‘Stay Home’: How Fortune 500 Companies Dealt with Charlotte Violence

APTOPIX Charlotte Police Fatal Shooting
A protester, center, is taken into custody by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016. Authorities in Charlotte tried to quell public anger Wednesday after a police officer shot a black man, but a dusk prayer vigil turned into a second night of violence, with police firing tear gas at angry protesters and a man being critically wounded by gunfire. North Carolina's governor declared a state of emergency in the city. (Jeff Siner/The Charlotte Observer via AP)
Jeff Siner — AP

It’s been a confusing day for the thousands of Charlotte-based corporate employees, many of whom were told not to travel to work after a second night of violence rocked their city. Among the employers telling staff to not report to work Thursday: Bank of America, Duke Energy, Wells Fargo, and Fifth Third Bank.

“All non-essential employees and contingent workers are encouraged not to report to work uptown,” Duke Energy told employees.

“Due to the recent events and the declared state of emergency in Charlotte, Wells Fargo team members are not required to report to work Thursday, September 22,” Wells Fargo said in an email to employees.

But Michael Smith, president of Center City Partners, a prominent Charlotte economic development non-profit, issued a statement imploring business partners and stakeholders to get back to work. It is, the statement said, “vital that we return to business as usual today, standing together as one Charlotte in our central business district.”

These are troubling times, so mixed messages are to be expected.

Wednesday night was the second night of clashes between protesters and the police, after the fatal shooting of Keith L. Scott, a 43-year old black man. Earlier protests had mostly been peaceful, including a student “die-in” at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and a prayer vigil held at the apartment complex where Mr. Scott had lived.

But things escalated badly last night and the business district – known as the “uptown” – took the brunt. News coverage showed shocking images of tear gas, broken windows, and damaged vehicles, while angry protesters with cell phones aloft videoed police in riot gear and gas masks. A man was shot outside of the Omni Hotel. By 11 pm, the governor had declared a state of emergency.

Meanwhile, Chief Kerr Putney of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, announced that the video of the shooting, which has been the focal point of the protests, was inconclusive and would not be shown to the public.

A curfew may be coming next, and another dreaded “stay home” email from the CEO.

Which begs another question: Is there a leadership role employees can play in chaotic times? I will address this question in Fortune’s race and culture newsletter, raceAhead tomorrow.


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