Protesters gathered outside Raleigh City Hall on Tuesday to call for more police accountability in the aftermath of viral videos that captured the arrest of a man who had assaulted several Raleigh police officers.
Calling the protest a “folding chair sit-in,” a handful of community activists said they would bring their own chairs if the police department and city leaders would not “invite them to the table.” Several protesters spoke during the 6 p.m. event, and other community members spoke during the Raleigh City Council’s 7 p.m. meeting to push for a police oversight committee, among other requests.
Rolanda Byrd, the mother of Akiel Denkins, a 24-year-old who was shot and killed by a Raleigh police officer in 2016, broke into tears after shouting at Mayor Nancy McFarlane and other council members.
“Listen to us,” she said, at one point banging her fist on the wooden wall separating council members from members of the public. “That is why we are are here.”
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While McFarlane banged her gavel, other council members shouted at Byrd and others to be quiet so other people could be heard and the meeting could continue.
“I am not surprised (this happened),” said Diana Powell, leader of the nonprofit Justice Served NC, after the meeting. “It’s like an undercurrent or volcano waiting to explode. And if we don’t get a handle on this, it’s going to spill out in our streets. That’s what we’ve been trying to avoid.”
Frederick Hall, 44, was charged last month after he threw punches and struck several officers near the intersection of Garner Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Southeast Raleigh. The officers proceeded to restrain Hall, with one officer striking him repeatedly on the back with a baton while Hall was biting another officer. A video of the arrest went viral on social media.
Community advocates and some residents have said the officers should not have continued to beat Hall after he was on the ground.
Representatives of the Raleigh Police Protective Association said the offers acted appropriately toward Hall. Wake County District Attorney Freeman declined to press charges against the officers.
Hall’s family has said that he deals with mental illness and had a prior altercation with police in 2016. Some members of his family spoke during the protest and said they still didn’t have all of the information they have requested from police.
The Raleigh Police Accountability Community Taskforce, also known as PACT, has been calling for years for an oversight committee that would have investigative and subpoena powers. Raleigh leaders would have to request a local bill through the North Carolina General Assembly create the task force.
Now is the time to raise people’s voices and the community’s awareness of what is happening within Raleigh and the entire country, Powell said.
“It can no longer be just a moment,” she said. “It has to continue to be a movement. And we understand that once you start moving the people, things will begin to change. We want to encourage the rest of our community to know that leadership leads with no fear.”
PACT and other organizations say they want to make sure the community and elected leaders understand who the real enemy is and isn’t, said Dawn Blagrove, executive director of the Carolina Justice Policy Center.
“The enemy is not law enforcement,” she said. “The enemy is an abuse of power and use of excessive force. All of us, law enforcement, elected officials and community, all have a vested interest and seeing that we root out and eliminate the real enemy — which is abuse of power and excessive force.”
Blagrove was one of the people shouting at council members as they left the meeting area.
“The exchange we had today is a perfect example of a larger problem that exists between elected officials and the community,” she said.
It’s disturbing “and quite frankly disgusting” that council members can’t recognize the pain that Byrd and other community members feel when discussing these issues, Blagrove said.
“As we look to the elections in 2018 and 2020, the people of Raleigh need to decide who and what they are,” she said. “Are we a city of people who care about other people or are we a city that only cares about people who look like you?”
After the meeting, McFarlane said the city has made a lot of progress and had met with members of the community to work toward a consensus. This issue, she said, isn’t just police, but education, poverty and mental health, among other issues.
‘We want to remain calm and have positive conversations,” she said. “But it can get emotional but the overarching thing is we all have to treat each other with respect.”
Other requests made by the protesters included:
- Add the Raleigh Police Department and Wake County Sheriff’s Office procedures and policies to the respective websites, and include the community in shaping those policies;
- Make sure community members are included in the hiring process of police leaders and allow community members to help define how community policing takes place in their neighborhoods.
- Create a policy that requires audio and video equipment to be used by law enforcement when encountering people, and keep those records for an extended period of time and make them accessible to the public.