By MICAH HENRY
Approximately 250 people gathered in downtown Taylorsville for a protest against racial injustice and police brutality on Thursday, June 4, 2020. This followed protests in other cities nationwide following the death of Minneapolis, Minnesota, resident George Floyd, a North Carolina native, who died in police custody in Minneapolis last month.
The local event was organized by Alexander resident Jessica Sumpter, said Taylorsville Police Chief Douglas Bowman.
Alexander County Sheriff Chris Bowman noted that, although the June 4 protest was largely peaceful, with about 250 people in attendance, there were some problems reported as the evening wore on.
State of Emergency, curfew issued in case of unrest; judge’s order cancels curfew
Mayor George Holleman signed a proclamation of a preemptive State of Emergency beginning at 6:00 p.m. Thursday and a Town curfew beginning at 10 p.m. that night. The document was signed on the morning of June 4, in the event that the proposed peaceful assembly transformed “to create serious threats to public safety and property within the Town of Taylorsville,” the document said.
The proclamation also stated, “the citizens, property owners, and visitors in the Town of Taylorsville are urged to remain in their homes, and make ready for disruptions of normal activities.”
Chief Bowman said Sumpter sought to have a peaceful protest but he noted that she did not allow for the 14-day notice on planning the event to obtain a proper Town permit. The protest was announced as being at the county courthouse before any County permit was obtained as well, a process with 90 days of advance notice required.
Local attorneys obtain judge’s order to cancel curfew
Attorneys Joel Harbinson and Robert E. Campbell obtained a restraining order, signed by District Court Judge Christine Underwood, to prohibit the enforcement of the curfew. A hearing on the matter was scheduled June 10 but was dismissed this week.
The Mayor cancelled the remaining State of Emergency order Friday morning, June 5.
Taylorsville Police and several assisting agencies cordoned off the three streets surrounding the eastern, southern, and western sides of Alexander County Courthouse so that protesters could gather in those streets so that Main Avenue (NC 90) remained open to traffic. However, protesters eventually did gather on County property, on the Courthouse square. Officers were stationed in various downtown locations to ensure a peaceful event.
Several speak during protest
At the beginning of the event, speakers included organizer Jessica Sumpter, attorney Daryl G. Davidson, Sr., as well as Jerry Ratchford, Sheriff Chris Bowman, and several others.
Some people attending the protest carried signs with phrases including, “Justice for George Floyd,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “I Can’t Breathe.”
After a prayer and some speeches, the group chanted and marched around the Courthouse block several times.
As there was some difficulty in hearing speeches at the event due to traffic, attorney Davidson reiterated his remarks June 9 for The Times in an interview.
“There were some leaders in the legal community that made the protest possible,” Davidson began. “I really wanted to thank them, too. Without that, it wouldn’t have been possible. The people that were out there peacefully demonstrating, out there showing support, we’re not out there asking for any special treatment for anybody. We’re not out there asking anybody to give up their rights. We’re not asking anybody to give up their worldly possessions. The only thing that we’re asking is for equal treatment — not special treatment, just equal treatment.
“The things and the actions that have been going on lately with the police departments on a national level, like this incident with George Floyd, and other incidents that happened down in Georgia with private citizens, these things have been going on for a long time. It’s gotten to the point where we, as a nation, and we, as a people, we need to stand up and say that it’s wrong, and have conversations about how we need to unify ourselves in this country and move forward and make it equal for everybody.”
“At the demonstration, there were a lot of people there for the demonstration, there were a lot of people there that may have been neutral, there were a lot of people there that were probably actually against it. I tell people, whatever role of life you come from, wherever you’re born, there’s one thing that remains a fact. As people, some of us are born with hair. Some of us are born without hair. But I can guarantee you this: I will strongly believe, until the day I die, that none of us are actually born with hate. None of us. And it starts at home. Period. If we want to move forward in this nation, and treat everybody equal, and not just giving someone an opportunity but giving them an equal opportunity, you can send somebody to bat and give somebody the opportunity in a baseball game to bat, when you’re sending him up there with a broomstick instead of a Louisville slugger.
“I always liken this walk of life we’re in to a baseball game and the people actually involved. Some people are born on third base. Some people get the opportunity to play with their Louisville slugger and they’re getting ready to actually take a chance at their opportunity. Some people are waiting in the dugout, because they’re waiting on their chance. That’s cool. Some people don’t want to be in the game, but they support the game. Those are people that are in the stands. Well, some of us feel like we’re still in the parking lot, trying to get into a game that’s free, to get our opportunity.
“Everybody gets tired. I’m tired. I’ve had to experience things in my life that I don’t think anybody should have to experience, even as an attorney. Until we recognize that there are issues, until we recognize that we need to sit down, talk, and move forward, it’s always going to be an issue. I always tell people: you can be for or against it. But if you are a person in a position to be able to do something, when you see something is wrong and you don’t act, you’re just as complicit as the individuals involved in carrying out whatever bad act that is.
“There were two points I made out there. One, about policing is concerned on the national level. We need to talk about some type of reform where people are actually treated equally just in a simple traffic stop. When my son gets stopped, my son sometimes has to worry about if things go left, if he has to get into an altercation. I have to tell my son different things about how he should act. His caucasian counterparts, all they sometimes worry about is if they’re going to get a fine and it will cross the court. Whereas, my son has to wonder, is there going to be a situation that is going to be bad.
“The point I was trying to make out there is that we have to have some type of reform. People say there are good cops. I’m not against the police department, whatsoever. I want to be able to say, policing is good. We need it. But we need good policing and we need fair policing. We need policies in place to be able to vet these individuals that have these feelings about when they approach certain individuals in the community. We need to be able to find that out. If you’re part of an organization that carries out acts against a certain group of people, I don’t think you should be a part of the police department. If you can get vetted for the FBI, then you can get vetted for the police department.
“The second thing is, if it doesn’t start at home, then I don’t know where it starts, really. You need to call your local politicians, your state politicians, your national politicians, and voice your concerns about what’s going on. Injustice to anybody is a threat to everybody. And that’s just the truth. And for some people…they don’t even know sometimes what racism looks like. So, for them, it’s not an issue. They don’t think about it until something happens that really, really affects them,” Davidson continued.
He gave an analogy that he doesn’t pay much attention to hair re-growth medication commercials, for instance, because he has hair. “That’s the same way it is, for some people, the way they view discrimination, inequality, and racism, because it’s not on their radar, and they’ve never had to actually deal with it.”
During this time you have the civil unrest and the things that are going on in the nation, I don’t blame anybody if they don’t understand. But I do blame it if you don’t want to recognize and understand there is an issue of inequality in this nation that’s been going on for far, far too long. And there is such a thing as systemic racism.
“There needs to be some reform, across the board. We need to have discussions on how to move forward equally. Nobody should be treated any different because of the way they look or their appearance.
“I don’t think that the demonstrations are going to end anytime soon. I think that the demonstrations will go on. Any time that I have the opportunity to speak, and make my position known, I am. What people need to understand, I’m not just doing it for one race of people, it’s for everybody. If you are not treating everybody equal, and there’s certain groups of people are left out, or whatever the case may be, then what does that say about us, as a nation, as a whole, if you’re not going to be able to move forward in unity?”
He also noted that some companies are being exposed as their leaders are making insensitive comments on race.
“I would rather them say those things, so I can at least know where they stand, because at that point you can acknowledge you have some issues, and maybe you can start working on those issues. I really appreciate the fact that there were people who stood up in the community here and made this possible.
“It would have been remiss of me not to be out there at least voicing my concerns and supporting equality. That’s what the protest is about, it’s about equality. It’s not about gaining any favor, or gaining any hand up. It’s an equal opportunity with all equal resources and everybody on equal standing. Period,” said Davidson.
When asked about leaders in other cities seeking to partially or totally defund their police departments, Davidson said, “I want to make it clear that we need law enforcement but we need law enforcement that will carry out equal and unbiased treatment across the board. Disparity in treatment has no place anywhere, especially in law enforcement,” said Davidson.
Attorney Campbell comments
Attorney Robert E. Campbell stated in a Facebook comment on The Times’ page, “It was a great event that needed to happen in Taylorsville. The over reaction by the town declaring a ‘state of emergency’ and instituting a curfew was uncalled for and added to the false fear of violence. We should all learn to think before we act in this regard. We have work to do in this county where race is concerned.”
NAACP Alexander Chapter President speaks to Times
Rev. Sterling Howard, President of the Alexander County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP), told The Times in a phone interview Tuesday that he had been asked by several people why he did not attend the protest. He said he first heard about the protest on June 1st or 2nd, when someone called him to ask who was sponsoring it. He was not familiar with the sponsor, and stated the NAACP was not sponsoring the protest.
“I don’t have anything against protesting, as long as it doesn’t get violent. I’m involved in a lot of protests with the NAACP and we never had any violence,” Rev. Howard told The Times.
He said he told his callers they were welcome to go, but that he would not attend because there had been talk of two bus loads of outsiders attending and there were too many unknowns about the event. Rev. Howard felt that, if he personally attended, it would seem to give the NAACP’s stamp of approval on the protest, which had not been researched or endorsed by state NAACP leaders, so he did not attend.
“I have planned on talking to the Sheriff and some of the officials around town, asking them if they would like us to do [a rally] in support of our law enforcement, because they’re getting pretty hard on police around the country. I want folks to know that when I stand for something like that, I’d try to get some of the white and black ministers in the county involved, get the backing of the pastors and Town officials,” said Rev. Howard.
“I’m for law enforcement. People complain about the ones we have in Taylorsville, but I’m kind of proud of them because I have a good working relationship with Chris Bowman and the Town. I’m all for justice. I don’t want Taylorsville to get a bad name over this.
“Overall, we have a good community. I know we have some good and some bad. I’m hoping that something good will come out of all this protesting that’s going on. I just think maybe they reacted too slowly about [Floyd]. I think if they had charged those officers in the beginning and put them in court, I don’t think all this would have come about, if the D.A. had responded and charged the [Minneapolis] officers. You’re innocent until proven guilty. If they had charged them then, I don’t think you’d have this uprising. I’m hoping that the right people will step up and calm this thing down.”
“Overall, we have a good community and I’m proud to be a resident of Alexander County…We can’t let this separate us,” Rev. Howard stated. “This is going to cause some separation in a lot of places, because folks reacted too fast on a lot of things, instead of waiting and getting the right leadership behind some of the things that’s been done.”
Two women arrested as protest dispersed
About 10 p.m., problems started to arise, said Sheriff Bowman. Some individuals became disorderly to others. This went on for several minutes. A few persons shouted expletives at officers. About 10:30 p.m., the order was given to disperse. However, two women did not comply with the order and were arrested, the Sheriff said.
Madeline Nicole McLaughlin, W/F, age 20 of Taylorsville, was charged with Disorderly Conduct and Failure to Disperse on Command.
Abigail Victoria Johnson, W/F, age 20 of Taylorsville, was charged with Assault on Government Official and Failure to Disperse on Command. The Sheriff said Johnson’s assault charge was due to her allegedly “grabbing an officer’s arm while the officer was attempting to make an arrest.”
Both received a $2,000 secured bond and court date of July 13, 2020.
Law enforcement leaders comment on protest
“It was a peaceful protest, where individuals were able to say what was on their minds,” said Sheriff Chris Bowman. “And that’s what we were hoping for.”
Taylorsville Police Chief Douglas Bowman noted that it was a mainly peaceful assembly and attributed this to the crowd being local people. He said he felt that there is a good relationship with communities of color in this area and that it has been this way for many years.
Regarding talk in other states of defunding police, Chief Bowman said “we’re going to continue our training and our service to the public. That [defunding] is certainly not a decision I would make. We operate on only necessary equipment and low salaries already.” He noted that a Taylorsville Police officer starting salary is $29,500 (not counting benefits) or about $4,000 to $5,000 lower than entry positions with the Sheriff’s Office.
Chief Bowman said he would like to thank the local businesses whose owners provided water and Gatorade to officers during the event.
Mayor Holleman remarks about protest
Taylorsville Mayor George Holleman spoke Tuesday with The Times by phone. “Last Thursday, I prayed all day that there wouldn’t be violence. And I’m thankful that we didn’t have any violence,” said Holleman.
“The reason I declared the State of Emergency is that we usually do that just about in every situation,” the mayor said. “The County and the Town spent a lot of money to protect and make sure there wasn’t any loss of property or loss of life.”
“I am certainly not opposed to protesting or assembly of people, at all, but it had to be done. I understand why the attorneys went to the judge. They’re well versed in the way the law operates, and they got the injunction. Their reasoning was based, I guess, that the curfew would be used to try to keep everybody off the street…That was not the intent. The Emergency declaration was simply to provide the police with what they needed to ensure no loss of life or property.
“We’ve seen Sunday and last night [Monday] marching, both around the courthouse as well as through the neighborhoods. The Black Lives Matter people came through my neighborhood at about 9:00 p.m. And that’s good. That’s democracy in action,” Holleman said.
He noted there were some motorcycle riding “Confederate protectors” at the Confederate monument on the courthouse square Sunday afternoon. One of the women arrested at the protest Thursday was there Sunday, holding a Black Lives Matter sign. Police were on hand, speaking to both sides until after dark.
The Town’s Special Events ordinance states, “Any person(s)/organizations desiring to organize an event must file an application with the town manager on forms provided by the town manager. The application shall be filed not less than fourteen (14) days before the date on which it is proposed to occur, include a nonrefundable fifty (50) dollar application fee, and provide proof of event liability insurance with a base coverage of no less than one million (1,000,000) dollars.”
When asked about why the protest is an exception to the Town Ordinance on holding special events, Holleman said, “I think the events of this were coming so fast, Monday and Tuesday, of course the Sheriff was involved as well as our chief of police, I think the decision was made to go ahead and let this happen, although it violated the social distancing as well as the 14-day waiting period, because of events that had happened because of George Floyd. The Sheriff and the Police Chief decided to go ahead and let it happen, rather than stifle the rights of assembly and protest. We let it happen as kind of a relief valve, to let the steam off, so that it could happen peacefully,” Holleman said.
When asked about police funding, Holleman noted that 50 percent of the Town’s $2 million General Fund budget is for police (public safety). “The audit shows the last few years we have taken money away from Public Works, parks, sidewalks, and streets, all those things, and we’ve increased police spending. But I’m not going to say that we should defund and start all over again. I think Minneapolis is trying to say, just tear it all down and start building it back up again. I’m saying everyone should look strongly at the fact that 50 percent of our budget is for public safety, in small little Taylorsville, in addition to the amount of money that is spent by the County on public safety.”
Mayor Holleman noted that he will meet with a small group of people, including local leaders and pastors, and this meeting will convene Wednesday, June 10, at 2:30 p.m. at Town Hall to talk about issues that need to be addressed to make this a better community.