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ABOVE AND BEYOND: Longtime activist awarded for video bringing shooter to justice
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ABOVE AND BEYOND: Longtime activist awarded for video bringing shooter to justice

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Rasheed Ali believes in getting to the truth even if it means risking his life. He’s proven that over the years with a fearlessness that has forced his immersion in protests largely against police brutality in areas from Los Angeles, California, to Charlotte, North Carolina.

With his video camera in hand, Ali has captured images from several protests while sometimes under a hail of gunfire or amid showers of pepper spray and tear gas.

‘I’m not an instigator’

One such incident was on Sept. 21, 2016, in the wake of the officer-involved shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte. It was during the civil unrest that Justin Carr, who had come to uptown Charlotte to peaceably protest, was shot in the head.

Rayquan Borum was later convicted of the murder, and on March 8, 2019, was sentenced to spend at least 24 years in prison.

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Ali had been filming Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officers at the moment Borum shot Carr. It was his videotape that later helped convict Borum.

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Despite the fact that he was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of failure to disperse, Ali contacted the CMPD to provide his footage. When the case proceeded to trial in February 2019, Ali took the stand, testifying about the protest and authenticating his own video.

For his courage and selflessness, the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office awarded Ali with an Above and Beyond Citizen Award.

Ali, a native of Dallas, Texas, who now lives in The T&D Region, said the award was both appreciated and affirming.

“I said, ‘Finally, somebody thinks enough of me to give me my props.’ I took the bitter with the sweet because I was arrested for failure to disperse,” Ali said.

While the charge was later dropped and there was an offer to have it expunged from his record, Ali, a former Black Panther, declined it.

“I said, ‘Never mind,’ because I’ve never been arrested during a protest. So Martin Luther King and all of the rest of them had been arrested many times. So how does it look if you’re a protester or an activist with no arrests? It just don’t look right,” Ali said.

He said the award made him feel vindicated.

“It’s sad that it had to come from another state, but, you know, you take it where you can get it. I do stuff in South Carolina. (Columbia Police Chief) Skip Holbrook and (Richland County Sheriff) Leon Lott, all of them know me,” Ali said.

He added, “This award is going to help me, for police to take me seriously and see that I’m not an instigator.”

In fact, it was Ali who recognized four Orangeburg Department of Public Safety law enforcement officers for their fair service to the community during an Orangeburg City Council meeting in May 2018.

“When people do bad, you always got something to say. So I feel when people do good, you should say something as well,” Ali said.

‘It seems to be getting worse’

Ali recalled his time during the protests in Charlotte, a time when he was serving as a news correspondent for "The Bev Smith Show." He had also served a news contributor for other shows, including "The Rashad Richey Show."

“One evening about 3:30 p.m. when Keith Lamont Scott was waiting on his son to get off the bus, he was shot and killed because the police said he had a gun. But all of the witnesses that I interviewed ... saw them plant the gun. They tore the Wal-Mart all the way up, and then the second night, they took the riots to downtown Charlotte. And that’s when I came in,” Ali said.

The protesters had split up into groups, and Black Lives Matter and Charlotte Uprising were among the many activist organizations who had turned out, he said.

“Some people stayed at the church. The church was trying to restrain some of the protesters, and they said, ‘We didn’t come for this! We didn’t come to go to church! We came to protest!’ So I followed them downtown and they gave the police a hard time.

“They were throwing potted plants, pieces of rocks ... They were overwhelming the police. The police were reacting with pepper spray and tear gas and stuff like that. Every once in a while, they had to retreat back into the Omni Hotel because they couldn’t take it,” Ali said.

He said he was videotaping police “because at that time, I felt like they shot a man one day. So I said, ‘Maybe they’re going to shot another one and I’m going to get it on videotape.’”

“So that’s why I was in their face. They didn’t appreciate me being in their face. That’s why they arrested me that night. But you could hear the pepper spray ... Then you could hear the tear gas every once in a while with, ‘Bang! Bang!’

“People started throwing tear gas back and that made the police retreat. Then after they came back out from retreating about one minute, they came back out of the motel,” Ali said.

Approximately a minute later, he heard a loud bang.

“Everybody ran in all directions, but I didn’t run because I’m used to hearing that at Chicago and various riots. That’s was a norm for me, not knowing that that was the fatal shot to kill Justin Carr,” he said.

Ali added, “At the time ... I didn’t know the guy who got convicted of a murder was on the video.”

He has been on the front lines of several protests against police brutality and other injustices and doesn’t plan to stop.

“It seems to be getting worse. So I feel I need to interject myself to help fix it,” he said.

His videotaped images are part of his social justice journeys across the nation, including his participation in the NAACP’s Journey for Justice in 2015 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. But his journey began long before then.

He was almost killed during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which began after a trial jury acquitted four Los Angeles Police Department officers for use of excessive force in the arrest and beatings of Rodney King.

In the aftermath, more than 60 people were killed and more than 2,000 more were injured, with an estimated property damage cost of more than $1 billion.

“That was real big. I almost got killed. That was dangerous. I saw three people get killed ... I talked some sheriff’s (deputies) out of going into a building with a bunch of armed looters. It would have been a shootout ... Everything I said I got it on video ... So I got a pretty good relationship with the sheriff’s office and the LAPD,” he said.

He was also among the demonstrations that followed the arrests of six black students – who came to be known as the Jena 6 – for the beating of a white high school student in Jena, Louisiana, in December 2006. Mass protests erupted in September 2007 for what some considered the justice system’s unfair treatment of the Jena 6, with crowds of thousands of protesters gathering to voice their concerns.

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He was also among the unrest that erupted following the shooting deaths of Laquan McDonald in Chicago, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Jonathan Ferrell in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. He said that some of his footage shot during the protests following Brown’s death may be included in an upcoming HBO movie.

“I don’t plan on stopping when it’s a real hot-button issue. I’m trying to get somebody pardoned this year. In South Carolina, I’m going to help somebody get on with the Charlotte PD and the Charlotte DA (Office). So I use my platform to help people,” said Ali, noting that he’s made connections within several media outlets, as well as those among other activists and law enforcement agencies over the years.

‘I’ve always been outgoing’

Ali said he was no stranger to racism while growing up in Dallas. In fact, it was his experience with it that made him start on the path of social activism.

“When I was 15 years old, I was in a Ku Klux Klan rally in Dallas, Texas. Me and a friend of mine beat up one of the Klan ... They told me they were going to kill me. So I said to myself I got to work from within because I can’t change anything from the outside.

“So as I got older, I got wiser. I had quite a few friends whose parents were in the Klan, but yet me and their kids were friends because I played sports. I was real good in sports as I was growing up ... I used to spend the night with my wealthy white friends,” said Ali, who seemed to always be on a quest to prove his potential beyond what others thought or felt about him.

“When I went to the seventh grade, that’s when they integrated schools. The white teachers used to tell me that I don’t need to take this kind of trigonometry and stuff because I don’t need to worry about going to college. They used to try to convince me to not take the higher-level classes. So I said to myself, ‘I can’t let that prevail.’ I experienced that kind of racism as I was growing up. It’s really sad, but it is what it is,” he said.

He went on to attend the University of North Texas.

“I’ve always been outgoing. I ran track against people like Carl Lewis. I played football. I was always a good athlete in college and in high school. I was just real outgoing, been around nice things as I was growing up because my godbrother played for the Cowboys,” Ali said.

“I grew up around the Dallas Cowboys, keeping mansions for Tony Dorsett and (Ed)  ‘Too Tall’ Jones. When they used to go the playoffs, I’d keep everybody’s mansion. I’ve been riding around in Mercedes and BMWs since I was like 16 and 17 because the Cowboys workout place was about two miles from my house. So I’ve been around. My (god) brother played 11 years for the Dallas Cowboys. So I’d go to the games and I knew a lot of people,” he said.

He was also a part of the entertainment industry, serving as head of publicity for artists such as rappers Run-DMC in his younger days.

Never one to run from adversity, it was Ali who also helped rebuild his house after it burned down in 2012.

“You gotta have a team. So I was out there with the Mexicans loading shingles on top of the house. I did the sheet rock. I painted the whole house. I assisted them with framing up, putting the flooring in and some of the roof (on). I told them that I could do it. So we were challenging each other,” Ali said.

Now the married father of three, the 61-year-old looks back on his own late parents as an influential force in his life.

“My dad was working 15-hour and sometimes 16-hour days. He was a foreman for Rockwell International ... He said, ‘Whatever you do, be the best you can be.’ My mother was more like a housewife and she used to do laundry for upscale whites,” he said.

“My daddy used to get called names on his job. He said in spite of what they called him, he knew we wouldn’t eat if he fell for it because he would always be the last one hired and the first one fired. So he had to go through intense racism as he was growing up to make life better for us.

“So sometimes they didn’t want to talk about it, but I broke a lot of barriers down because I’ve eaten dinners at Klansmen's houses because their sons wanted me over ... A lot of my white friends and blacks couldn’t believe that the whites would invite me to their house for dinner because they were Klan affiliated. To me, it was just another day,” Ali said.

He looks at his award from the Mecklenburg County DA’s Office with pride.

What does going above and beyond mean to him?

“It means exactly what I did. I went out of my way to get that video to them because I said, ‘Something ain’t right about this case.’ Some people might call me a sell-out, but when I go to functions with Charlotte PD, I sit with the chief, the mayor and the city council. All of the other media have to be in the balcony,” he said.

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For him, it’s all about standing up for truth and justice.

“I’m trying to show by example. Just tell the truth,” he said.

Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow "Good News with Gleaton" on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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