US & Canada

Spreading the peace among protests in North Carolina

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Media captionKen Nwadike, of the Free Hugs Project, embraced police officers standing in front of protesters in Charlotte

Demonstrators and police have hugged and shaken hands with members of the US National Guard during protests in Charlotte, North Carolina, while scenes of goodwill in the city have spread through social media.

This was the third night of protests in the city, and the second with the National Guard on the streets, following the killing of Keith Lamont Scott on Tuesday.

The National Guard was deployed and a state of emergency declared after the second night (Wednesday) of unrest brought nine injuries and 44 arrests. But by Friday morning, the atmosphere appeared to have become calm and police and protesters were seen giving handshakes and hugs to soldiers on the streets.

Among many who have attempted to keep the demonstrations peaceful have been two people on either side of the protest line.

Ken Nwadike, of the Free Hugs Project, took to the streets on Wednesday night to embrace police officers standing in front of protesters, while Charlotte-Macklenburg Police Department (CMPD) Captain Mike Campagna addressed crowds and received a flower from a member of the public overnight on Thursday.

Image copyright Reuters

Free Hugs

Mr Nwadike, the face of the Free Hugs Project, has previously shared hugs following the police deaths in Dallas and along the route of the Boston Marathon on the first year of the race following the bombing of 2013, and was on the streets in Charlotte on Wednesday night to embrace police officers and members of the crowd.

On Thursday, he shared his video of events from the night. In it, when he is confronted by protesters angered by his public sympathy for police officers, Mr Nwadike stressed the importance of "neutrality" and that, as a black man, he hurt as much as those who were protesting.

"I'm just trying to help people understand," he said. "This uniform doesn't make him a robot, just as your uniform, your skin colour, doesn't make you a criminal.

"Just because he [a black police officer] wears his uniform, doesn't mean he doesn't feel the pains that our people feel.

"If we could get rid of fear, if we could get rid of hatred, there'd be more love in the world."

Mr Nwadike told the BBC: "It makes no sense to throw rocks at the police. People should be protesting, but it has more value when it's done effectively, which is when it's heard. When there's violence, people only focus on the violence."

'Everyone was nice'

Image copyright @Newsdude14
Image copyright Bill Melugin

Although the CMPD imposed a curfew in Charlotte from 24:00 to 06:00, and although it was largely ignored, many journalists in attendance recorded the easing of tension on Thursday night.

Cleve R Wootson, of the Washington Post, tweeted video from the end of the protests in the early morning, emphasising the positivity of the slogans "We kill em with kindness. We kill em with respect... we are showing love".

Meanwhile Todd, a photographer with a local television station, and Bill Melugin, a reporter for WJZY-TV, were among those to share their gratitude toward those on the streets.

Curfews and helmets

CMPD tweeted that, although two officers were receiving attention, there had been a sense of civility to the night.

Image copyright CMPD News

Joe Bruno of local news station WSOC tweeted: "CMPD says curfew is a tool. They will allow protests to continue as long as they are peaceful."

And Bruno added praise for the role of Captain Campagna, of CMPD's central division, who spoke to crowds during the night and received a flower from a protester.

As filmed by Wootson, Campagna was heard telling the crowd: "This is my area, I don't want it to get torn up."

"I hope we have a nice, peaceful march," Campagna added. "Everybody feels like their conscience is settled... We can also balance that with the rights of everyone."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Captain Campagna (centre) addressed protesters on Wednesday in a police helmet and without one on Thursday night

Campagna was also filmed the night before, talking with Mr Nwadike. Although Captain Campagna was in uniform on both nights, Thursday's appearance was without the protective headgear he wore when addressing protesters in Wednesday night's video.

"You take that badge off, you take that helmet off, you will think the same way that I did," one demonstrator told Captain Campagna.

"This helmet, this badge, doesn't make me a different person," he replied.

"I enjoyed the discussion with people," he also explained to Mr Nwadike. "It's important we both see each other as people, and it's hard to do that with a mask and a helmet."

Captain Campagna is not averse to attention during recent protests, having previously testified against a police officer's use of deadly force in the shooting of Jonathan Ferrell in Charlotte in 2013, and posed for photographs with Black Lives Matter protesters earlier this year.

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