North Carolina Protesters Call For More Than Police Reform

Jun 5, 2020

A crowd gathers in downtown Raleigh on Tuesday night to protest the death of George Floyd and police violence against black Americans.
Credit Kate Medley / For WUNC

Daily protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis have spread across North Carolina. While the message of these demonstrations is slightly different in each city, there has been a broad call for overhauling the way police officers do their jobs.

Anthony Cherry held a cardboard sign at a Durham rally with names of African Americans killed in police custody scrawled in black Sharpie surrounding the words "Am I Next?"

“In my opinion they should be held to a higher standard, a higher level of accountability,” said Cherry. “We give them guns, we give them an extreme amount of authority, but when they violate that authority, when they violate that privilege, they’re not held accountable for it, but we are."

On ABC's Good Morning America this week, Durham Police Chief C.J. Davis said years of systemic racism in law enforcement makes protesters' demands legitimate.

"I believe that we need to have sweeping changes in police reform where we are supported with legislation and that agencies are held accountable for accreditation to ensure that everybody, every agency large and small has the best practices in place,” said Davis. 

Beyond Reform

Protesters' demands are not limited to police reform. In Durham, some suggested redirecting funds in the city budget from the police department to schools and other social services. In Raleigh, some called for the firing or resignation of Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown while also advocating for universal health care. In Fayetteville, an advocacy group renewed demands for a police oversight board while calling for better protection against COVID-19 for inmates in state prisons.

At another demonstration earlier this week, a line of protesters stood across the Durham freeway while police rerouted traffic. They demanded a meeting with Chief Davis and Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead – both of whom are black – to talk in part about policing in African American neighborhoods. Both law enforcement leaders agreed, and protesters cleared the freeway. Sheriff Birkhead is preparing to have that meeting Friday. 

"This is about when you do something against another human being, when you take the life of another human being, and it is proven that you took that life in a manner that constitutes murder or manslaughter, you are held accountable,” said Birkhead.

Birkhead said George Floyd's death is inextricably tied to disparities in socio-economic status, housing inequities and unequal access to resources — what he described as a system of oppression that has been in place for hundreds of years.

"If we can begin the conversation and develop the framework about how we accomplish that and how we lessen the dependency on law enforcement, I would consider that a success,” said Birkhead.

Friday's police-community relations meeting in Durham is scheduled to happen a few hours before a seventh straight night of protests across the state. Protesters like Anthony Cherry hope these conversations can result in policy, and he said the fact that it’s a diverse group of people that has been demonstrating after Floyd was killed is a sign of a turning point. 

"I've been doing protests forever and never seen this many white people come out, and that's so encouraging," Cherry said. "[And] so, rest in peace, George Floyd, but your death was not in vain."