. We’re going to push their asses straight up 4th. As soon as they get up on 4th — we got a bottleneck now — Rorie’s squad is gonna step out and hammer their asses. When they start running down, Dance’s squad is gonna step out and hammer their ass with gas. We’re gonna fucking pop it up,” he explained.
A few second later, the sergeant instructed his officers to make sure they didn’t do anything to derail the impending ambush.
“Hey,” he said, “if you have to throw it, throw it behind the crowd so they run up.” In other words, make sure the people keep marching toward the attack that awaits them at Tryon Street. Don’t give them a reason to turn back. That would ruin the show.
These remarks can mean only one thing: The assault on the people was planned. It was coordinated. Organized.
It was also highly anticipated. As protesters began to march by the unnamed sergeant, mere seconds away from the violence to be unleashed against them, he announced with obvious glee, “Hey, wave goodbye, they’re all about to get gassed.”
Strictly speaking, there’s nothing new in the sergeant’s remarks. Police radio chatter from the night of June 2 confirms that the assault on protesters was coordinated.
In the roughly thirty minutes prior to the ambush, CMPD tracked the protesters’ whereabouts in real-time so as to herd them into the attack zone on 4th Street.
About twenty minutes before the assault, an officer advised his colleagues “to move your folks toward that location for the plan.” Around the same time, another officer said, “Put your folks on Tryon. … Just prepare for our plan. Let me know when you’re in place.”
A minute later, someone added, “We’re putting our plan into effect.”
The cops had a plan.
Officers discussed efforts to block off certain roads to make sure the protesters were directed on to 4th Street, exactly where CMPD wanted them. About fifteen minutes before the ambush, an officer said, “Let’s turn ’em up Trade and get this plan in action.”
Three minutes later, another officer noted it was “time to set up.” Shortly thereafter, someone else said, “People are about ninety seconds from being set up. People are in place.”
As the time to launch the ambush drew near, an officer said that the cops needed to make sure the crowd didn’t deviate from the path that would lead them into the attack zone, which, if such a deviation were to occur, would require the officers to “reset” their plan. A bike squad was instructed to “send them the other way” if protesters tried to change course.
Then, about eight minutes before CMPD deployed the tear gas, flash bangs, and pepper balls, an officer who seemed to hold a supervisory position explained to those listening, “Let’s do it slow, methodical, make sure that we do this one effective push.” Someone else added almost immediately, “Guys, let’s go to College and make it work.”
A half-minute later, about five minutes before the assault, someone chimed in, “Let’s do everything we can [unintelligible] to make them go to Tryon. … Again, let’s do everything we can to push them to Tryon.”
An officer advised that other streets were “blocked off pretty good,” meaning the cops were successfully steering the protesters toward those lying in wait.
Around this time, several officers noted the need to keep vehicle traffic out of the area, making sure the marchers could proceed up 4th Street unimpeded. When an officer confirmed vehicle traffic was stopped, someone else responded, “Fantastic.”
Less than three minutes before the assault, an officer said, “I’ll let you know when they cross College and start to Tryon.” He would alert everyone, that is, when the protesters were in a position to be ensnared.
About ninety seconds before officers launched their attack, someone said, “Everybody get ready. It’s gonna be about twenty seconds.” He added, “Just hold off as long as you can. I want most of this crowd committed to you first,” referring to the officers hiding along Tryon Street.
Trapping the people wasn’t incidental, but the operation’s express objective.
The officers at Tryon Street waited as long as they could, and then they fired their chemical munitions. The kettling had commenced.
It was just as the unnamed sergeant described in his body camera footage.
And while the sacrificial sergeant’s detailed description of the cops’ plan ought to be treated as the confession of a cruel, deliberate assault on the people by CMPD itself — a confession corroborated by the plain meaning of the radio chatter that night — the department wants us to think of his words in more personal terms.
The sergeant’s remarks were, according to CMPD, “unprofessional, insensitive and unacceptable.” They therefore earned the sergeant a two-week suspension.
“The degree of harm, I think, is great because the public has certain expectations of us,” CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings said at today’s press conference announcing the release of roughly 100 hours of body camera footage. “We have high expectations of ourselves, and not just of ourselves, but of our supervisors.”
The real harm, though, came not because the sergeant spoke unprofessionally as an individual officer, but truthfully as part of a department that has sought to conceal what happened on June 2. He couldn’t keep his mouth shut, and, as the Observer reported, an accident of technology resulted in the recording of a conversation that was supposed to remain private. The sergeant thereby betrayed the department. That was the real, if officially unacknowledged, harm that earned him his punishment.
CMPD now hopes that the unnamed sergeant’s suspension will distract from the true significance of his words: Citizen-protesters were subjected to a premeditated, violent ambush, and the department has spent months lying about it and covering it up.