CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA—The stars of North Carolina’s Moral Mondays movement took the stage on Labor Day at Charlotte’s Marshall Park to condemn the state’s record on voter suppression and racial profiling, and urge the community to organize and turn out at the polls this November. Just a few hundred feet away, police cuffed and arrested local LGBT activist and former State Senate candidate Ty Turner as he was putting voting rights information on parked cars.
“They said they would charge me for distributing literature,” Turner told ThinkProgress when he was released a few hours later. “I asked [the policeman] for the ordinance number [being violated], because they can’t put handcuffs on you if they cannot tell you why they’re detaining you. I said, ‘Show me where it’s illegal to do this.’ But he would not do it. The officer got mad and grabbed me. Then he told me that I was resisting arrest!”
There is a local ordinance prohibiting leafleting on cars. But according to local activist Casey Throneburg, who also filmed the arrest, it is almost never enforced, and “certainly not with handcuffs.”
Instead of transporting Turner directly to the Mecklenburg County jail, which sits just a few blocks from Marshall Park, he said they took him first to an empty parking lot behind the highway. “They took me to three different spots other than the jail,” he said. “They knew they were in the wrong.”
This happened as the Moral Mondays leaders lead a small but enthusiastic crowd in prayer, song and chants of “Forward together, not one step back!” and “Fired up, ready to vote!” When they learned what had happened to Turner, they urged the rally attendees to join them on a march to the jailhouse to demand his release. About 30 people did so, walking silently behind the clergy and friends of Turner.
On arrival, Deputy Brown at the front desk said Turner had not yet arrived, but when he did he would be fingerprinted and photographed before being released.
As the crowd waited, Reverend Dr. William Barber—the founder of Moral Mondays and President of the North Carolina NAACP—said the incident illustrated the urgent need to get out the vote in the African American community.
“Police are hired by police chiefs, who are hired by people that are elected,” he said. He then turned to Turner’s friends, who were crying. “I want you to be angry. Rosa Parks got angry and she changed the world. Take this incident and turn it into power. Anyone who says they’re upset about this profiling of black men, ask them if they’re registered to vote. That’s how we change this system.”
Dr. Barber added that Turner’s arrest reminded him of earlier, darker times in the American South. “The arrogance to come into our rally and think they can snatch up one of our boys and we’re going to be quiet about it! That day is so old we can’t even remember it.”
Other rally participants said they were reminded of more recent dark times, including the killing of Jonathan Ferrell by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police last year. Ferrell, a 24 year old former college football player, was unarmed when police shot him 10 times.
As the crowd waited for Turner’s release Monday night, local Reverend Kojo Nantambu put in a phone call to the President of the National NAACP, who in turn called the police department demanding Turner’s release. Shortly after, the police told the crowd they would be releasing Turner with a citation, but he would not be processed at the jail. A squad car then pulled up outside the jail, and Turner emerged, limping slightly and sweating profusely. The crowd cheered when they saw him and ran to comfort him.
CREDIT: Enid Valu
Turner’s friend Cece, who did not wish to reveal her last name, said the arrest shone light on “a cause we need to fight for.”
“Ty is not the only person this has happened to and he will not be the last one,” she said. “A lot of people get arrested and detained without reason, unjustly, and we need to be there for them.”
Reverend Nantambu told ThinkProgress the incident shows the need for strengthening the citizen review board that oversees the police in Charlotte, so that they have the power to investigate and subpoena officers accused of wrongdoing.
As for Turner, who this spring ran an unsuccessful campaign to be the youngest member from his District in the State Senate, he said the incident has not shaken his dedication to activism and public service.
“I always tell people, ‘Know the law. Know what your rights are. You’ve got power,” he said. “The law works for you only if you know it.”
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department held a press conference about the incident Wednesday. They said they believe their officers behaved appropriately, and Deputy Police Chief Kerr Putney told reporters that officers routinely take a person away from the scene of a disturbance to “ease the tension,” and said the arrest was “sparked primarily by Turner’s non-compliance.” Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham and several other supporters of Turner say they will continue to call for a full investigation.