An activist faced severe backlash from protesters in Charlotte Wednesday night after offering free hugs to riot police during a time when the city was on edge after the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.
Ken Nwadike, creator of the Free Hugs Project, was at the frontline of riot police Wednesday night and offered an officer a hug.
Video of the incident shows Nwadike, a black man, hugging a willing officer.
“You wanna give me a free hug? Give me a free hug, brother,” the officer said as he embraced Nwadike. “Thank you for being out here and being peaceful.”
As Nwadike embraced another officer, several protesters began to hurl obscenities at the activists, calling the man a p***y N-word.
“It’s not even like that, it’s not even like that,” Nwadike said as he turned to the crowd. “It’s about staying neutral, that’s what is important.”
As the crowd tossed more obscenities, the man, wearing a “Free Hugs” T-shirt, tried to explain to the crowd that the officers were human too.
“Did he kill somebody?” Nwadike said as he pointed to an officer. “I hurt just as much as you guys hurt.”
Protesters began to question whether the activist was a cop, demanding Nwadike to “take off that badge.”
It was the second night of violent protests following the shooting death of Scott, forcing the state governor to declare a state of emergency.
What started as a peaceful vigil for Scott, 43, a black man who was fatally shot by a police officer Tuesday, turned into an angry march with protesters disputing authorities’ official account of how the man died during his interaction with police.
Authorities said Scott was holding a handgun and was shot after refusing multiple demands to drop it. Scott’s family and at least one witness insist the man was holding a book when he was fatally shot.
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“None of these people here shot anyone,” Nwadike says as he continued to reason with the group. “Love is free, peace is free.”
“The thing is, I see them as human beings, just like I see everybody on this side as human beings,” Nwadike explained to crowd. “We’re all human.”
“His uniform doesn’t make him a robot, just like your uniform, skin colour doesn’t make you a criminal,” implored the activist.
“This man gave me a hug,” Nwadike says as he points to an officer. “And he wants to fight me because of that.”
The video was posted on the Free Hugs Project Facebook page early Thursday morning and has since been viewed 25 million times.
The city of Charlotte saw a third night of protest Thursday, but remained relatively peaceful as much of the city was being watched over by the National Guard.