New Hanover, Wilmington leaders react to Sunday protest that turned violent

New Hanover, Wilmington leaders react to Sunday protest that turned violent
Protestors and law enforcement clashed on the streets of downtown Wilmington on May 31, 2020. (Source: WECT/Emily Featherston, WECT)

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - After a protest about the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis resulted in clashes between protestors and law enforcement, New Hanover County and Wilmington elected officials reflected on the incident, as well as the systemic issues that led to this point.

County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield

County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield had many things to say in response to Sunday night’s events, but wanted to begin by drawing a distinction between what took place on Saturday as local activists groups held a peaceful protest, and what happened Sunday night.

RAW: County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield reacts to Sunday night protest

“The fact of the matter is, there was no conflict on Saturday,” Barfield said. "The folks who put that on came with the purpose, and the purpose was to help heal our community. The folks that came here on [Sunday] had an opposite purpose, and they thought they would win in our community, and I’m thankful that they did not. It’s amazing how you can have two different purposes for the same exact event.

County Commission Chair Julia Olson-Boseman

Chair of the New Hanover County Commission Julia Olson-Boseman addressed Floyd’s alleged murder as she was introducing a new economic development incentive related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Boseman thanked the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office and Wilmington Police Department for responding to the incident in the way that they did. She also commented on how she thinks there is a system problem that needs to be addressed.

“This is not a problem that has just happened last week. You know, people were protesting because of the loss of life last week, but this has been a systematic problem in our nation, I think since the beginning, it seems like, and it’s not getting better, but violence is not the answer.”

She said she had the same concerns as others in the community that some at the Sunday night event were from out of town and came with the intent of inciting violence.

“It’s horrible to see people from other communities come to our community to incite violence and riots,” she said, but added that she sees the pain that has led to protests around the country.

“I understand that people are upset and I cannot imagine what it is like to be black,” she said. “I do have white privilege. I have a white son, I don’t have to worry about him driving and worry about him being killed by police officers. And my people of color, they do have to worry about that with their kids. And, you know, we have a problem here that we need to do more about and be more open and do something.”

County Commissioner Woody White

While he was also not at the protests, County Commissioner Woody White responded to a request for comment from WECT with the following statement:

"George Floyd’s senseless killing has united people all across the country to come together and work towards real change in our society. Regarding the local events in downtown Wilmington, the vast majority of people appeared to follow Rev. King’s style of peaceful protests. Everyone is saddened and is grieving over Mr. Floyd’s death, but also over the loss of generations of minorities who have been left behind and victimized by the last bastions of racism in our country. I feel the same angst and grief over the soul of our nation as the peaceful and law-abiding protestors that had gathered on a warm, spring evening on 3rd street to be together.

Sadly, I also saw a few agitators that were hell-bent on escalating matters and inciting a riot. They appeared to wear the same style backpacks, have similar methods of movements and manner of speaking, and appeared not to be from our community. Instead, they looked to be a part of the coordinated attacks across the United States. Those few individuals should receive the full focus of law enforcement in the future and no one should welcome them here.

Lastly, I want to say how proud I was of the measured way our local law enforcement acted to take control and disburse the crowd before anyone was hurt. It was evident that the training we have funded and the leadership of Sheriff McMahon and Chief Williams was on full display last night. We should all join together in thanking them, and the men and women in their ranks, who stood to protect our Town last night. "

White later sent an addendum to his statement referencing a social media post highlighting President Donald Trump’s designation of ANTIFA as a terrorist organization.

City Council Member Kevin Spears

Along with Mayor Bill Saffo, who spoke to reporters Monday morning, City Council member Kevin Spears had concerns from a city perspective about the alleged outside instigators, and how it detracts from the needed conversations about the tenuous relationships between communities of color and law enforcement.

RAW: City Council member Kevin Spears reacts to the May 31 protest that turned violent

Spears said he in no way condones acts of violence, but that the peaceful protests and anger seen across the nation are finally bringing to the forefront those tenuous relationships.

“In 2020, you know, we should not still be dealing with this, but we are and it’s like, we have a front row seat to it. It’s not hidden anymore. It’s not speculation anymore. It’s right here in the faces of us all. And you know, one thing about being a human is you’re going to be prone to react in some shape, form or fashion. And so this is, this is how we get the reaction of people who are tired.”

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