Monday, September 26, 2016

Charlotte Mayor Roberts leadership problems foreshadowed by the Observer

“Leadership is not about avoiding problems,” she said at an Observer/WBTV debate. “Leadership is about how you respond to problems.”

In light of Mayor Roberts mishandling of the situation on the ground last week in the aftermath of the officer involved shooting that resulted in the death of Keith Scott, the above quote sounds almost comical.  Unfortunately, there's nothing funny about it.

Roberts uttered those words during a debate last year against her Republican opponent, Edwin Peacock.  Readers may remember the unlikely fact that the Charlotte Observer actually endorsed Peacock in that race.  Yes, the Observer endorsed a Republican.

The Observer sited Roberts' history of a lack of leadership as its primary reason for endorsing Peacock.  That's a testament to how much of an issue they thought it to be.  To repeat, the Observer endorsed a Republican.  (Yes, it was Edwin Peacock, but still, he had an R behind his name.)

In the aftermath of last week's events, it's now clear why.

The events in Charlotte unfolded in two ways that were materially different than the unrest occurring in most other cities after officer involved deaths.

First, things spun out of control in Charlotte more quickly than in other cities.

On the night Scott was killed, violent unrest occurred comparatively quickly.  Tuesday night/Wednesday morning just hours after the shooting, I-85 was shut down as protesters stopped trucks and burned cargo on a major interstate highway.   The Observer has a good article on that chaos here.

Looking at Ferguson, Baltimore, and St Paul, violent protest did not start until well after the incidents which sparked them.  In two cases (Baltimore and St Paul) riots didn't start until after the funeral of the person killed.

What happened in Charlotte was closer in its timing to what occurred in Milwaukee.   The violence there started the same day just like in Charlotte. Fortunately, while the timing was similar, the Queen City was spared the duration and sheer destruction seen in Wisconsin.

This fact of timing alone makes Roberts' statement to the media on Thursday following the Wednesday riot untenable.  Roberts told WBTV the city was planning for peaceful protests on Wednesday even though Tuesday had already shown unrest.  It is hard to understand why Roberts and her staff would think violent protest was unlikely given the facts of the previous night.  Even more tellingly Roberts was also quick to subtly throw her own people under the bus saying "we are a team here in Charlotte. We are a team. I rely on my experts to give me appropriate advice at the appropriate time for the appropriate resources that will be needed.”

A leader takes responsibility.  A leader does not pass the buck.

The second differentiating aspect of the events in Charlotte could have a more far reaching impact.

It was widely reported originally that most of those arrested on Wednesday night were from out of state.  (UPDATED - A regular reader pointed out the source of the original report saying most arrested were out of towners has since recanted that statement.  See here.)  Regardless,  the mishandling of the early events in Charlotte has given the "professional protesters" a new play for their playbook.

In the other examples of violent protests in other cities, the riots did not occur in the business district.  In Charlotte, it did.  That's an important difference because it effectively shut down the heart of the city for two days as major employers kept people home.  Seeing this result has to be considered a victory for those seeking conflict.  Don't be surprised if you see it repeated elsewhere.

Would having more state assistance on the ground Wednesday night have made a difference?  It is hard to know for sure, but not having those extra resources sure looks to have made things worse.  Even just accepting some State Police resources if not the National Guard may have given enough manpower to keep things under control.

What we know for sure is that once a state of emergency was declared and the National Guard was called out, there wasn't any more significant conflict.  The protests at times on Thursday night were tense and certainly could have gotten out of control, but with so many Police, State Troopers, and National Guard on the ground things never got violent.

Cities in the United States absolutely do not want to get in the habit of having curfews, troops in combat gear on street corners, and Humvees patrolling the streets.  Stronger leadership from the Mayor's Office could have prevented that from being necessary.  Help was offered but not accepted until too late.

That led to a second rebuke from the Observer on Saturday regarding her leadership - or lack thereof.  Ouch!


  1. What is a violent protest? And how does it differ, it at all, from a riot?

  2. We will likely never know the extent to which Center City Partners, the Chamber et al influenced Roberts' decisions Wednesday. I fully expected an announcement of a 10pm curfew and a SoE Wednesday morning. It was nothing but dumb luck that no one died on I-85 Tuesday night. Once crowds were permitted to assemble in Uptown Wednesday evening, you knew what was coming.

  3. I hope everyone who cast a vote for Roberts is horrified that they put her in the position of Mayor. Her lack of judgment and leadership cost one innocent man his life and could have cost the lives of many more. Add to that the hundreds of thousands of dollars the city has lost by the property damage done, the cost of bringing in the National Guard, etc. She is a disgrace to Charlotte.