A Back-Story With Backbone

CHARLOTTE, NC – Several activists and citizens have called on Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney and Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts to resign as they declared the two failed to protect citizens, particularly the minorities and the working class.

A week after a black man was shot and killed by a Charlotte police officer, Putney is accused of prioritizing his officers’ needs over those of Keith Lamont Scott’s family. Activists are demanding his resignation, arguing Scott’s death was the latest in a string of racial profiling by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, per the NBC News report.

Absent from the national debate is an acknowledgment that five white men were also shot and killed by law enforcement in other areas of the country the same day as Scott was confronted and killed—something the mainstream press has largely ignored. Activists fall short of understanding the difference between justified homicide and murder; or simply refuse to accept reality since their cause trumps truth.

The NAACP perpetuates the false narrative.  “Many black people who become police officers become blue, not black,” the organization, said Tuesday. “In order for you to survive in a police department, you take on the police department’s ideology, ways of life, and culture.” In other words, the value found in being a peacekeeper cannot be combined with your heritage if you are black. Thank goodness men and women of color have chosen to make a difference. One of them is Chief Putney.

Rather than calling for his resignation, Chief Putney should be affirmed. His journey from a youth who distrusted the police to becoming the Top Cop in Charlotte is noteworthy. “He was the least likely that you would have ever thought would have been a police officer because he didn’t like them because of what happened with his father,” Sean “Lucky” Corbett said, a reformed felon who knows Putney.

Chief Putney had a mistrust of police since he was eight years old. Every time a light bar from a police unit flashed nearby, he developed a pit in his stomach. The mistrust was intensified when, at the age of 10, his father was found dead in a river — and a local sheriff quickly classified it as an accidental drowning, not murder.

Putney is the youngest of seven children. He grew up in rural Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina with the thought that police didn’t care about the value of a black life, as he told Charlotte Magazine last year.

Putney was determined to fight the injustice he felt, so he studied criminology in school and planned to be a lawyer. But his choice was diverted when a friend who was a police officer, convinced him to consider law enforcement instead, telling him it was a “noble profession.”

People who know him say he chose to join the force so he could make a difference from within, smooth out racial tensions he had felt as a black man, and make the community more comfortable around officers than he had ever been.

“Putney is a friendly face around town who puts the needs of the community first,” Corbett told NBC news. “He’s at every town hall meeting you invite him to. Chief Putney was in my barbershop this Thanksgiving, passing out turkey. Every coat drive that I have, he’s there, and most of the time he’s not in uniform.”

Putney, now 47, became a police officer 26 years ago, rising through the ranks until his promotion to chief of police in Charlotte 15 months ago.

A former colleague described him as shy and reserved, a “thoughtful person dedicated to his work” who helped bring implicit bias training to his department — an initiative aimed at preventing unconscious bias from affecting law enforcement decisions.

“I know that this troubles him deeply because of all the work he’s done,” former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Darrel Stephens said. Stephens has known Putney since 1999 and is now the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, a national organization of police chiefs.

Putney delivered a speech in July after the death of five Dallas police officers, which was posted on Facebook. It received more than 2 million views. These were some of the thoughts he shared during that speech:

What brings us together is we swear to an oath, an oath to protect freedom. …This oath supersedes everything else in our lives when we put our uniforms on. … Personally, the only reason I’m standing before you is because there is a cop down in Dallas, Texas who convinced me in college that this was a noble profession. My experience was different. History shows us differently. … In this profession, we do have a racist, bigoted history, and that hurts me. … Because of my distrust of police, even now when I see blue lights, it hits me in the stomach. I’ve had that reaction since I was eight years old. … But what you don’t know is, I’m sometimes more fearful when I put this uniform on. Because I’m always black. I was born that way; I’m going to die that way. But I choose to put myself in harm’s way with the honorable people who wear these uniforms.

In the same speech, he touted the training he had brought to his department as a beacon of hope for officers and their communities nationwide:

We’re different in Charlotte. We’re a good kind of different. … We have a lot of work to do. My challenge is, when are we gonna roll up our sleeves and change outcomes?  When are we gonna commit deeply to changing systems? … Although we’re not perfect, 97% of the time our people get it right. Three percent, though, can lead to tragic consequences. And we accept that. The full responsibility… and we’re committed to trying to change that. But we’re not perfect. We hurt too. … And from a personal standpoint I stand before you, representing men and women who don’t have the luxury to run away when bad things happen, they run to it. And because of them, you’re a great city and a free country.

The NAACP and other race hustlers would do well to take a page from the chief’s playbook rather than calling for his dismissal. Putney’s back-story makes him uniquely qualified to be the leader needed in Charlotte at this moment in time. It’s A Back Story with Backbone!

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