Dozens of protestors burned flags and compared the Raleigh Police Department to the Ku Klux Klan after a police shooting in Raleigh late Tuesday evening.
The incident unfolded Tuesday evening when a caller to 911 reported seeing a man with a gun “flashing it around,” according to authorities. When police arrived at the strip mall where the man with a gun had been reported, they saw 26-year old Javier Torres, who took off running.
A foot chase ensued, and officers repeatedly shouted for Torres to drop his weapon. When he did not, shots were fired.
From the Raleigh News & Observer:
Torres is at WakeMed hospital, police said. They did not release information about his status.
Raleigh police said a handgun was found at the scene of the shooting.
In a pre-dawn news conference on Wednesday, Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown blamed “reckless and false information that has been spread on social media” for inciting the protests. She said the body cameras worn by police will show those rumors were incorrect — including a rampant Twitter rumor that the suspect was simply coming out of a pizza shop.
“You will see the individual does have a pizza box, but he also has a gun,” she said.
As the police chief noted, rumors that a young boy carrying a pizza box had been shot by police quickly spread online, and soon hundreds of protesters had gathered in the downtown area.
A leader of the march was Rolanda Byrd. After her son, Akiel Denkins, was shot and killed by a Raleigh police officer in 2016, she began organizing for police oversight and police accountability.
“Thank you for the love that you have shown for the young man (shot) tonight,” she said around 2 a.m. “That’s why we are standing here tonight. Because they did that to my son four years ago. We are not going to stop.”
Zainab Baloch, an activist who has run for Raleigh mayor, told The News & Observer that the group had protested outside the police chief’s residence as well as Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin’s home. Baldwin did not respond to a late-night text message.
“We need accountability, but we need power,” Baloch said, referencing a newly created police advisory board that critics argue lacks teeth. “We need a community board with power. … Everyone is tired.”
After protesting outside of the chief’s home, the crowd made its way to the governor’s mansion, where they pulled down and burned the U.S. and North Carolina flags.
While many left around 2 a.m., some gathered for another hour in a tense stand-off with police near Moore Square. Many stood in the middle of Blount Street until officers warned they’d face arrest if they didn’t move to the sidewalk.
Some people played music, danced and joked about keeping people awake in nearby apartments. A woman ran to the nearby McDonald’s and bought fries and chicken nuggets for the crowd. At the same time, people screamed and yelled about their interactions with Raleigh police, their voices breaking with emotion..
At the press conference on Wednesday morning, Police Chief Deck-Brown asked the public “not to rush to judgment. … We ask that you allow this investigation to take its course.”
While she said she respected the right to protest, she added, “We ask the protesters to please conduct themselves within the boundaries of the law.”
“This is not who we are as a city,” Deck-Brown said of the damage caused by protesters overnight. “But it is also important that individuals who have a desire to voice their concerns. There is a method by which they can do that. Without damaging other people’s property. Without harming other folks. We saw that last night and early this morning.”
It’s fine to be skeptical of police accounts, but it’s not okay to destroy property or burn flags based on nothing more than rumor and innuendo. Within a few hours of this incident, hundreds in Raleigh had already made up their minds that the police had done something wrong, even though they had almost no real information to go on. Viral video and word-of-mouth was enough to bring the protests to the streets.
Police say they’ll ask for a court order to release officers’ bodycam video of the incident as soon as possible, and that would be a wise move. There are legitimate questions that remain to be answered, but rather than wait for facts to emerge, we saw in Raleigh that some are willing to exploit this incident to cause turmoil, rather than calm tensions.