After the sniper attacks in Dallas and police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana that launched Black Lives Matter protests, North Carolina leaders called for calm and urged people to come together.
In the course of three days, the talk turned from mourning the loss of two more black men shot by police officers to outrage over the horrifying killings of five police officers on duty at a peaceful protest.
The three incidents combine issues that have created tense divisions across the country in recent years – with questions about racial profiling, the availability of guns and why there seems to be a growing gulf between police and some segments of the public they are charged with protecting.
“When you look at the past 72 hours,” the Rev. William J. Barber II, head of the state NAACP, said Friday morning, “we’ve had four shots in Minnesota and a black man, a black father, killed. Then you had five shots in Baton Rouge, and 50 to 60 in Dallas. What we know is violence can’t lead us forward.”
Barber met with reporters in Raleigh for what had been planned the day before as a session to address the shootings in Baton Rouge, La., that killed Alton Sterling and in St. Paul, Minn., where Philandro Castile was shot after a traffic stop with his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter in the car. The shootings in Dallas brought an additional element to the news conference but did not change the overall message: “We have to renounce this culture of violence,” Barber said.
Throughout the day Friday, law enforcement officers in North Carolina reflected on the events in Dallas, honoring the fallen and empathizing with their colleagues, friends and family, fully aware that they, too, could walk out the door for work one day and not return home because of violence on the job.
“I am horrified, appalled, angered and sickened as I think of last night’s cowardly ambush of my brothers and sisters at the Dallas Police Department,” Zebulon Police Chief Tim Hayworth, who previously led the N.C. Association of Chiefs of Police, said in a statement. Hayworth said that most law enforcement officers enter the field with a common goal – “to proudly serve our citizens and to give back somehow to our communities.”
In addition to investigating crimes, Hayworth said, officers might respond to an elderly widow’s home at 3 a.m. to check on a strange noise and find that it’s a smoke alarm battery that needed changing, then make the trip to a store, get a new battery and install it. They might unlock a car for a stranded shopper or shake the doors of a closed business to make sure the night manager properly secured the place.
There also are days when they deal with people who spit on them, or urinate or defecate in their patrol cars. Or they might spend hours in an emergency room with a mental patient after serving commitment papers.
“We approach each day as a person with a higher calling, a mission to take care of those who need our protecting and the property that needs our guarding,” Hayworth said. “Is there the occasional bad egg who somehow gets into a uniform with a gun and a badge? Yes. But 99.9 percent of officers are on the job for the right reasons, and we are embarrassed and angered when someone wearing the badge acts in such a manner that casts all of us into a bad light.”
Such acts were part of the reason that Tarell Vick, Anthony Moore and Raymond Evans went out to the sidewalk in front of the Wake County Justice Center shortly after noon with handmade signs and a message for anyone who wanted to listen. Slowly a few others joined them.
“We’re here because all lives matter – black lives, pink lives,” Vick said as his friend held up a sign with some of the names of men shot to death by police officers in recent years. They then borrowed a pen to add the name of Akiel Denkins, the Raleigh man shot to death on Feb. 29 by Raleigh Officer D.C. Twiddy.
Vick decried the violence against the police on Thursday night. “It’s important that we all work together,” he said. “We’re about equality.”
Pastor Paul Anderson, who serves as chaplain for the Raleigh Police Department, said the shooting in Dallas affects everyone in law enforcement.
“Law enforcement is a family,” said Anderson, who pastors The Fountain of Raleigh Fellowship. “They try to stand up for each other.”
Anderson blamed the rising tide of violence on “the current climate in an election year” that’s bedeviled by inflammatory comments and partisan politics.
“It causes the worst to come out in people,” he said. “When people court the fires of hatred and tear other people down, then we start seeing the moral fiber of who we really are.”
Anderson said when he first heard about the Dallas shootings, he figured the shooter had previous law enforcement or military experience.
“They are trained to take a life and they are also trained to have no remorse for the eliminating the enemy,” he said. “They are taught that the enemy is a target. That’s how you dehumanize people. Members of law enforcement right now feel like they are targets. As a black man when I walk into a room I feel like I’m always a target. When you know you’re a target you behave a whole lot differently.”
Although he did not condone the shootings in Dallas, Anderson said he understood the outrage that has fueled the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted across the country after videos of the incidents in Louisiana and Minnesota were distributed across social media.
“Law enforcement is at a very critical point. The use of deadly force has to be revisited,” Anderson said. “Every time a police officer is found not guilty, you can’t help but have outrage among people who think they are innocent victims.”
Several law enforcement agencies across the Triangle quietly honored their slain comrades in Dallas. Durham officers began the day with a moment of silence at the morning briefing. Raleigh’s chief sent out a memo to the department’s officers letting them know that she knew their hearts were heavy but encouraging them to “remain alert to occurrences around the world, with an eye to how they might affect what you so gallantly do here every day.”
In Garner, police officers placed black tape across their badges.
Some people went out of their way on Friday to let police know that they supported them. In Durham, some residents suggested putting blue bulbs in their porch lights to let police know they appreciate the risks they take.
In Apex, people delivered pizzas, home-grown vegetables and a large bag of bagels for the police department. “Thank you all everyday for everything you do!” said a handwritten note with the bagels.