Letter Calling for Immediate Action Regarding a Potential Pattern of Excessive Force By New Hanover County Police Department
WILMINGTON - The following letter was delivered by the New Hanover NAACP and North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP on Tuesday morning, 12 November 2013. Following the delivery, the NC NAACP President, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II and leaders from the local community met with District Attorney Ben David and scheduled a meeting with Hon. Ben David, Mayor Bill Saffo, and Police Chief Ralph Evangelous for next week.
Hon. Ben David, District Attorney, New Hanover County,
Mayor Bill Saffo and City Council
Police Chief Ralph Evangelous
Dear Mr. David, Mayor Saffo, and Chief Evangelous:
We write with deep love and concern for our city and community. We in the NAACP believe in the law, in social order, and community safety. We stand firmly against crime and violence. The NAACP historically has suffered greatly from outrageous crimes against our valiant leaders, who work day and night to repair the breach in our society caused by slavery, Jim Crow, and their legacies. We have often turned to those law enforcement officials for protection and prosecution of those who would perpetuate these out-dated and immoral systems.
The NAACP has, for 104 years, been committed to nonviolence and the development of just laws. The reason our NAACP members and their allies work daily on the pressing issues of full employment, quality education for all, economic justice, health care for all, expanded voting and civic engagement rights and opportunities, and equal protection under the law is because we believe advancing fairness in these areas for all people strengthens our communities. It makes our society wholesome. It engages, rather than alienates, our young people. It inspires trust and engages citizens in democratic institutions.
The NAACP also reserves the right to raise deep concerns our members and friends have, when it appears there are discriminatory motives and actions on the part of our elected and sworn community officials. In the past month, four African-American men have been shot and killed by our local police. One report says that the Wilmington/New Hanover community has had more police shooting investigations than any other county or city in the state this year. While the men who were shot and killed had allegedly been engaged in acts that might have led to a criminal conviction, after they were charged and had an opportunity to defend themselves in court, the NAACP is concerned with the pattern of "street justice," rather than courthouse justice, that emerges from a study of these four cases. These facts, taken from media reports, have led us to the tentative conclusion that "street justice" has taken the place of "courthouse justice" in our community:
1. None of the four men shot by the police fired first at the officers.
2. None of the four men had drawn weapons.
3. One of the men, unarmed, was shot at 24 times in 3 seconds; hit by 9 bullets; and grazed by several more, while on the ground.
We have found that full transparency and strong training in constitutional protections of citizens, leads to trust. There has been a breach in the trust that holds our community together. We must receive a full report of all the facts of the death of these four men. The community must be helped to rest assured that officers of the law are not engaging in excessive force. We believe in the system of law enforcement, where police arrest, prosecutors prosecute, and juries render judgment. The NAACP and its allies must know that whenever there is a police shooting, it was justified and our officers have not expanded their limited role of arresting people suspected of crimes to suddenly become judge, jury and executioner.
Those who enforce the law, must abide by the same law. We need an independent review board that reviews such matters, so our community is assured that they are not tainted or determined by race and class.
Based on our long experience, and the information we have been able to gather about these four deaths, we demand:
1. The public release of police reports regarding these incidents.
2. Setting up an independent citizens' police review board in Wilmington and New Hanover County.
3. A more conservative and judicious approach to public statements by the D.A. and law enforcement officials when discussing the matters, rather than saying the shootings were justified, until the investigations designed to determine whether or not this is true are completed.
4. An immediate meeting convened by the D.A., the Mayor, and the Police Chief, to set up a joint community forum with the NAACP within two weeks to hear and respond to concerns about how we might build an atmosphere of trust, transparency and training in our community.
Sincerely and Respectfully,
Ms. Deborah Maxwell, Wilmington NAACP President
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, North Carolina NAACP President
C: NAACP Members and Friends