I have a unique perspective on the past year. My name is Nicole Eaton and I work with Charlotte Communications and Marketing for the City of Charlotte. I worked through a lot of the events that occurred in September.
Prior to then I knew there were tensions in Charlotte. I lived in the university area for a few years, probably just a couple miles away from where the Keith Lamont Scott shooting occurred. And at that time, especially when I moved off campus, I noticed the occasional CMPD car and crime. We were always getting notices about tips to prevent theft and other criminal activity. We would drive to the Wal-Mart in Concord to avoid the Wal-Mart in university area because several times we walked in and noticed a police tower in the lot or multiple cars and police lined up at the front of the store.
I felt uncomfortable in my neighborhood and wanted to get out. When I made the decision to move and buy my own house, I remember people telling me the “good” places to live and to stay away from certain areas. Working for the city, I heard of the “crescent” an area shaped in a crescent of lower-income areas stretching from the west to the north to east. Everyone told me to live in the “wedge” instead, a more affluent area in south Charlotte. I moved to Fort Mill.
I never looked at how to change the area where I lived and instead moved away. The economic mobility study and events of the last year made me realize there are issues deeper than crime in areas of poverty.
Many feel they are pushed away and ignored. The frustration we saw showed that people in Charlotte are tired of being ignored and are challenged with access to jobs, housing and education.
On the night of Sept. 20, I was heading home. I saw a notice that there was another officer-involved shooting and didn’t think much of it since this type of event had occurred in the past. Working in communications, we see notices like these, but not all of them end in a fatality. I was sitting down to eat dinner and checked my phone. Videos and news articles flooded my Facebook newsfeed. At that time, I knew that this event was different.
While my focus is usually on employee communications, during these types of situations, I also help out with media monitoring, social media monitoring and anything else that’s needed including messaging and writing.
My work phone started humming with messages. As we continued to message each other, we started monitoring feeds and watching news. We received information from CMPD and began looking for misinformation. I watched social media as events unfolded not too far from where I used to live. It was chaotic and a very long night. I knew it was going to be a long week.
When I came to work on Sept. 21, we were still trying to put all the pieces together of what happened and started making preparations to operate a joint information center (JIC). A JIC is opened during a crisis situation or large scale event. It’s a one-stop shop for media or anyone looking for official city statements or clarifications.
JIC operations can be complex. Roles include monitoring social media and the news, staff writing content like news releases or web content, answering media calls, responding to social media and gathering information. During this event, monitoring and correcting misinformation was crucial. Posts went viral and rumors spread fast. We released only what we knew were facts and much of that required working closely with CMPD.
For the night of Sept. 21, we knew there would be protest events uptown and were preparing for whatever may happen. I was on social media and media monitoring that night. Protesters made their way uptown. It started peacefully, but then a few people lost control. I started sharing articles and livestreams internally.
My focus was to determine facts and what information needed to be released on behalf of the city. While there were some people looting and marching to the interstate, we knew we could only share facts on our social media channels and websites. At that point, we started an FAQ page on our website.
My JIC shift was ending for that night, but it was hard to stop working and I had to make myself go to bed even though the protests were still unfolding. I knew if I didn’t get rest, it would be hard to start my 12-hour shift the next day.
“It’s not going to happen overnight and it’s going to be emotional, but events like these are going to continue to happen, unless we address our community’s issues. I think Charlotte took a step in recognizing issues. Now we need to act and find ways to solve issues together.”
By Sept. 22, we had a physical JIC set up in the government center and staff from across the city working in it. We all were on 12-hour shifts, although some days seemed longer. Many decisions and communications came from the JIC. It was constantly busy. I wrote talking points, news releases, media advisories, employee messages and more.
One of our biggest challenges – social media, exploded during this event. We also just started using Facebook Live to run our news conferences. We received a lot of messages via Twitter and Facebook. Information just moved so fast so it was key to respond to these and put the information we knew on our channels.
I worked seven days straight. There was a lot on my mind. I felt shocked and sad at the same time with what was happening in Charlotte. There was a lot also going on in my personal life as I was less than a month away from my wedding. During these events, there was no time to reflect on what happened. It was emotionally draining and a lot of us had to put our emotions to the side in order to get our work done. The most important part was to make sure we were providing accurate information to the Charlotte community.
On Sept. 26 I watched the Charlotte City Council meeting from the hospital after a family emergency that night and could feel the anger and hurt that was in Charlotte. Something must change and leaders across the city recognize it.
City government is making progress as The Community Letter was released by city council. As an employee, I see many other employees getting out in the community, talking to more people and really trying to understand and improve the issues we have in Charlotte. That’s why a lot of us, including myself, work in government. We want to create change and help people.
In my area, I’m now a part of teams that look internally at issues our employees face. Within the city, employees are also residents, but they also experience issues like access to housing, job training and education. We also worked with Community Relations on programs to give employees a space to reflect on September’s events. I’m glad to see more programs and communications to employees.
I’m an optimist. I’m committed to understanding the issues within our organization and in the community and will work towards promoting and educating groups on opportunities that can help everyone. It will take all of us to make a change.
It’s not going to happen overnight and it’s going to be emotional, but events like these are going to continue to happen, unless we address our community’s issues. I think Charlotte took a step in recognizing issues. Now we need to act and find ways to solve issues together.