Updated: Nov 17, 2020
On Aug. 28, community members gathered in Raleigh, NC, to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake and others. There have been 88 days of consistent nonviolent protesting since May 31; the abolition of police and prisons was the focal point of this protest. From protesters blocking traffic to the array of speakers, the grassroots origin of this demonstration reflected a cry for change from the community.
The protest began with an hour-long march around downtown Raleigh. Officers had set up metal blockades around the North Carolina State Capitol building, the governor's mansion and the NC General Assembly. None of the officers guarding the buildings were wearing masks. Protesters pointed this out, calling them negligent and insensitive.
The racial diversity of the crowd was not lost on those there. A young white protester came out to inspire people to vote in order to create change. They explained that “allyship is not staying silent because silence is just as much of a problem as being racist and against this movement.”
There were times when Black protesters disagreed with how white protesters were expressing their support of the movement. At one point, white protesters burned an American flag on the sidewalk near the NC General Assembly with officers a few feet away. A couple of Black protesters tried to put the fire out but were ridiculed by those who started the fire.
A Black protester who witnessed it cited the curfew and heightened tension for why they disagreed. “I completely understand the sentiment, but it’s obvious that they aren’t taking what’s going on seriously,” they said. “You’re fighting for my life and the lives of other Black people. We’ve never had that before.”
There was also a noticeable difference in the number of people in attendance. The thousands who protested in late May had dwindled down to a few hundred. A Meredith student in attendance believes that the exploitation of protests for social media trends has something to do with that. “People who attended protests earlier are no longer there because it’s no longer something to talk about,” she said. “Everyone at the Raleigh protest was there because this is an ongoing effort. Black lives don’t just matter for a season, it’s a continuous fight.”
After the first march, organizers and community members came together to share their stories and the ones of those not present to tell their own. The story of Keith Collins was a focal point for many of those who spoke. Collins was murdered by Officer W.B. Tapscott on Jan. 30 after receiving a call for suspicious behavior. District Attorney Lorrin Freeman announced the morning of the protest that no charges would be filed against Officer Tapscott in the case of Keith Collins.
Another story highlighted was that of Soheil Mojarrad, a 30 year old man with a history of mental illness, who was shot and killed by Officer W.B. Edwards in 2019. A speaker stated that Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown knew Mojarrad’s mother and prevented her from identifying her son for five days. They referenced a list of petitions to sign to help victims receive justice.
One of the most powerful stories of the night came from a 17 year old Raleigh native. She told her story of encounters with Raleigh Police Department officers during protests. “I’m sorry if I’m more angry than the rest of y’all,” she said. “But I’ve been out here since May 30. Blatantly disrespected by countless officers. Dragged, lied on, arrested for no reason other than the simple fact that they can.” She went on to tell us that she was dropped off in the middle of nowhere after her arrest. Her mother couldn’t find her for two hours. At another protest, an officer on a motorcycle ran over her foot. She shared with us that Police Chief Deck-Brown had done nothing about the incident. The anger and frustration in her voice was clear. “They have the nerve to ask me what they can do to make our relationship with the police better,” she said. “Quit.”
Her message resonated with many in the crowd. Many who spoke expressed their frustrations with Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin, the city council (Nicole Stewart, Jonathan Melton, Patrick Buffkin, David Cox, Corey Branch, Stormie D. Forte and David Knight), District Attorney Freeman and Police Chief Deck-Brown. They stated their disagreement with decisions they had made, including the curfew that was issued for that night.
Mayor Baldwin imposed a curfew ahead of the protests for Friday and Saturday. She said the curfew was meant to allow peaceful protesters to express their freedom of speech without being overshadowed by violent opportunists. To protesters, it felt like a legal loophole to set a time limit on freedom of speech. A young protester expressed their frustration by saying, “When a system values property more than people, I say burn it all down.” Another person suggested “there would be no curfew unless she knows what they did was wrong,” referring to the Raleigh PD.
Later that night, legal observers from the NC National Lawyers Guild were arrested for violating curfew. Legal observers are individuals who attend demonstrations in order to watch and report actions of both participants and law enforcement. Their presence is often associated with deterring officers from violating the rights of protesters.
District Attorney Freeman’s decision to not charge Officer W.B. Tapscott in Keith Collins’ death was discussed as another example of officials failing their community. “She has all of the discretion in whether or not she is going to charge dirty, murderous cops,” one speaker said. “And at every opportunity, Lorrin Freeman doesn’t, but she’s been our elected district attorney for three terms.”
They called on people present to vote officials out of office if they are not doing what is asked of them. “We have to make sure we hold them accountable individually and as a system,” one person said. “When we let them operate above the law and get away with it, we are accountable for that as well.”
However, the focus on systemic changes went beyond voting. “Voting is not going to liberate us,” one speaker said. “These systems are designed under white supremacy. And until they are gone, none of us will be liberated.” Another speaker emphasized the urgency of doing this, saying, “You have got to put pressure on the people that have power to change the system.”
The most profound moment of the night was seeing the inmates housed at the Wake County Public Safety Center. They waved their hands and flashed signs of support from their cells as they had done at protests in the past. Protesters on the ground shouted, “We see you, we love you.” No matter how abstract systemic injustices appear, its impact on our communities is pervasive. These protests go far beyond a moment in time.
By Aminah Jenkins, Staff Writer