The unsettling sights and sounds were still fresh in Troy Livingston’s mind Friday:
Bangs and booms echoing, smoke rolling, protesters and police clashing below his hotel window and, later, civilians shaking the hands of officers and National Guard troops after things calmed down.
The Wichita cop became an eyewitness to a national story.
Livingston, a Wichita police deputy chief, found himself at a police conference in Charlotte this past week on a street where racial unrest and protests erupted after the death of a black man shot by police in that North Carolina city.
“It was odd because I was on the outside, looking in,” Livingston said of his experience. “I was like a fish out of the water. I couldn’t do anything but just watch.”
Livingston was staying at the Omni Hotel in downtown Charlotte, where police officials from the nation’s large cities were meeting to discuss challenges and best practices. The police shooting was Tuesday. To Livingston, things seemed to intensify Wednesday, when he and police officials were visiting in the hotel lobby downstairs.
They heard from hotel staff that protesters were gathered outside.
“I did hear a bang ... then people running into the courtyard and security talking.”
He heard that someone else had been shot but didn’t realize immediately how close the shooting had been to the hotel.
Hotel security closed the lobby and ushered guests to their rooms.
On CNN, Livingston noticed his hotel in the background — and the wounded person lying on a sidewalk by an entryway to the hotel. The person who was wounded was a civilian, but was not shot by police, Livingston heard. According to news accounts, the man who was shot outside the hotel was a protester who later died. Authorities arrested a man in that shooting.
From a sixth-floor window that night, Livingston watched the situation below worsen. Protesters and police were fighting at times. He heard protesters screaming, chanting.
At one point, officers surrounded an officer who apparently had been injured and carried him to a vehicle. Recalling how he felt, Livingston said, “Instantly, I want to go down there and help him. But I felt fine rather quickly because he had so many fellow officers help him right away.”
Over the next few hours Wednesday night, officers stood in line to protect property, Livingston said.
“It was just kind of an interesting experience because I’ve never had to deal with something of that scale.”
And it was strange, he said, because he was seeing it happen in front of him and watching it on CNN. At times, he could see officers deploying gas, hear the resulting bangs and see the smoke it gave off.
The Charlotte Observer reported that police fired tear gas at protesters outside the Omni Hotel, that “loud booms sounded, and police said explosives had been used.”
At the hotel later Wednesday night, Livingston went downstairs to see if things were OK in the lobby. He saw two women return to the hotel, could see that they were shaken, upset. They told about being at a restaurant. One moment, things seemed peaceful. The next, windows shattered.
He watched officers who had been dealing with the protest come into the lobby to rest. “They looked very tired and hot,” he recalled.
He didn’t get to bed until almost 2 a.m.
Proud of Wichita
But the next night, Thursday, the protest seemed smaller and much more peaceful, he said. That night, some people were shaking the hands of the officers and troops deployed outside.
Livingston said the experience made him reflect on relations between police and the public in Wichita.
He felt proud that he lives in a city where there have been “No Ferguson Here” meetings so that Wichita would not see the kind of destructive protests that occurred in that Missouri city after an officer shot and killed a man there, and proud that he works for a department whose police chief helped host a large cookout where people could talk through issues.
“Peaceful protests are perfectly understandable and fine,” he said. “It’s a constitutional right.”