In this past month, a Mechanicsville resident, David Swain, was in the face of imminent danger while he was on a business trip in Charlotte, North Carolina.
After the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, on September 20, local members of the social movement, Black Lives Matter, were in an uproar. Violent riots soon followed as people paraded through the streets, chanting and damaging property as they went.
The second night, Wednesday, September 21, was when Swain felt the overwhelming intensity of the situation. There was an anxious feeling at the conference that Swain was attending after the horrors of the first night. A manager of precision agriculture at Southern States Co-Op in Richmond, Swain was with a group of fellow workers staying at the Omni Hotel.
“We were at conference, and they made an announcement at the end of the day to basically ‘Get where you’re gonna go, and stay in.’ It was supposed to be a peaceful protest and there was supposed to be a candlelight vigil after that, so we had expected that it would happen, take care of it, and then they would move on. But there was concern, before we even got to it, that there was gonna be some problems,” Swain said.
And there were problems as violence rose while David Swain was leaving his conference to go to dinner with few of his vendors.
“At that time it was just a protest… Of course the police were out to make sure of it, but at that time there was no problem. When we finished dinner, we were kind of on the opposite corner from the hotel and from the situation. And we came out and it was just a busy night in downtown Charlotte. There really was no indication on that opposite corner that there was any problem. It was when we turned the corner, I got a phone call from a coworker that asked where I was and was really concerned and said we couldn’t get back to the hotel because of the riots. There were riot police. There were problems. There was tear gas. Everything was shut down” Swain explained.
Swain soon made it back to his hotel after going through the back in an alley in order to avoid the protests, locking doors behind them along the way. After staying in the lobby, Swain and his group were told to close their tabs at the bar and go up to their hotels.
“My room faced the inside of the block and I could look out and there were helicopters that had spotlights and were checking rooftops to make sure there were no problems on that too. So it was really kind of wild to see it from that side and then go out and watch it on the street and seeing the riot police, seeing the tear gas, seeing everything that was happening, hear the flash bang grenades going off in real life and then hearing the echo of it on TV.”
Outside of the hotel, the riots turned dangerous for both sides. One protester was shot and taken to the hospital afterwards. He was pronounced dead.
The governor of North Carolina called a state of emergency shortly after. The National Guard and state troopers came the next morning and assisted police in taking back control of Charlotte.
Afterwards, the nation was left in shock at the videos and pictures from these nights of terror. There are still disputes on the context of the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and the protester.
“My first reaction was to try to get the facts, cause I think the reaction of the general public in the last couple years is to react. And to protest without really knowing what they are protesting. So, through the last couple years, my reaction has been just wait.” Officer Wills, Hanover High’s police officer said.
However, these riots do not symbolize the entirety of the Black Lives Matter movement. Most protests held are peaceful and looking for change in the way that black people are perceived by the police.
“I was kind of upset because I feel like people think that Black Lives Matter is a violent movement anyways, and I feel it’s more of a peaceful movement. The majority of the protests are peaceful,” Kauryn Wilson, a member of Black Lives Matter said.
David Swain made it home to his family the day after the riot, but with a story to tell. Afterwards, he went back to North Carolina weeks after on October 10.
“It just amazes me, some of the foolishness that was going on. Also watching to individuals, that were civilians, with their backs to the police officers and facing the rioters, and trying to get them to back off. They were trying to get peace.” Swain stated.
Many events from that night are still unclear. There is still an ongoing investigation into the deaths of Keith Lamont Scott and the protester’s deaths. However, the certainty of these nights was the chaos and fear that enveloped Charlotte.