What it was like getting tear gassed Wednesday night in Charlotte

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(Note: Bruce Clark is the Digital Inclusion Project Manager at Queens University of Charlotte. We saw his account on Facebook – video below – and reached out to him for his firsthand experience.)

For 4+ hours Wednesday night, I broadcast from Facebook Live from the front lines of the demonstrations and protest in Charlotte.

I don’t feel the need to justify why, but I know many of you are wondering.

I started off covering a group of Queens students who were peacefully demonstrating earlier in the evening. As night fell, the students went back to campus for other obligations, but I continued to record.

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The camera and the unfiltered perspective it provides was my motivation.

This is what I can do to share with the world what I believe to be the pent-up frustration of generations of oppression and white power.

Like many, I struggle with understanding what I should be doing because I know doing nothing is accepting the status quo – that is unacceptable.

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So I found myself on the front lines Wednesday night, attempting to share the unfiltered voices of those looking to be heard.

The crowd was very peaceful until the march reached Little Rock AME Zion Church. Dr. Walker of Little Rock had led the marchers from Marshall Park toward his chapel, where he graciously opened the doors for those looking for calm, healing, and dialogue.

Most of the crowd continued into the church, but some obviously did not.

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I followed the group that left the church to the front steps of the police station and then on to the EpiCentre.

The crowd appeared to be reacting to the Kandy Bar story that ran over the weekend.

As the crowd made their way to the top floor, a few people broke off from the group and began to destroy property. We heard light bulbs breaking and things getting tossed over onto the unsuspecting crowd below.

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Panic set in and the crowd began to run, but shortly realized there was no immediate danger as those who had started the problems ran off quickly.

We then made our way up to Trade and Tryon where a car trying to pass through the crowd pulled a gun out and threatened to shoot us if we didn’t move.

All the meanwhile, less than half a block away, a man was just shot in the head.

As I made my way closer to investigate, still not quite sure what happened, I came within 15 feet of where he lay on the sidewalk.

As I climbed on top of the park bench to see over the crowd, I heard the sounds of cars being struck by what sounded like people’s fists.

Then I began to feel the pepper spray bullets that had just been fired into the crowd.

I’ve been pepper sprayed before, my nose and eyes started watering and I began to cough a bit. As I tried to figure out how to cover my face, the tear gas canister was fired into the crowd.

The wind helped spread the plume of gas right at us.

I don’t recall the smell but it hit my face and eyes and this intense burning sensation overtook me.

I could feel gas stick to my face and couldn’t really see anything after the canister exploded.

I tried to gag to clear my airways. It was hard to breathe for the first five minutes. I couldn’t see and my eyes and nose were running out of control.

I almost fell over stumbling down Trade Street and near the front door of the Ritz. I pulled off my shirt and tried to tie it around my head for cover. I’m not sure what happened next but the smoke kept coming.

I remember walking past three people, probably guests at the Ritz, and I’ll never forget the look on their faces. They looked like they were watching TV but realizing they were there in real life.

It was intense, but I never felt unsafe during that time. I know it sounds crazy, but I had no fear of the crowd or their anger toward me. All the people around me were helping each other clear the scene, watering each others eyes, and continuing to record the reality unfolding in front of our eyes.

As I made my way toward the transit center and my face didn’t feel like it was burning off anymore, I remember feeling the need to be strong and not let this small temporary pain impact me. All I had to do was look around into the faces and hearts of those around me.

My temporary pain was laughable compared to struggle people of color have faced and continue to face in the country in which we currently live.

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