People interrupt Raleigh City Council meeting for police accountability
Speakers demanding greater police accountability disrupted a Raleigh City Council meeting Tuesday night, causing a halt to the meeting and some city leaders to leave their seats.
The interruption revolved around the April 20 fatal shooting of Soheil Antonio Mojarrad by Raleigh Police Senior Officer W. B. Edwards. Mojarrad, 30, was accused of stealing a cell phone and brandishing a knife.
The officer was wearing a body camera but did not turn it on, according to police. The department’s policy says cameras should be activated “as soon as feasible during all contacts involving actual or potential violations of the law,” such as traffic stops and arrests.
During the public comments portion of Tuesday night’s meeting, Ivanna Gonzalez read a statement on behalf of Mojarrad’s friends.
“[Soheil] was the kind of person who would give anyone the last he had of anything if it would make them happier,” she said. “He was quick to love, quick to be kind and even quicker to share. We as his friends, family and larger community are crying out in our grief to end police violence against people like Soheil. We need compassion and not brute force.”
Roland Byrd, executive director of Raleigh Police Accountability Community Taskforce (PACT), provided the council with an eight-page timeline “of all the opportunities” the council has had to address the organization’s requests.
After all those scheduled to speak were done, Stephanie Lormand stood in the audience and began calling for the City Council to take action in a statement.
“Time is up,” she said. “Time is up for dialogue, for reports, for work sessions, for studies, feedback, public hearings. Time has been up.”
She asked how much personal testimony the council needs to reform the Police Department. Speakers from PACT have called for a police oversight board for at least a year, and city staff members are reviewing the best practices for such a board.
Lormand was gaveled down by Mayor Pro Tem Corey Branch who said she was out of order and eventually called a recess of the meeting. Some council members left their seats.
While Lormand continued her speech, people began chanting including “No Justice, No Peace” and asked why their friend had been shot and killed.
She declined to provide a copy of her statement, but said she wanted to speak because she and the others were tired of the council’s inaction.
“It’s been three and a half years,” she said of how long the group has sought changes. “We’ve followed all of their rules, and they don’t listen. They kept pushing it off and won’t listen.”
Mental health garlands
Many of the people in the audience held signs that read “Justice for Soheil” and wore green lei garlands to represent Mental Health Awareness Month. Friends and family said Mojarrad struggled with his mental health and that he suffered brain damage when he fell off a sidewalk and was hit by a truck in Asheville in 2012.
After the meeting resumed, the people chanting left, some still calling out to council members and expressing their disappointment.
Byrd spoke to the crowd outside the Raleigh Municipal Building and said if they have to disrupt meetings to be heard, they will do so. Families are hurting, she said, putting her arms around Mojarrad’s mother. Byrd’s son, Akiel Denkins, was shot and killed by a Raleigh police officer in 2016.
The speakers during the public comments portion of the meeting asked for body cameras that turn on automatically when officers draw their weapons, mandatory mental health crisis training and a police oversight board that has subpoena power.
Branch, who was filling in for Mayor Nancy McFarlane, said he held the recess so the speakers could have time to “speak their piece.”
“They have a right to be heard and I am glad they came out tonight and spoke from the heart,” he said after the meeting. “We are listening. I know we will soon have information that will be coming before us that will move us closer to what they are asking from us.”
“Government can be too slow,” he said. “But we are moving. We have been moving. It takes five us of us to get anything approved.”
He pointed to a motion made by council member Nicole Stewart at the council’s Tuesday afternoon meeting that requested recommendations on how “we can best ensure that body cameras are turned on anytime an officer responds to a call” and a list of resources, training and tools officers need to “fee better prepared in dealing with similar circumstances in the future.”