Religious leaders, civil rights activists and other protesters gathered in Elizabeth City on Saturday, marching to the spot where Andrew Brown Jr. was killed by a sheriff’s bullet and pledging to pursue justice and answers as attention strays from the slaying.
The Rev. William Barber II and other leaders called for a mass demonstration, but drew a smaller crowd than marched in the weeks after the April 21 shooting. Around 150 people turned out for Saturday’s march.
Still, the chants of protesters reverberated through the damp streets of Elizabeth City, as people marched despite the gloomy weather and rain.
Many of those gathered wore clerical robes and stoles, heeding a call for religious leaders to join the rally.
Messiah Powell, a 10-year-old boy wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt and hat, led the marchers with a megaphone.
“Say his name!” Powell chanted.
“Andrew Brown!” marchers called.
As they passed a flea market on Water Street, the crowd of shoppers paid little attention.
But a parade of cars and a bus carrying senior citizens followed along, all of them honking horns.
Supporters at a waterfront park turned up Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” a time-honored song advocating social justice.
Marchers gather after autopsy results
Marchers assembled Saturday nearly two months after Pasquotank County deputies shot the unarmed Brown in the back of the head as he fled arrest in his car.
His case initially drew hundreds of protesters almost nightly for weeks following the shooting, calling for both the release of body-camera footage and a special prosecutor to investigate the case — a position backed by Gov. Roy Cooper.
In North Carolina, footage from body-worn or dashboard cameras can only be released if a judge orders it. The Brown family and protesters have called for this state law to be changed.
But the case has faded from national attention since District Attorney Andrew Womble called the shooting “justified,” declining to press charges against deputies who said they feared Brown would run them down with his car.
Saturday’s march came two days after the release of autopsy results confirming that Brown was killed by a shot to the back of his head, a fact that advocates insist calls for criminal charges.
Calls for transparency continue
An array of chants filled the air Saturday, but a common theme among them was the demand for further transparency in Brown’s death.
“Release the tape,” marchers chanted. “The whole tape. The real tape. The full tape.”
At the start of the march, Barber said the focus of their demonstration was not on the city.
“What’s his name? Womble,” Barber said. “We gotta keep the focus where the focus ought to be. On Womble and on the sheriff’s department.”
Among the many signs carried, one read, “There are better ways to get OT than by killing an unarmed Black man.”
Marchers lay wreaths for Brown
At Brown’s house on Perry Street, grass has regrown over the tire tracks Brown’s fleeing car cut into the yard. But mud kicked up by his tires remained splattered on the walls of his house, where a mural of his face has been painted.
Barber had the crowd lay four wreaths representing truth, transparency, accountability and justice — “all we want,” he said.
“A badge is not a license to kill. A gun is not a license to kill. A warrant is not a license to kill. Racism is not a license to kill,” Barber said. “And when we find out that people have abused their power, there must be accountability.”
The wreath representing justice was the last to be placed.
“There’s one word that describes what we want at all times,” Barber said. “What is it?”
“Justice!” the crowd chanted.
Before leaving the house, the marchers broke into song: “We who believe in justice will not rest. We who believe in justice will not rest until it comes.”
As marchers exited onto the streets around Brown’s house, neighbors raised fists and waved from their porches.
‘I’m mad as hell.’
At a waterfront pavilion later, Barber said he had collected 2,000 signatures asking the U.S. Department of Justice to review the Pasquotank County district attorney and sheriff’s office “top to bottom.”
Barber also emphasized the importance of voting, noting that Womble is running for Superior Court judge in 2022.
“It would be a shame to march this way in June, and not march to the polls in November,” he said. “We have a chance to hold them accountable at the ballot box.”
Other speakers took to the stage at the waterfront to speak before the crowd.
“We continue to call for accountability believing that our cries do not fall on deaf ears,” said the Rev. Michelle Lewis. “Dear sheriff’s deputies, we see you. We see you urinating on Black businesses. We see you cursing at protesters. I was one of them.”
She was alluding to security camera footage showing a sheriff’s deputy urinating on the property of a funeral home owned by a Black member of the Elizabeth City City Council.
Brown family attorney Harry Daniels said a lawsuit is coming soon over Brown’s death But his legal team will not agree to Pasquotank County officials’ demand for a “gag order” relating to the still unreleased body-camera footage.
“They’re willing to give us the video,” he said. “They don’t want us to talk about it.”
Elizabeth City activist Kirk Rivers noted protesters have marched peacefully for 53 days, yet people still stop and ask why.
Three people have been hit by cars during protests, he said.
“Right here in Elizabeth City we have that much hatred,” Rivers said. “I’m mad as hell. You can tell my mother I cussed today.”