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SPEAK OUT LOUD: Protests erupt in Wilmington, readers weigh in on racism and injustices against black Americans

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Cover photo by Bryan Moss

We’re at the six-month mark of 2020, and it’s safe to say it’s a year that will definitely go down in the history books. Aside from a global pandemic threatening our public health and safety, we’re facing a crashing economy, which is only deepening the class divide between rich and poor. We also face civil unrest as folks are standing up to the systemic racism that continues to plague our nation.

The spark was lit for protesters to take over the streets in cities across the U.S.—and eventually worldwide—after footage surfaced of the brutal killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week. It took four days for an arrest to be made on fired police officer Derek Chauvin, who was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter [editor’s note: On June 3 the charge was upgraded from third-degree to second-degree murder, and the other three officers who were on the scene and didn’t prevent the crime have been charged with aiding and abetting]. In the meantime, protesters took over Minneapolis to call for justice.

Protests spread quickly, state by state, city by city; some turned violent, while others remained peaceful. They reached Wilmington on Saturday, May 30, as organizers from the local chapter of NAACP and Black Lives Matter, among others, hosted a midday gathering at the 1898 Wilmington Memorial. On Sunday evening, another protest was held at City Hall, organized by young activists unaffiliated with any local civic group. What started peaceful turned heated once protesters, who had failed to secure a permit, began blocking 3rd Street. Riot police showed up from New Hanover County Sheriff’s Department, along with officers from Wilmington Police Department, in an attempt to shut down the event and disperse the protesters. NHCSO shot tear gas and flashbangs, and a stand-off between officers and protesters persisted into the early hours of Monday morning, despite the curfew that had been ordered by Mayor Bill Saffo.

 

 

A handful of businesses in downtown Wilmington suffered vandalism, including Ironclad Brewery, Coglin’s and 128 Bakery, all in downtown proper, as well as Castle Street businesses Michael Moore Antiques, Jess James + Co. and Elsewhere Salon. There also was purported damage to some cars and houses in the downtown area.

So why did a protest that started out peacefully end in an uproar? Officials say agitators and accelerationists are to blame—folks who have been bused in from other areas to inflame and ignite protests. Many citizens blame the riot cops for escalating and using nonlethal force, wherein no violence had been initiated by protesters. Nine people were arrested during Sunday night’s protests.

 

 

On Monday evening another protest took place, again not organized by any particular group, only young activists from UNCW, which proved more peaceful and inclusive than Sunday’s event. WPD marched with protesters in solidarity, posed for pictures and encouraged the NHCSO to hold off on suiting up in riot gear—and they listened … well, until around 11 p.m. when protesters were told to disperse and go home by riot police.

 

 

As encore prepares this week’s edition, more protests have been planned for downtown Wilmington through June 6, 4 p.m. until 9 p.m., at the steps of City Hall. Permits have been pulled for them, and the mayor and County Commissioner Julia Boseman have issued a curfew city- and countywide, 9 p.m. – 5 a.m., until further notice. Some downtown businesses have boarded up in an attempt to protect their properties from vandalism and/or looting.

Earlier this week, we asked our readers to share with us their own thoughts on social media in an attempt to open a dialogue about these injustices. We would like to share a few responses.

Question: In the past week, we have watched in horror as law enforcement clashed violently with protesters following the death of George Floyd—the latest in a long series of unjustified deaths of black Americans. How have you processed these events, and what do you think needs to change in order for black Americans to feel safe, valued and protected as citizens under the Declaration of Independence?

 

Valerie Robinson

I’m a black NC native. I’ve lived in New Hanover County since 1997. I wear a mask because my mother has cancer and is over 75. I’ve been followed throughout Target twice in the last three weeks.

While walking with my son and our chihuahua on the riverwalk, a lady made sure to clutch her bag and move it to the other side of her. It was 9 a.m.

Just today a white woman made sure to look at me while on her phone and proclaim, “They should just lynch all of them.”

The same way my parents taught me what to do when stopped by a cop is what I and my son’s father have taught him. We as a people are guilty till proven less guilty.

I am terrified for my son. He is 6’ 3” and 16 and has been a threat since the age of 14. I’ve told my son what the cops did was wrong and that it is also wrong to riot.

This problem is not new. The fact that almost everyone has a camera now is new.

This problem won’t get solved in my lifetime. There will be someone who will always believe people of a different race or religion are inferior. Seeing color is not racist. Judging color is.

 

Bryan Moss 

I think police reform should be an issue taken up by either Democrats or a new progressive party. There’s gotta be a better way of policing law enforcement and structuring it in a way that better reflects the society they’re protecting. That’s a start.

Other than that, if you aren’t racist, be 1,000% more vocal and let your friends and family know where you stand, and what you won’t stand for.

 

Devon Scott

The prevailing notion I returned to in these past weeks was simply: “Why is it so easy?”

When a man was thrown to the ground by police for a nonviolent suspicion I asked, “Why is it so easy?”

When a citizen vigilante shot a mother’s child dead, I asked “Why is it so easy?”

When a woman was executed in the security of her home by gunfire I asked, “Why is it so easy?”

And when a call for justice was made, or when we asked for the killers to be sentenced, or we asked for the suspects to be tried, or apprehended, or made accountable, or to feel guilty, I had to ask, “Why is it so hard?”

Photo by Justin Mitchener

When I answered myself, and the answer was “because the victim was black and the killer was white,” I was reminded this country was born and raised with the firm belief that people who look like me weren’t even really human.

This nation and its systems, laws, law enforcement, media, and general attitude must regard people of color in the same way it regards white people. This, at the very least, means either all black nonviolent offenders are politely escorted to squad cars like active shooters, or all white active shooters are shot on sight like black men with their hands up.

If equal justice can neither be expected nor demonstrated, then there will always be a sense that justice not only isn’t blind but that she’s peeking. We won’t only feel like we aren’t safe, we will know we aren’t.

 

Kimberly Spader Lamm

Somehow, we need to find a way to educate the stakeholders and the public, so everyone, from social workers to judges, want to be engaged and move toward change. Right now, everyone is rightfully angry, so let’s allow that feeling to be expressed and processed.

There will be a lull between this enraging event and the next, so maybe use that time to regroup and make some thoughtful decisions about how to move forward because, at the end of the day, a more peaceful and equitable society benefits everyone.

One of the ideas I would bring to the table is actively supporting folks in every oppressed part of our society to run for office. There are some organizations meant to help, like Run For Something and She Should Run. There are a lot of well-meaning people who want to be a part of change. There is just so much that needs changing, it is overwhelming, and going back to our normal lives is much easier. I think we would all benefit from a little direction from people in leadership roles.

 

LaRaisha Dionne

I’ve lived here for eight years. In that time, I have immersed myself in the theatre community and am a member of the City of Wilmington’s Commission on African American History. I am a light-skinned black woman, with both Jamaican and Caucasian heritage. I have observed a quiet discomfort with the discussion of race as it impacts jobs, housing, politics, theater and general welfare of the black community in Wilmington. Racism isn’t something we are allowed to truly discuss openly without fear of serious repercussions.

I’ve experienced micro and macro aggressions with regard to my race here in Wilmington and in every place I have lived in this country. I have done my best to communicate when these things come up; yet, there is silence. I’ve watched the Northside [get help] last after natural disasters, like Hurricane Florence, and watched attempts to honor African American history be silenced by moratoriums on changing the names of parks in black neighborhoods. I think it is time for this community to have an open and honest discussion about racism and inequality, from the top leadership down to the local organizations. We should have equal representation on boards, in government and in leadership within organizations. We need to address the inequities by allowing black people to have a proper seat at the table.

Even in the midst of a global pandemic, there is work to be done. I don’t know what the solution is, but I know not talking about it isn’t working anymore.

 

B’ellana Duquesne

I am shocked this was the incident that sparked the outrage. The centuries-old abuse of power has been spotlighted ever since the age of the cellphone camera, and social media sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. Perhaps the trauma of the pandemic shortened some already short fuses that have been lit for a while.

There should be cell cameras on all cops (like in LA), better training, better pay for better-educated cops, better applicant screening, consistent discipline for infractions, increased community involvement, etc.—all proposed and never acted upon whenever the attention fades away.

I’m not appalled by the violence; in fact, [I’m] surprised there was not more directed at law enforcement. As for looters, they should be told they are surrendering the moral high-ground in exchange for momentary satisfaction.

That said, I’m still optimistic. I’m old enough to remember when this would have gone to trial and the perpetrator would be found not guilty.

 

Kevin Spears (Wilmington City Councilman)

I know I initially said [to editor Shea Carver] I would answer in private, but I think this is the perfect place to respond. What we’ve seen in the past few months, weeks and days is definitely horrific. It’s not only horrific to see it all over the news and social media, but it’s even more horrifying to realize you may be being preyed upon. Seems outlandish to some right? Not really—because when you look at what’s right in front of us, how else could you describe it? A man jogging, a woman in her home, and a man with a suspect $20 bill: all of them no longer here, and that’s just the ones we know about since February. What links them together? Why are they no longer here? Blackness? Dispensable? I don’t see anything done that deserved death; do you?

What needs to change in order for us to be safe? Everything needs to change. Our value in society needs to change. Barriers to a good life need to be removed. Acknowledgement needs to take place. Corruption in the system needs to be eradicated. Society has to practice what it preaches. We also need to understand that the Declaration of Independence was not written for people who look like me because if it was, we wouldn’t still be fighting for its laws to apply to us. I have plenty more but encore would have to give me my own issue. That might not be a bad idea.

 

We will keep readers informed of other upcoming protests that continue the fight for equal rights for all and justice for the disenfranchised (follow us on Instagram and Facebook). We support social change for the greater good and encourage readers to support local organizations that work toward righting injustices, especially against systemic racism in America.

 

 

 

 

 

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