CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Chanting “No Justice! No Peace!” as they converged outside Bank of America Stadium, about 100 people peacefully demonstrated the fatal police shooting of a black man before the Carolina Panthers game Sunday.
Nothing felt normal about what should have been a typical fall day of NFL football.
A heavy police presence surrounded the stadium, where officers in black riot gear stood side-by-side around the entrances. There had been concerns that a sixth day of protests over Tuesday night’s fatal shooting of Keith Scott would disrupt the game, or prevent fans from entering the stadium.
Instead, it was quiet in the hours leading up to the game, as many fans stopped to hug officers and pose for pictures. Protesters didn’t gather until about an hour before kickoff, when the group used bullhorns and held signs in demonstration.
As kickoff neared, most of the protesters dropped to one knee when the national anthem played inside the stadium. Along the sideline inside the game, Carolina safety Marcus Ball raised his fist during the national anthem.
Last month, San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick started a protest movement by not standing during the national anthem. He has said he wants to draw attention to racial oppression and police brutality in the United States. Many athletes have since joined him or said they support him, even before the recent police shootings in Charlotte and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
As Sunday’s protest in Charlotte went on, fans heading for the stadium strolled by, many appearing to ignore the demonstrators. From inside the stadium, people stopped on access ramps on the upper level to watch the demonstrators.
The crowd inside was flat, the Panthers didn’t play well, and many fans didn’t return to their seats after halftime. Carolina lost its first home game since November, 2014, but coach Ron Rivera said it was unfair to blame the unrest in Charlotte for the way the Panthers played.
“When we are here, we practice, we do the things we are supposed to do,” Rivera said. “What happened here (the shooting) was very tragic, and what we were hoping to do was be able to come out and put that aside.
“We just didn’t play very well. I am not looking for excuses. The tragedy is its own entity, and we have to respect that.”
Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly said the Panthers failed to bring unity to the Charlotte.
“You want to go out and win a game with what’s going on right now,” he said. “It was an opportunity for us to bring the community together, and add something positive. We wanted to win, as I’m sure everyone in Charlotte did.”
Outside the stadium, National Guard troops rode by the protest in two Humvees, followed by an unmarked N.C. Highway Patrol car.
Many protesters held signs, others chanted Scott’s name. It coincided with the music of the Brass Connection Band, a group that plays outside the stadium prior to home games. The band on Sunday played Parliament’s “We Want The Funk,” as protesters slowed their chants to match the rhythm of the song.
The band’s drummer, Bill Banks, said he and his fellow musicians were just trying to use their talents to maintain calm.
“We’re just out here to lighten the mood,” Banks said. “I don’t have nothing against them protesting as long as it’s peaceful. We’re just trying to do our part.”
Moments later, a woman carrying a “free hugs” sign made her way through the crowd, hugging both the bicycle officers watching over the crowd and some of the protesters who were locked arm-in-arm.
“It doesn’t negate justice, accountability and equity,” said Dani Cook, who said she was self-employed, in reference to her hugs. “I can want to hug people. I can want to love people. I can also say there needs to be justice. There needs to be accountability. They’re not separate.”
Scott was killed Tuesday by a black police undercover police officer trying to serve a warrant on someone else. Police maintain that Scott had a gun, though residents have said he was unarmed.
In the dashboard camera video released Saturday night, Scott could be seen slowly backing away from his SUV with his hands down. Four shots are heard in quick succession, and he crumples to the ground mortally wounded.
After the police vehicle dashboard camera and police body-cam videos were released, protests continued but were largely peaceful.
City officials designated Sunday’s NFL game an “extraordinary event,” that gave officers the ability to search backpacks, coolers and anything else people might be carrying.
Meanwhile, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton wore a T-shirt emblazoned with a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. on the back as he warmed up for the game. The dark shirt read “Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat to Justice Everywhere.”
Newton earlier this week called Scott’s fatal shooting “embarrassing” and touched on a “state of oppression in our community.”
“My big thing is holding people accountable— no matter what the race, no matter what the gender is, no matter what the age is,” the league MVP said. “I’m an African-American and I’m not happy how the justice has been dealt with over the years, and the state of oppression in our community, but we also as black people have to do right by ourselves. We can’t be hypocrites.”