Though the Dallas shootings had dominated the news for much of the day, several hundred people gathered in downtown Raleigh on Friday evening to remember 500 other lives lost in officer-involved shootings this year.
The rally and candlelight vigil were organized by the Police Accountability and Community Task Force, or PACT, Policy Matters NC, and the Justice or Else Movement.
“Right now the country is focusing on the unfortunate killing of police officers in Dallas,” said the Rev. Curtis Gatewood, a NAACP representative who was one of the featured speakers. “But violent retaliation is always unjustifiable.”
Gatewood focused most of his speech on what he described as the country’s unwillingness to acknowledge violence against people of color, particularly black men.
For years, Gatewood said, black men have been deployed on military missions “to kill innocent people we’ve never met.”
“But when will America defend black people?” Gatewood said. “We are defending everybody else for America. But when we come home, who will defend us?”
Darrion Smith, a spokesman with Black Workers For Justice, spoke along the same lines about the killing of the officers in Dallas, but said it was important to fix the underlying problems of racial profiling, economic injustice and the school-to-prison pipeline.
“The problem won’t be stopped by lone wolf acts of violence, but by unified efforts to stop the killing of black and brown people,” Smith said.
More than 300 people gathered in the humid and steamy early evening in Moore Square and named the latest victims of police shootings – Jai Lateef Solveig Williams in Asheville, a 35-year-old man armed with an AR-15 shot dead by police on July 2 after a chase; Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., on July 5, and Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minn., on July 6.
A picture of Akiel Denkins, who was shot dead in Southeast Raleigh on Feb. 29, was at the base of the podium.
Toward the end of the rally, the organizers started reciting the names of all 500 people killed by police officers this year.
Andrew Coleman, 22, a recent N.C. A&T University graduate who grew up in Raleigh, watched from the side of the crowd. Though he has only read about the Civil Rights era and heard about it from older generations, Coleman said he had started to wonder about all the police shootings and a repeat of the violence from that time.
“I feel like we’re back in it,” Coleman said. “Every time I’m driving, I feel like the first thing I say to an officer if I get stopped is: ‘Please don’t kill me. I want to go home.’ ”
The Trayvon Martin case and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed the unarmed teen, had a lasting impact on Coleman.
“I don’t remember where I was when 9/11 happened,” Coleman said. “But I remember where I was when I heard about the verdict. Ever since then, I haven’t felt safe.”
Lashea Campbell, a medical assistant and bail bondswoman who lives in Raleigh, also watched from the edges of the crowd.
“I feel like the only way I can make a difference is to come out and be part of something louder than I could ever be,” Campbell said. “I know change comes in numbers.”