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Police Take Knee With Fayetteville Protesters; Local Group Calls For Police Reform

Melissa Sue Gerrits
Carolina Public Press, via AP

Police officers in Fayetteville took a knee in solidarity with protesters Monday, two days after the city had experienced violence and looting.

The Fayetteville Observer reports that the event occurred Monday evening, following protests against police brutality. Nearly 300 protesters were facing a line of police officers in riot gear when the activists lowered down on one knee and chanted, “I can't breathe.”

Police officers followed suit, prompting cheers and applause to erupt from the activists. Some of the activists shook hands and fist-bumped with law enforcement. One woman approached several officers and hugged them.

Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins said she approved of the gesture as a way for officers to join in condemning the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“We've been wanting to share that we are in solidarity with the community, how we knew that everything was wrong about that,” Hawkins said. "We have been wanting to march with the community ourselves, but at the same time we are required to maintain order and keep people safe.”

Hawkins said she would look for more ways to train officers about how to respond to unrest and is pledging to improve police-community relations amid ongoing protests. 

In the midst of protests in the city, an advocacy group in Fayetteville is again pushing the city council and state lawmakers for a police review board. Fayetteville PACT is calling for the revival of a bill in the Legislature that would give a local oversight board access to police personnel files.

The group held a demonstration in downtown Fayetteville on Monday in defense of Reshod Everett, who was arrested in 2018 when police claimed he had heroin and marijuana in his home. Everett says police planted the drugs. An internal affairs investigation is still pending. Everett says the death of Floyd has reinforced the need for police reform.

“You are hurting us. You are hurting us as citizens. You're hurting America,” Everett said. “You're hurting your people because the fairness is not there. It should be fair across the board. No person with a badge on them should have more power than anyone else.”

Fayetteville City Council members have been divided in their support for a police oversight board.

Protests have sprung up across the country in the wake of the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man. He died when a white officer jammed his knee into the back of his neck in Minneapolis.

On Saturday night, there was violence and looting in Fayetteville and the nearby town of Hope Mills. A fire was set, windows were broken and a mall was looted.

At least one person was arrested Monday in Fayetteville when police refused to allow demonstrators into the downtown area. A curfew remains in effect in Fayetteville and some other North Carolina cities.

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.
The Associated Press is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering, supplying a steady stream of news to its members, international subscribers and commercial customers. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, it's a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members.
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