On April 21, Pasquotank County Sheriff's deputies shot and killed Andrew Brown Jr., a 42-year-old Black man whose family attorneys say was unarmed, outside his home in Elizabeth City — an event that shook the small community of almost 18,000 people.
Daniel Spence, a local pastor who was grilling for a group of protesters gathered in the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office parking lot Friday, said Brown’s death and the events that followed have had an especially strong impact on the community.
“It’s a mixed audience — it’s mixed-race, mixed-age — we’re that city,” Spence said. “And now to have this happen in our city, it hurts, and it’s just mind-blowing.”
Spence said the way officials are handling this issue is heart-wrenching because the attorneys and police officers involved are integral parts of the community.
“Our kids play soccer together, our kids play football together, and to see that they’re responding to us this way is really disheartening,” he said.
Since Brown’s death, activists have taken to the streets in peaceful marches every day demanding answers to why Brown was killed and the release of body camera footage of his death from officers on the scene.
While the family has been allowed to view 20 seconds of footage from one of the five cameras on the scene, Judge Jeff Foster decided on April 28 that the footage would not be released to the public for between 30 and 45 days. But Foster said Brown’s son, Khalil Ferebee, and family members within one degree of kinship would be allowed to view edited versions of the footage within 10 days of the hearing.
Kirk Rivers, an Elizabeth City resident who helped lead a protest on April 28, said while the decision is a victory for the family, the community is going to continue fighting to see the footage. Rivers said they are in the process of having a local organization file for the release of the tapes on behalf of Elizabeth City residents.
Elizabeth City declared a state of emergency on April 26 and instituted an 8:00 p.m. curfew due to concerns about possible violence, but activists in Elizabeth City said the curfew was unnecessary. Participants said they are committed to remaining peaceful.
On April 27, a large group of police in riot gear arrested four activists who sat down in the middle of Highway 158 in front of the bridge over the Pasquotank River. Rev. Curtis Gatewood, founder of the Stop Killing Us Solutions Campaign, was one of the four who were arrested.
“We didn’t do anything wrong," Gatewood said at a press conference on Saturday. "We made sure we were not being violent. We even sat down criss-cross-applesauce like we do in the nursery schools so it could not be mistaken that we were there to be violent.”
Addonnis Jones, a protester from Greensboro who was arrested alongside Gatewood, said seeing the 40 to 50 cops with batons in front of him made him think about how he was participating in this demonstration for the children who look like him.
Spence said he felt the curfew and arrests of activists were unjust because they remained peaceful. He said in 10 days of demonstrations, there has been no property damage, but participants are still being treated like they have done something wrong and are criminals.
“They instituted a curfew on us," Spence said. "Curfews are for cities that are out of order. We are not out of order. We’ve been nothing but polite — nothing but protesting peacefully.”
Sheriff’s deputies continued to arrest demonstrators in violation of the curfew and threatened to arrest media until the curfew was extended to midnight on Friday.
"I cannot bury another brother, another sister or another cousin," Jones said. "I can’t, and I will not let that happen.”
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