Activist Ken Nwadike went to Charlotte, North Carolina, not to protest, but to hug.
He strode up to a line of law-enforcement officer who were suited up in riot gear, and gave one a hug.
The officers looked surprised at first, but then broke into smiles.
“Thank you for being out here and being peaceful,” the officer said as he embraced Nwadike.
Some of the other protesters yelled at Nwadike, calling him names and demanding to know why he was on “their side.”
“It’s about staying neutral, that’s what’s important,” he told them. “I see them as human beings, just like I see everybody on this side as human beings. We’re all human. His uniform doesn’t make him a robot. Just like your uniform, your skin colour, doesn’t make you a criminal.”
Nwadike gave out hugs during a particularly violent night of protesting on Wednesday. The demonstrations were markedly more peaceful Thursday night, though the National Guard was deployed to the city and the mayor ordered a midnight curfew.
People were protesting after police shot Keith Lamont Scott dead on Tuesday, in an incident where police say he was armed, but his family insists he wasn’t. Scott’s death comes on the heels of another death in Tulsa, Oklahoma last week when a police officer there shot an unarmed black man, and was charged with felony manslaughter.
Nwadike, who started the Free Hugs Project after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, told Anderson Cooper Thursday night why he went to Charlotte.
“People are hurting, and I understand that. I think it was very tough for them to see a black man hugging police officers, which to me, doesn’t really make sense,” Nwadike said on CNN. “I don’t see it as us vs. the police. We’re all human beings. I was pointing out to them that those specific officers didn’t do anything to them, and it’s very important for us to spread love towards one another.”
Watch the full video of Nwadike’s passionate exchange with protesters and police below (contains some NSFW language):
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