Like Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses against the corruption and excesses of the Roman Catholic Church more than five centuries ago, a hundred clergy members, supported by 100 local residents, posted four demands on the doors of the Pasquotank County Public Safety Building Saturday.
The demands of the interdenominational, inter-generational and interracial coalition included full release of camera footage of Andrew Brown Jr.’s April 21 fatal shooting by Pasquotank sheriff’s deputies; reassignment of the investigation into Brown’s death to an independent prosecutor; launch of a federal “pattern-and-practice” investigation into local law enforcement; and accountability for the deputies involved in Brown’s shooting.
The Rev. William Barber, president of Repairers of the Breach and a former state president of the NAACP, likened Saturday’s posting of demands to Luther’s posting of his demands on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517. He noted that Saturday’s participants were signing their names to the document.
“We want them to know our names,” Barber said.
The Public Safety Building is the headquarters for both the Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office, whose deputies shot and killed Brown while attempting to serve a drug-related search warrant, and the District Attorney’s Office, whose lead prosecutor, Andrew Womble, will decide, following a State Bureau of Investigation probe of Brown’s shooting, whether those involved face prosecution.
The clergy group’s demand for accountability includes arrest and full prosecution of the deputies who shot Brown when and if evidence shows they should face murder charges, Barber said Saturday.
Prior to affixing their four demands to the Public Safety Building’s door, the clergy members and local residents marched peacefully from the former Elizabeth City Middle School to Colonial Avenue, where the building is located. As they walked a route that took them along Elizabeth Street, Martin Luther King Drive, Main and Road streets and then Colonial Avenue, marchers chanted “Truth, Transparency and Accountability Now”; “Only Truth Can Set Us Free”; and “The Law Can’t Be Above the Law.”
During a rally in the Public Safety Building parking lot that followed the march, Barber looked out from a podium at the diverse gathering in front of him and said, “This is a beautiful kind of unity, y’all.”
Barber praised the young local leaders who’ve led the daily protests against Brown’s fatal shooting for keeping their demonstrations peaceful. He said those who oppose street protests count on being able to trick young protesters into causing mayhem in order to change the subject from law enforcement misbehavior to the protesters’ behavior. But he said that has failed in Elizabeth City, because protest leaders have been committed to remaining peaceful.
Participants in Saturday’s march and rally lamented that it has been 17 days since Brown’s death but his family members still haven’t seen the full body camera footage of how he died. Two family members and one of their attorneys were shown a 20-second clip from one deputy’s body camera on April 26.
Brown’s family will see more of the video footage on Tuesday. In accordance with a Superior Court judge’s order filed Friday, Brown’s family will be shown roughly 16 minutes of the little more than 118 minutes of the footage from the four deputies’ body-worn cameras and one vehicle dash camera in use the morning Brown was shot to death. Superior Court Judge Jeff Foster said he’s ordering the remaining footage to be withheld because it doesn’t contain images of Brown. “It’s not appropriate for disclosure at this time,” he said in Friday’s order.
Harry Daniels, an attorney for the Brown Family, said he attended Saturday’s march and rally because he wanted to join the clergy in pursuit of justice for Brown’s family.
“This is the unlawful killing of an unarmed black man in America once again, and they know it,” Daniels said, referring to law enforcement authorities.
He urged the clergy in attendance “to keep the pressure on” for full transparency and accountability in Brown’s shooting death. Daniels also introduced Chance Lynch, a new member of the family’s legal team. The family’s other attorneys include Ben Crump, who represented George Floyd’s family; Bakari Sellars; Chantel Cherry-Lassiter; and Wayne Kendall.
The Rev. Valerie Melvin, a state leader in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), was among the clergy members in attendance who spoke at the rally. She said the clergy participating in Saturday’s events represent Andrew Brown Jr.’s extended family. And to those in authority, she said “the extended family is watching you.”
The Rev. Nelson Johnson, a leader of the Beloved Community Center, talked about the sanctity of human life in his remarks.
“Life is precious,” Johnson said. “We cannot allow life to be trivialized and devalued by an ideology that justified slavery.”
The Rev. Javan Leach, pastor of Mt. Lebanon A.M.E. Zion Church in Elizabeth City, said Brown’s death has tried to separate people but that hasn’t happened. He cited Romans 8:38-39, which states nothing in creation “will be able to separate is from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The Rev. Benny Oakes, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Elizabeth City, spoke about Jesus’ inaugural sermon in Nazareth, as described in Luke 4. According to Oakes, Jesus said, “The Spirit of The Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who are oppressed; and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
The Rev. Anthony Spearman, president of the N.C. State Conference of the NAACP, denounced what he described as the “overly militaristic slaughter of Andrew Brown Jr.” Spearman was apparently referring to the fact that the group of seven deputies who attempted to serve the warrant at Brown’s house included a tactical team.
Spearman also mentioned the names of Black and Brown men killed by police in North Carolina over the past year. “My God — when will enough be enough? he asked.
Among the participants in the march and rally was the Rev. Fred Hedt, a retired minister in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod who now lives in Carrboro.
“My personal belief is that the love of Christ compels me to say that justice demands transparency,” Hedt said in an interview before the march started. “I just wanted to lend my voice.”
Asked about his participation in Saturday’s event given his denomination’s well-known conservatism, Hedt said the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is “theologically conservative” but is in unity with other Christian denominations in affirming the importance of loving neighbors.
“We all believe in the essential dignity of every human being and the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for all people,” Hedt said. “To me that is rooted in the love of Christ.”
Barber said the group of clergy plan return to Elizabeth City as often as necessary and may also organize demonstrations against Brown’s death in other cities, including Raleigh.