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Five Nights in Concord

Feb 01, 2018 08:30AM ● Published by Jason Huddle

Five Nights in Concord

Long before anyone had heard of Ferguson, Missouri, or knew who Michael Brown was – decades before the Black Lives Matter movement existed – there were the 1993 riots in Concord.

It was an incident many locals don’t care to remember. Even in the wake of all the protests against police brutality in the last few years, it just hasn’t arisen as a topic of discussion.

It all began in the early hours of July 11, 1993. Around 3am, an estimated 180 to 200 people arrived at the Waffle House restaurant, then located on Highway 29 near the I-85 cloverleaf intersection. As the restaurant was only approved for 27 occupants, a crowd quickly formed outside. One member of that crowd was Angelo Robinson. As it turned out, this would be Robinson’s last night on this earth. However, the events that led to his demise are still up for debate more than two decades later.

Eyewitness accounts said that a member of the Concord Police Department, who was working off-duty as a security guard for the restaurant that morning, and Robinson began exchanging words and the situation escalated quickly. Backup was called in and Robinson was subdued by police, who used pepper spray. Little did they know that Robinson suffered from lung disease and an enlarged heart. He also had a blood-alcohol level of .12 (over the legal limit of .08).

An autopsy revealed that these conditions caused an adverse reaction to the spray. Robinson began vomiting in the police cruiser as it made its way to police headquarters. By the time the vehicle arrived at the station, Robinson was unconscious and was soon pronounced dead at the scene. These are the basic facts of the case that are undisputed. The truth of the details, however, remains a mystery to this day.

Some witnesses said that Robinson was acting belligerent and even swung his fists at officers after they had tried to persuade him to calm down and leave. Others said it was the officer who was the antagonist and actually tackled Robinson as he attempted to walk away.

One report stated that Robinson had been engaged in a fight at a nearby lounge earlier that night. By the time he arrived at the Waffle House, he was already agitated and looking for a fight.

Still others painted Robinson as an athletic star – a good kid who was getting ready to leave for Elon College to play football on a scholarship. Unfortunately, the details, at that point, were irrelevant. A black man was dead at the hands of white police officers. Nothing else mattered.

Concord was a sleepy bedroom community to Charlotte at the time. Its population was only around 17,000 people; today, it boasts more than 90,000. The nation was also still in a state of unrest after the beating of Rodney King, an African-American man, by white police officers in Los Angeles. The officers’ subsequent acquittal on all charges of brutality set off a firestorm in east L.A. the likes of which have never been seen again to this day. People were killed or injured. Businesses and homes were left to burn as emergency services refused to enter what was essentially a war zone.

It was utter anarchy and the memory of the outrage was still fresh here in Cabarrus County, as it had only been a year since that had occurred.

It didn’t take long for word about Robinson’s death to spread through Concord, and an agitated crowd formed the following day in Kimberly Park, in the Logan community. Protesters began throwing rocks and bricks at police officers. Fire hoses were used in retaliation. It was the 1960s all over again.

Rioting began to spill into the streets of downtown. Businesses were vandalized and looted. For five nights it continued. A state of emergency was declared and a curfew was enforced. Reason and logic went out the window, giving way to fear and rage.

Concord made national news for all the wrong reasons. No longer was racial discrimination outrage reserved for the large metropolitan areas. Now small towns had something to say, too – and it wasn’t pretty.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson visited Concord and proclaimed at the time, “We want healing and we want justice. But there will be no peace without justice.”

By this time, the three officers involved in the incident had been taken off duty pending the investigation. But Jackson’s remarks seemed to reinforce the idea in some that the rioting and destruction of the community were necessary in order to bring awareness to the situation.

Eventually, the officers were found not to have intentionally caused Robinson’s death and were returned to duty. Given that pepper spray was (and still is) considered a non-lethal tool, there was no way they could have known they were inadvertently causing Robinson’s death. When the autopsy results revealed as much, the outrage diminished and the rioters disappeared. The aftermath, however, remained – shopkeepers and homeowners were left to clean up.

Fortunately, no one else lost their life as a result of the incident, but dozens were injured and hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage was done.

As a writer, I would love to talk about how far we’ve come in 25 years. But have we? For a while, racial tensions in our country seemed to decrease. Then incidents like that of Michael Brown and, locally, Keith Scott, happened. The riots returned. Once again, the details didn’t matter. Outrage and fear dominated the situation.

Fortunately, these events did yield some positive results. Better training for police officers in handling certain situations is already underway and is something everyone agrees needs to happen. Many police departments across the country are making concerted efforts to ingratiate themselves into the predominately minority communities within their cities in order to demonstrate they are there to help, not to hurt.

When one considers that these and other events have spurred a national desire to improve racial relations, it can be concluded that we have come far since those five days in July 1993. But when one hears the accounts from minorities of racial discrimination they encounter on a daily basis, it is evident we still have a long way to go.

Article by: Jason Huddle

Photos used by permission from The Independent Tribune

Special thanks to the ladies at the Concord Public Library for their assistance with this story.

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