NORTH CAROLINA — As protests around the nation against racism and injustice continue, local and state officials are weighing in on the topic and the event that sparked the recent unrest — the death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis.
In a press conference on May 31, Gov. Roy Cooper said that recent events had “broken open new wounds.”
“These scars mark generations of trauma that black people and other communities of color continue to suffer. Trauma that has too often gone unrecognized in our country,” Cooper said. “We’ve made some progress, but when you see George Floyd on the ground begging for air, you realize that we have so much more work to do.”
Amid protests in Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro and Fayetteville over the May 30-31 weekend were incidents of fires, looting and property damage, according to media reports. The News and Observer reported that a few hours into the event in Raleigh, police had dispersed tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds. Cooper said the mayors of each city were granted state support in the form of personnel from the N.C. State Highway Patrol and State Bureau of Investigation, and some were given access to U.S. National Guard soldiers.
The Rev. William J. Barber II — an activist, pastor and author — said that protestors are right to decry such brutal and inhumane treatment of Floyd as racism.
“Thank God people are in the streets refusing to accept what has been seen as normal for far too long,” Barber said in a May 31 statement. “All that is needed to understand why black people are crying out is to ask what the response of our justice system would have been if a video had emerged of four black men doing that to a white man.”
As an officer of the law for more than 24 years, Appalachian State University Police Chief Andy Stephenson made a statement on May 30 that he was angered, sickened and ashamed by the actions of the police officers that reportedly resulted in the death of Floyd.
“I have felt compelled to apologize for those members of my profession who have yet to understand, or are not capable of understanding, what policing is meant to be,” Stephenson said in his statement. “Policing is much more than simply the enforcement of laws. Police officers must be actively engaged in building stronger communities, together with every member of the communities they serve.”
The North Carolina Sheriff’s Association issued a statement on May 29 which stated that while they were not privy to the full investigation of Floyd’s death, what officials have seen in the video recording of the event was “unacceptable.”
“The video clearly shows unprofessional and egregious conduct by law enforcement officers,” stated the NCSA. “This type of law enforcement conduct cannot be tolerated and must be swiftly addressed by the law enforcement community and the criminal justice system.”
Stephenson added that he understands he has to go beyond apologizing, and take action. Both the NCSA statement and Stephenson made comments about education and training of law enforcement personnel. NCSA stated that the conduct displayed in the video is contrary to training provided to North Carolina officers, which includes reserving the use of force — especially deadly force — for those times when its use is “absolutely necessary and lawful.”
Stephenson said that he views the App State Police academy program as a means for introducing reform into the communities of North Carolina and elsewhere. Policing is often controversial, and Stephenson said university leadership has supported the work he wants to do to enact change.
“Our young police officers need education and training that goes well beyond the minimum state training standards, both in the number of training hours and the topics of mandated instruction,” Stephenson stated. “Unless we engage and employ innovative new strategies, policing will continue to be destined for failure. This change begins with education.”
Watauga Sheriff Len Hagaman said all 100 NC sheriffs contributed to the NCSA official statement. NCSA stated that sheriffs strive to build relationships with everyone in their communities built on mutual respect between officers and their community.
App State head football coach Shawn Clark stated in a May 30 tweet that racism and hatred has no place in society. He stated that he stood with his colleagues, friends and players of color.
“I hope that we can all listen to each other and not ignore the pain and fear that people of color live with on a regular basis,” Clark said. “We must do better. I stand against any form of racism in my community, workplace and locker room.”
Congresswoman Virginia Foxx made a June 2 statement and mentioned the peaceful protestors exercising their right to assemble and speak freely across the country. She also acknowledged the riots and looting taking place, and said those actions are “purely antithetical” to peacefully protesting.
“Sadly, mob rule — perpetrated by anarchists and bad actors — has taken hold in some places,” Foxx stated. “There is no excuse for this reckless behavior, and those responsible for committing these heinous acts must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This is no way to honor Mr. Floyd’s memory, and it creates further discord within our communities.”
Foxx sent her condolences to Floyd’s family, and endorsed her support for the full inquiry into his death. She added that the country needs to heal, and the best way to do so would be through unity.
During his May 31 comments, Cooper said people must constructively channel anger, frustration and sadness to force accountability and action. He added that more attention was being paid across the nation to the riots, tear gas, broken windows and stolen property, rather than the protestors’ calls for change.
“I want to remind everyone of something vitally important. We cannot focus so much on the property damage that we forget why people are in the streets,” Cooper said. “Racism, excessive use of police force, health disparities, poverty, white supremacy — these are wrong. They are ugly, but they are present. We must deal with them. We will deal with them.”