Andrew Brown killing: protesters say police will ‘push town into riot mode’

Perched on a ladder, Ulysses “Bones” Edwards reached for another can of spray paint, adding a few deft strokes to the mural of Andrew Brown Jr that was slowly starting to take shape on the side of the house where Brown lived in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, a stone’s throw from where he was killed by law enforcement last week.

© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A crowd of marchers passed Edwards as he worked on Thursday. Dozens also gathered over the weekend, ahead of Brown’s funeral on Monday, with demonstrations on Saturday marking the eleventh straight day of peaceful protests in the coastal city. At least 16 people have been arrested since the city enacted a curfew earlier in the week.

In the wake of Brown’s killing, the area was littered with heavy law enforcement presence, including vehicles belonging to the US Department of Homeland Security and supporting agencies from as far afield as Burlington and Salisbury, more than 200 miles away. The nearby Elizabeth City State University closed its campus to students in anticipation of protests and used its dorms to house some of the out-of-town law enforcement.

© Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
A protester faces police in riot gear as they force people off a street in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, on 28 April 2021.

“It’s like they’re trying to start something,” Edwards said of law enforcement.


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Friday morning, officials announced the city would be relaxing the curfew until midnight, but that the local police department will now require that anyone “wishing to protest or gather” will need to file a permit application.

Related: ‘He did not deserve to die’: anger and protest over Andrew Brown’s killing by police

Advocacy organizations have challenged similar permitting requirements across the state recently, including an ordinance in Graham, the site of protests last summer over the city’s Confederate monument.

Elizabeth City councilman and mayor pro tem Johnnie Walton said he believes the permitting decision was justified and that the law enforcement response has been appropriately measured.

“If your defense is stronger than your offense, you win the game,” Walton told the Guardian. “There are going to be some missteps made, but so far we have done everything in our lane that we could to make things happen and keep our citizens safe.”

Community members and advocates, though, argue that the police are escalating a situation that would otherwise remain peaceful.

“They’re just trying to antagonize the city, to turn everyone against us,” said Geoffrey Cooper, an Elizabeth City resident who has participated in several of the protests. “They’re just pushing and pushing this town to go into riot mode.”

Kristie Puckett Williams, statewide manager of the ACLU of North Carolina’s Campaign for Smart Justice, was among those arrested Thursday night. She said that despite the fact she was at the march in a professional capacity, officers arrested her and a colleague. No charges were filed and she was later released.

“It’s always an escalation when they show up to a protest in riot gear,” Puckett Williams said. “That’s the level of contempt and force and vitriol they have.”

Related: Judge denies requests to release body-cam video of Andrew Brown shooting

Local resources would be much better spent elsewhere, she added. City Manager Montré Freeman said this week that the city was spending as much as $25,000 per day on the situation, according to a media report.

“The amount of money and overtime they’ve had to spend out of their budget that could have been used in various ways to help their community,” Puckett Williams said, “that is why we have to reimagine what policing looks like”.

On Thursday, Pasquotank Co Sheriff Tommy Wooten II named the three deputies who shot at Brown as Daniel Meads, Robert Morgan and Andrew Lewellyn. Wooten said four others were placed back on duty because they did not fire their weapons, a decision lawyers for Brown’s family called unprofessional.

As he stepped back from his work, Edwards said he hopes the focus remains on Brown and his family. He described the mural, which will eventually cover the entire side of the house, as his way to keep Brown’s memory alive and “keep fighting for justice”.

Looking on, the home’s owner Andre Simpson noted the candles that had been laid out as a memorial nearby, spelling out Brown’s name. Simpson, who coached Brown’s basketball team when he was younger, said he remained optimistic that the killing could lead to some kind of positive reform in the community and beyond.

“Andrew Brown is going to change the world,” he said.

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