Braxton Winston used to stare down Charlotte riot police, now he oversees them

Braxton Winston used to stare down Charlotte riot police, now he oversees them

Braxton Winston used to stare down Charlotte riot police, now he oversees them

Updated 11 December 2017, 9:00 AEDT

A year after he is photographed shirtless with his fist in the air, staring down a row of riot police in North Carolina, Braxton Winston is elected to run city council.

Dressed in a tweed jacket with dreadlocks flowing down his back, Braxton Winston can barely walk 10 metres through the Charlotte City Council offices in North Carolina without someone stopping to shake his hand and say "congratulations".

"What's up man?" he says to a police officer who walks over to give him a hug.

It's a stark contrast to last year, when the 34-year-old was photographed shirtless, with his fist in the air, staring down a row of riot police.

"You google my name right now, you go to the images, you gonna see me in a pair of handcuffs and surrounded by police," he says, chuckling.

Back then the city was enduring violent protests over the police shooting of an unarmed black man.

Mr Winston was on the front lines, challenging police officers and calling for accountability.

One officer berated Mr Winston for just yelling in the streets, telling him, "When they sweep up the shattered glass they are gonna sweep you up with it and you'll be gone".

Mr Winston took that as a challenge. He started live streaming the demonstrations, going to local government meetings, becoming a conduit between the community and elected officials.

Despite having no political experience he decided to run for city council — and won.

Now he is part of the body that oversees the police force.

"It is an awesome responsibility — awesome in the sense of the gravity of it," he says.

"The biggest difference from last year is I can't say, 'what are they doing out there?' I have to say, 'what are we doing?'

"Those are my police officers. This is my police force. This is ours as a council."

Winston will 'bring something completely out of the box'

The police officer who told him to do more than just protest on the street was veteran detective and outreach officer Garry McFadden.

They met outside the council chambers on the day of Mr Winston's swearing in.

"Funny running into you over here!" Mr Winston says, laughing and giving a grinning Detective McFadden a hug.

Since they met a year ago they've crossed paths several times at community events and have come to respect and understand each other.

"I think it's great," Detective McFadden says of Mr Winston's win.

"I think that we sometimes have too many talking heads, sometimes we have too many talking suits … but a person like Braxton is going to bring something completely out of the box."

For Mr Winston, it wasn't just Detective McFadden's words that prompted him to act, but he says they always stuck in his mind.

"It is like you know what, it ain't just about him, but ain't nobody gonna just say that you went away," he says.

'He is part of our city'

Mr Winston has a big task ahead of him.

"I have to learn how to run a city. I am a corporate board member of a multi-million dollar corporation," he says.

"I have 8,000 employees that I have to be a steward of and be an employer of choice, but also hold them accountable."

But he doesn't want to give up the activism that led him to the council.

"I have to bring people into it using social media and using now all the resources I have in the city to figure out ways to further engage people and bring them into the room with me," he says.

Detective McFadden says he wants to help Mr Winston succeed, but says there are probably hundreds of people in the city who want to see the unconventional political outsider fail in his stint in office.

"They don't see if he fails, we fail, because we voted him in," Detective McFadden says.

"He is part of our city, he is part of our community and now he is part of our government, so it would be stupid to let him fail because it wouldn't be Braxton failing, it would be Charlotte."