glo Merriweather speaks in front of a group of people that are sitting down. Behind them are other black and brown folks and a mural that says "liberation"

glo Merriweather, anti-police violence activist targeted by police, goes free

“My life is currently in the hands of the state,” glo Merriweather, a black trans and queer activist based in Charlotte, North Carolina, told me a few months ago. They were fighting for their freedom after being criminalized for protesting in the wake of the police murder of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte in 2016.

glo’s trial was set to begin this week. Only a few weeks ago, Mecklenburg District Attorney’s office dropped all charges against glo. But while glo is now free, state repression against black liberation activists in Charlotte continues, and glo’s reflections—on their case, state violence and the role of feminism in all of it—are as essential as ever.

The Uprising

Originally from Baltimore, glo Merriweather is a longtime community organizer who works to empower black and Southeast Asian young people in Charlotte. By 2015, glo and fellow activists were trying to track and intervene in Charlotte’s long history of racist police violence by observing police brutality trials and recording stories from the family and friends of black folks killed by police. As glo summarized this work: “Every time the state fucked up, we were there – trying to let our community know so they could see the pattern and potentially engage with us in whatever way that looked.”

Their efforts helped lay the groundwork for an uprising. On September 20, 2016, Keith Lamont Scott, a 40-year old black man who was the father of seven children, was sitting in his car at his apartment complex waiting for his son to get off the school bus. A Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer searching for someone else shot and killed him.

In the immediate aftermath of the murder, glo and other community members did what they had done many times before throughout the city: they went to the Scott’s apartment complex to be with his family and neighbors. That night, the crowd continued to grow. As glo described it:

Our community is in beautiful resistance to this heinous crime. They are demanding answers, they are crying, and replacing the violent energy with hugs, chants, and passion. When we came into the space where Mr. Scott’s life was taken, we came to contribute our hearts, our spirits, and our love for our people… for Mr. Scott, his family, and his children. 

The mourners became “an impromptu grief procession” walking through Charlotte, where they were met with immediate violence and escalation from the police. This began a weeklong uprising, in which hundreds of Charlotte residents, of all ages and races, took to the streets to express their grief and demand answers for this murder, and for the years of violence that had been smothered by the fantasy of a postracial Charlotte.  Local and state police and the National Guard attacked protesters with tear gas, rubber bullets, sound cannons, and flash/concussion grenades. Almost 100 people were arrested during the protests, many for things like blocking the sidewalk.  

This week also solidified the group of people, including glo, who had been fighting police brutality in Charlotte under the name Charlotte Uprising. The group helped energize and sustain the protests, organizing community spaces and food, bailing people out of jail, and holding “People’s University” teach-ins about gender justice each night.

On the second night of the uprising, September 21st, 2016, Justin Carr, a 21-year-old man who had been inspired to join the protests by his grandmother’s civil rights activism, was shot and killed. Charlotte PD initially insisted that Carr had been killed by a civilian, arresting another protester named Rayquan Borum for the murder. But witnesses who were present insist that Carr was shot when police were firing into the crowd of demonstrators. 

glo had been marching near Carr at the time of the shooting. While police looked on and did nothing, glo helped carry him to an ambulance. Afterwards, glo began talking to friends and media about what they had seen: that the police were responsible for Carr’s death.

It was in one of the press reports on Carr’s shooting that an investigator found glo’s name and forwarded it to the police. Not long after, they were arrested on charges of inciting a riot, to which they pled not guilty. While Keith Lamont Scott’s murder was ultimately deemed “justified,” trials for glo and other Charlotte Uprising protesters dragged on, disrupting their lives for years.

Despite two years of pressuring glo to accept a plea deal that would give them a felony record, the District Attorney ultimately dropped all charges against them. 

glo Merriweather standing on top of a stone wall that says Mecklenburg County Courthouse

glo at the courthouse in Charlotte, NC

Justice and Liberation 

Much of the sympathy and support that glo has received—in the progressive media and the feminist movement— has been focused on the fact that they are being unfairly targeted as an activist and that, as a trans person, they face particular dangers in prisons and jails. glo was incarcerated in a trans pod of the county jail when they were first arrested. But they pointed out that “trans inclusive prisons are still prisons” and that the real danger comes from the prison system itself—which is transphobic, racist, violent, and fundamentally unsafe for everyone.

This response to glo’s case—and to police violence more broadly— reflects a continued lack of understanding of state violence as gender/ed violence and an allegiance to racist carceral feminism over the lives of black people. As glo defines it, carceral feminism is an approach to feminism that “that supports, and relies on, criminalization and incarceration as responses to gender violence.”

While carceral feminism might draw distinctions between those who do not deserve to be criminalized and those who do, a liberatory feminism asserts that prisons are unsafe for everyone, that the concept of a trans-friendly or queer-friendly prison is an oxymoron, and that people like Rayquan Borum, who remains in jail, are deserving of their freedom and dignity too. We can, and should, be relieved and joyful about the community organizing and support that helped to free glo. But this is a victory in an ongoing fight that was never about individual guilt or innocence.

Carceral feminism concerns itself with justice—for a select few white women that the state deems worthy of protection. But we need more than that—we need liberation. glo reflects on the difference between the two concepts:

Justice has to be served out of a space that is lacking in one form or another, where something was taken. The justice act is putting that back. I don’t want back. I want new. When I’m thinking about world building, I’m thinking about what safety looks like, what fullness looks like. I’m thinking about what a more reverent relationship with the planet looks like.

Their words are a powerful reminder for me that prison abolition is not only about freeing people from cages because these cages are wrong. We are also freeing people so they can live their lives, go to school, be with their families, create art, be in community, and do the kinds of vital organizing work that move us closer to a world we can’t quite imagine, the kind of world that glo is brave enough to fight for.

glo and the other members of Charlotte Uprising continue to support trans community members, demand accountability for the victims of prison and police murders and uplift the voices of survivors of police violence. They challenge the police and media narrative around September 2016, asking onlookers to understand the protests as an uprising against centuries of racist police brutality, and to imagine the possibilities of a world without prisons and police. The movement is still fighting to free Rayquan and to abolish prisons, recognizing that all incarcerated people are political prisoners.   

Anyone who is able can donate to glo’s fundraiser for Rayquan’s continuing legal defense. Follow Charlotte Uprising on Facebook and Twitter to learn about opportunities for support in North Carolina and to stay informed no matter where you are.

When glo and I spoke a few months ago, they told me that the situation made them feel like “I’ve been sprinting for 600 days.” While glo can now catch their breath, their fight continues.

Image credits: Cover image by Stef Bernal-Martinez, in-text image by Ann Thuy Nguyen

Jess is a first-gen college graduate, cat parent, and LGBTQ person living in Boston, MA. At Feministing, Jess writes about the intersection of state and interpersonal violence, LGBTQ communities and radical activism. They can usually be found on public transportation or the internet.

Jess is a first-gen college graduate, cat parent, and LGBTQ person living in Boston, MA. They can usually be found on public transportation or the internet.

Read more about Jess

Join the Conversation

Donna Dalton Vigil this

Ohio Cop Murders Donna Dalton, Sex Worker, Mother, and Friend

Last Friday in Columbus Ohio, Donna Castleberry Dalton, a 23-year old woman and mother of two was shot and killed by an undercover police officer after he forced her into his car and attempted to arrest her during a “prostitution sting.”  

Dalton’s friends and family are challenging the official police narrative of events. CPD Officer Andrew Mitchell is claiming he shot Donna Dalton 8 times in self-defense after she stabbed him in the hand during the attempted arrest. But the fact Dalton was not handcuffed at the time of the murder suggests ...

Last Friday in Columbus Ohio, Donna Castleberry Dalton, a 23-year old woman and mother of two was shot and killed by an undercover police officer after he

image of a united states passport on top of a closed red book

The U.S. is Denying Trans Women Passports

In a Twitter thread posted last week, Janus Rose, a tech researcher based in New York, reported that the State Department “retroactively invalidated” the change of gender marker on her passport from the previous year, refusing to renew her passport – the second reported trans person who has been denied a passport this year.

Wow. The U.S. passport office just called and told me that due to an “error,” the government has *retroactively invalidated* the change of gender marker it authorized on my passport last year. They won’t renew my passport w/ correct name & gender until i submit a new doctors note

— ✨ Janus Rose ✨ (@zenalbatross)

In a Twitter thread posted last week, Janus Rose, a tech researcher based in New York, reported that the State Department “retroactively invalidated” the change of gender marker on ...