Justice-seekers unrelenting

Justice-seekers unrelenting
December 18
00:00 2014
(pictured above: Protestors raise their hands during last week’s rally.)
Irving Allen pumps up the crowd before the march.

Irving Allen pumps up the crowd before the march.

DSC_0070DSC_0062Locals disheartened by decisions not to charge white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men held their most visible protest yet on Thursday, Dec. 11.

At East Winston Shopping Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, a crowd of dozens chanted and held signs that carried messages such as “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe,” which were the last words uttered by Eric Garner as he was placed in an apparent choke hold earlier this year by a New York City Police officer. On Dec. 3, a grand jury failed to indict the officer, Daniel Pantaleo. That decision came less than a week after a St. Louis, Mo. area grand jury decided not to indict another white police officer, Darren Wilson, in the shooting death of Michael Brown, who like Garner, was unarmed. Thousands across the nation have fulminated against what they perceive as a lack of justice in these cases.
Occupy Winston-Salem and immigration advocacy group El Cambio were among the organizers of last week’s demonstration, which drew a racially-diverse crowd of mostly

Protestors confront the police in front of the Stevens Center on Fourth Street.

Protestors confront the police in front of the Stevens Center on Fourth Street.

college-age people. Older, well-established local advocates offered insight and words of encouragement to the assemblage.

Larry Little, a Winston-Salem State University professor who helped start the city’s Black Panther Party in the 1970s, said he and other civil rights fighters of yesterday left much unfinished business.

“I have to apologize for my generation because we should not have bequeathed this sort of nonsense to your generation,” he said.

Little said Winston-Salem is not immune to the kind of injustice that New York City, Ferguson, Mo. and other cities have experienced. He cited the “legal lynching” of Kalvin Michael Smith, a black man who is incarcerated for the brutal 1995 beating of a white woman, Jill Marker, though much evidence exists that he did not commit the heinous crime.

Looking over the 100 or so people gathered, he charged them to carry on the fight.
“This social justice movement is your mission,” he said. “You young people, we have to depend on you. You are the ones who have the future

Larry Little addresses the crowd.

Larry Little addresses the crowd.

ahead of you. I have more yesterdays than tomorrows, but you can make a difference.”

Longtime activist Dr. John Mendez, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, echoed those sentiments.

Dr. John Mendez

Dr. John Mendez

“Forty years ago, Larry and I stood where you stood. We’ve gotten older now, but it looks good for us to see all of you young people standing for the kinds of things we stood for more than 40 years ago,” he said.

Linda Sutton, a local organizer with Democracy North Carolina, said it’s past time for people to stand up against inequality.

“We have been silent too long,” she said. “It is time for us to take a stand. When one of us is hurt, all of us is hurt. What happens to one of us, happens to all of us,” she said.

Sutton advocated voting as a solution, stating that voters need to show up at polls like their lives depend on it.

Linda Sutton speaks.

Linda Sutton speaks.

“And this is what happens when we fail to vote, when we fail to come together to elect the people who are appointing these police officers, who are hiring these police officers,” she said. “We have to vote; that’s what it comes down to.”

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Winston-Salem Minister Rev. Lisa Schwartz, who is white, told attendees she was proud to take a stand against racial profiling.

“I’m going to be honest with you, I can breathe,” she said. “I can breathe, and I can wear my hood up in just about any neighborhood in Winston-Salem and any place in the United States because, I got to tell you the truth, I benefit from the system that is keeping people down because of the color of my skin. And I want to bear witness to the fact that just by being white, I experience privilege in this society and that is not OK with me.”

Kim Porter of Occupy Winston-Salem, which was formed in 2011 as part of the nationwide movement against corporate greed and power, said racial profiling has been practiced by local officers. She referenced a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to file against the Winston-Salem Police Department over the disproportionate amount of police checkpoints in minority neighborhoods. The police department implemented a new checkpoint policy to avoid a legal case.

The crowd left East Winston Shopping Center and began to march toward downtown, with passing motorists honking their support. They stopped outside of the Forsyth County Detention Center on Church Street, chanting and holding their signs up high so that they might be read by the inmates inside. They then marched on to Fourth and Marshall streets, blocking traffic in front of the Stevens Center, which was hosting the opening night of UNC School of Arts’ “The Nutcracker.”

The marchers had no permit and were confronted twice by police for blocking traffic, once by the jail and then at the Stevens Center. In both instances, police cars blocked off the street to vehicle traffic and used patrol car speakers to order the marchers off the streets. The protesters refused to comply, facing the police while chanting “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” and “This is a peaceful protest.” There was no violence or arrests made during the protest.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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