Gov. Roy Cooper: ‘Black Lives Do Matter.’

A protester kneels in the street during protests of George Floyd's death in May 2020 in Charlotte. (Photo for Cardinal & Pine by Grant Baldwin).

By Jesse James DeConto

May 31, 2020

After the unrest in Charlotte, Raleigh and other U.S. cities, Cooper pledges to push for justice in George Floyd’s name while condemning violence at protests.

Unrest from weekend protests over the death of George Floyd prompted Gov. Roy Cooper to ready the N.C. National Guard for deployment Sunday. 

Cooper’s decision came as destructive riots and looting in cities around the nation diverted attention away from peaceful protests of police brutality. 

Floyd, who was Black,  was killed after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, and as bystanders pleaded with the police officer to stop. Protests in North Carolina turned violent in cities such as Charlotte, Fayetteville, Greensboro and Raleigh, when police began to fire tear gas and small groups of protesters vandalized downtown buildings. 

“People are more important than property, and Black lives do matter.”

Gov. Roy Cooper

Cooper authorized N.C. National Guard Gen. Todd Hunt to deploy up to 450 members, who’ve been requested to protect vulnerable public facilities and contain any further rioting in Raleigh and Charlotte, Cooper said in a  media briefing Sunday. 

He also  echoed complaints from city leaders across the state that nonviolent, daytime anti-racism rallies were drowned out by destruction at night. All over the U.S., officials are pointing to outside agitators working to discredit the protests. 

“We saw a pattern in some of our cities,” Cooper said. “As night set in, a different crowd shifted to a more aggressive display. Those actions undermine peaceful pleas for justice. I fear the call of the people is being drowned out by the noise of the riots.”

Vandalism hits N.C. cities

The International Civil Rights Center and Museum, commemorating the Greensboro Four lunch-counter sit-ins of 1960, was among the buildings across the state targeted with vandalism on Saturday night. 

Guilford County Commissioner and museum co-founder Melvin “Skip” Alston told the Winston-Salem Journal that he blames right-wing agitators. “I think they are being paid by some right-wing organization to go around and disrupt,” Alston said. 

In Raleigh, the Wake County Courthouse and other public buildings were damaged, and storefronts along Fayetteville Street  had their windows shattered. Clashes between police and rioters led to 12 arrests and five officers being hospitalized.  Officials estimate the crowd in Raleigh peaked around 1,000 people Saturday night. Hundreds have also amassed in Charlotte, Greensboro and Fayetteville

With reports on social-media of police using tear gas against protesters, Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown said officers acted after being pelted with rocks and water bottles.

“We had two hours of peaceful protest and the rest was anarchy,” Deck-Brown said at the news conference Saturday morning

“I know this pain in my own life and experiences.”

N.C. Department of Public Safety Secretary Eric Hooks

Cooper said he’s asking local police to communicate with protest leaders to de-escalate conflicts.

“They are working hard to make those tough decisions,” Cooper said. “Police have tough jobs. We want to help. We must stop this destruction.”

Erik Hooks, Cooper’s secretary of public safety,  reiterated the governor’s call for police accountability.

“Those of us who are truly committed to public safety must continue to uphold the sacred trust,” Hooks said.

NC DPS Secretary Erik Hooks speaks Sunday about NC protests over the death of George Floyd Image via NC DPS

As a black man, Hooks said he warns his own sons and the boys he coaches that they will face injustice.

“I know this pain in my own life and experiences,” he said. “I understand there’s a great deal of pain in our communities and in our state and across our nation. Mr. Floyd’s death has provided a flashpoint.” 

Hooks quoted Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Mountain Top” speech in Memphis on April 3, 1968, just a day before his assassination:  “In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds.”

“I can never, ever condone violence,” Hooks added. 

Cooper said he understood citizens’ anger over the  recent deaths of African-Americans at the hands of government officers. 

“To people of color, they’re not just cable news headlines,” he said. “They’re life and death warnings. They are heartbreaking memorials to people who should not be dead. Parents brought their children with them (to protests) to show them the importance of calling for action.”

Cooper said he had spoken with the Minnesota victim’s sister Bridgette Floyd, who lives in North Carolina’s Hoke County.

“While I cannot bring her brother back, I can work for justice in his name,” Cooper said. “People are more important than property, and Black lives do matter.”

Cooper reminded the public to wear face masks and practice social-distancing during protests, acknowledging that African-Americans are suffering from COVID-19 at a disproportionate rate.

“It is part of the health disparities and the frustrations that are out there,” he said.

Cooper: ‘We have so much more work to do’

The governor lamented that small businesses suffered vandalism and theft even as they’re already losing income because of COVID-19. 

“We cannot focus so much on the property damage that we forget about the problem we’re facing in the first place,” Cooper said. “These scars mark generations of trauma that Black people and other communities of color continue to suffer, trauma that has too often gone unrecognized in our country. They’ve faded from the headlines too fast. We have so much more work to do.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger echoed the governor’s mourning of Floyd’s death, calling it “tragic” and “shocking.”

“Across the nation, and in North Carolina, we’ve seen citizens engage in peaceful protests to express their hurt, a desire for justice, and anger – natural and constitutionally protected reactions – at the senseless loss of George Floyd’s life,” Berger said in a written statement.

 But Berger, one of the  state’s top Republican lawmakers, criticized state and local officials as being unprepared for Saturday night’s “chaotic riots.” 

“Given the experience of other localities in recent days, preparations should have been in place in the event things were getting out of hand,” Berger said. 

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