Charlotte mayoral candidates debate at Black Political Caucus

Charlotte’s Democratic mayoral candidates sparred over the Keith Scott shooting and the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance Thursday night in their second debate.

Mayor Jennifer Roberts, Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles and state Sen. Joel Ford met in a Beatties Ford Road church in the debate sponsored by the Black Political Caucus. The caucus plans to endorse one of the three on Sunday night, nearly two months before candidate filing opens.

Because of a prior commitment, Roberts only stayed for a portion of the debate. But she was asked what she learned from September’s police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. The shooting of the African-American man touched off days of violence in the city.

Roberts told the crowd of nearly 200 at Reeder Memorial Baptist that she was the first elected official to call for release of video of the shooting that was captured on police cameras. She said she also called for repeal of a state law – known as House Bill 972 – that was about to go into effect that would require a court’s permission to release such videos.

Ford supported the law in the Senate. “HB972 is not perfect but it does provide a pathway for police video to be released,” he said. As to the city’s hesitation in releasing the video, he looked at Roberts and said, “Respectfully, Mayor, we can do better.”

Roberts said the video was in the hands of the SBI, which took over the investigation two days after the shooting. But three days after the incident, the SBI told the city that the footage belonged to the city, which could release it. The city waited four days to release the video. Roberts and other officials at first said they didn’t want to jeopardize the investigation and later said only the SBI could release it.

After Roberts left, Ford and Lyles talked about other issues:

▪ House Bill 2: Asked what they learned in the wake of the 2016 antidiscrimination ordinance, which led to the state legislature’s passage of HB2, Ford said the city should have taken a more cautious approach, guaranteeing rights for the LGBT community while being sensitive to the concerns of a Republican-controlled General Assembly.

“We need to do it in a step-by-step process,” he said. “Bring our community along and make sure the state (knows) what we’re doing.”

“Would you feel comfortable today if they told you to take a step-by-step approach to black people?” responded Lyles. She voted for the anti-discrimination ordinance, which Roberts also supported.

▪ The LGBT community: Ford said he would “use my relationship with the General Assembly” to push the interests of the community.

Lyles said she would work collaboratively with local gay and lesbian groups, not just the legislature.

▪ Immigration: Asked specifically about the 287(g) program, which enables local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws, Lyles noted that as a county commissioner, Roberts had voted for the program. “Today we live in a different time,” she said.

“We brought people here to work, now what do we do?” she added. “Arrest them? Or figure it out?”

Ford alluded to legislation now under debate that could cost the city millions if it’s found not to be cooperating with federal immigration laws.

“We need to provide protection for immigrant families,” he said, “(but) make sure we’re in compliance” with state law.

Staff writer Steve Harrison contributed.