Above photo: Protesters, organized by N.C. Born, block the intersection of East Lane Street and North Blount Street, where they have camped for five nights in front of the Executive Mansion demanding Gov. Roy Cooper veto SB168, a bill that would limit public access to death-investigation records, on Saturday, July 4, 2020, in Raleigh, N.C. By Casey Toth, ClotgehNewsObserver.com for News & Observer.
For the 35th consecutive day, Black Lives Matter protesters chanted, made speeches, waved signs and marched across downtown Raleigh on Saturday.
While some of the themes of Black empowerment and denouncing systemic racism have remained consistent for weeks, Saturday’s protests highlighted Senate Bill 168.
The measure, which lawmakers passed nearly unanimously with no discussion in the wee hours of the morning on June 27, would shield death investigation records from the public when they are shared with the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Those records are now considered public under state law.
“The fact that they’re trying to … pass this over on us and act like it’s no big deal like they’re just gonna ignore us — that is why we’re so much more ready to fight anything that comes our way,” said Lauren Howell, 21, an organizer with the group N.C. Born. “Because we know it’s not right.”
The bill was requested by the state Department of Health and Human Services to clarify that records that are confidential in the hands of law enforcement agencies shouldn’t become public when they go to the Office of the State Medical Examiner.
Protesters calling for Gov. Roy Cooper to veto SB 168 have gathered on North Blount Street across from the governor’s home for days.
Taunting the Governor
On Saturday, several of their chants amounted to taunts of the governor, whom they assumed was inside the brick Victorian mansion.
“When I saw ‘Cooper,’ you say ‘coward,’” one call-and-response went. “When I say ‘coward,’ you say ‘Cooper.’”
A similar chant substituted “racist” for coward.
The protest began early Saturday, before the heat of the day, with about two dozen people, some standing in the bike lane waving signs at passing cars, the rest sitting off the sidewalk in the shade. Organizers with N.C. Born described their demonstration as an “occupation,” and by midday a food truck had arrived and protesters made sure everyone had cold water.
By Saturday night, the group had grown to about 200 people, and members marched from the Executive Mansion to the bustling Glenwood South nightlife area. There, the protesters stopped at restaurants and bars and tried to talk to patrons about SB 168. They also told people to Google the names of those who have been killed by police, and they encouraged customers at the bars to gather with them overnight on Blount Street.
“They had no idea that SB 168 existed. They didn’t know about any of these names. They didn’t understand the implications of it,” said Taari Coleman, an N.C. Born organizer.
At one bar, some patrons joined the protesters in chanting the names of those who have been killed.
Protests at Malls, Walmart
Some N.C. Born protesters also ventured beyond downtown Raleigh during the day Saturday to spread their message. About 30 to 40 protesters went to the Walmart store on New Bern Avenue and to Triangle Town Center and Crabtree Valley Mall, Howell said.
At each stop, Howell said, protesters, repeated the name of someone who had been killed by Raleigh police. The idea was to reach people in other parts of the city who wouldn’t be coming to protests downtown.
State Capitol Police were parked at the gates of the Executive Mansion, near where the protesters gathered. Police mostly seemed to give the protesters a wide berth. Still, in a sign that authorities were preparing for trouble, an empty state Division of Prisons Inmate Transfer bus arrived about 1:30 p.m. and parked in an empty lot across Jones Street from the mansion.
At about 4:30 p.m., protesters spilled into North Blount Street to begin a series of speeches. By then, several Raleigh police officers had arrived, but they kept their distance, blocking traffic a block away.
The group began marching about 8:30 p.m. from the Executive Mansion toward Glenwood South, taking it past the Old State Capitol, where Confederate monuments have come down in the past two weeks.
The daily protests began the last weekend in May as part of a national outcry over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. Minneapolis police officers have been charged with murder.
Initially focused on police brutality, the protests have taken on a wide range of issues involving race in Raleigh, North Carolina, and America.
Saturday’s protest had special meaning because it was the Fourth of July, Howell said.
“It’s about understanding, and being real about what our country is instead of just celebrating the fireworks and cooking out on the grill and acting like these things aren’t happening,” she said. “It’s about actively working and striving and fighting to create the country that you want for yourself. And that is why I’m feeling much better than I usually am on the Fourth of July because that’s what everybody out here has committed to do.”