Wilmington’s police chief said “we will enforce the laws as necessary” if armed members of the Revolutionary Black Panther Party assemble in the city Sunday.
A Wilmington chapter of the group announced plans to hold an “armed march” at 1:30 p.m. Sunday near downtown. The group, called the Revolutionary Black Panther Party of Wilmington, first described the event as an “armed human rights march and armed freedom ride,” which has made law enforcement officials question whether the event is legal.
People participating and affiliated with parades, pickets or marches may not possess or have immediate access to any dangerous weapons, according to state law.
The group filed a special event application permit to get streets closed but was told that additional documentation was needed, Wilmington police Chief Ralph Evangelous said in a news conference Friday. The video was posted to the department’s Facebook page.
Permits are not required for demonstrations, but a notice of intent to picket is requested. The intent to picket form has been sent to the Wilmington group but has not been returned, the chief said.
“Our officers along with our law enforcement partners will provide security for this event and will ensure that all city and all state laws are obeyed,” he said. “And we will take appropriate enforcement action if necessary.”
But Panthers national leader Alli Muhammad said the event, which will be in the Creekwood neighborhood and downtown, is not a parade or a picket, so the rules don’t apply. He said he expects at least a few dozen people to participate.
Muhammad said he would take legal action against the state’s law because it violates the U.S. Constitution.
“We have a right to bear arms in the United States of America,” Muhammad said. “We are not doing anything that they are citing in this statute.”
A later version of the group’s poster was updated and described the event as an “armed special event freedom of expression against terrorism and genocide.” The group has said it is marching, in part, to call for justice in the killings of “Black-Africans murdered by police in America.”
The police chief vowed that his officers would handle the situation professionally.
“Our agency is committed to protecting the First Amendment rights of all citizens regardless of their message,” he said. “With that in mind, we are also committed to making sure that all citizens are safe and protected during this event.”
He also gave the media some advice.
“If you really want to help the community,” he said. “Don’t show up this weekend and give them their five minutes of fame.”