A Meaningful Gesture
Why Charlotte's Civil Rights proposal is worthwhile—even if it's just a 'feel-good' move
The City Council passed a motion Monday that gives broad sanction to a proposed “Civil Liberties Ordinance.” The ordinance would lay out the duties and limits of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police. It reaffirms the rights of everyone in Charlotte to gather peacefully without harassment or racial profiling and expect that police won’t infiltrate or monitor a group for political reasons.
You might wonder why this is necessary. Those rights are already guaranteed by the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The city understands this. You can tell by the staff’s admonishment in the council documents (item 17 on the agenda) that the measure shouldn’t be just a “feel-good gesture.”
But let’s be real. It is.
Which is fine. Admirable and smart, even.
The protests in Missouri after the non-indictment of police officer Darren Wilson, and those in New York after the non-indictment of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, were only in part about the grand jury decisions. The context and fuel for both was longstanding distrust of the police by citizens and vice versa—the perception, largely accurate, among many citizens that police viewed them as enemies.
The same degree of distrust doesn’t exist in Charlotte. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist at all. But committing publicly to respect all citizens’ rights, and formalizing the commitment in an ordinance, means something.
Apart from the specifics of whatever the City Council ends up passing, the willingness to take up the issue tells Charlotteans, “We care about this, and you.” Maybe that’s just symbolic or “feel-good.” But it’s more than Ferguson was ever willing to do.