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DA releases statement regarding Black Panther Party’s planned ‘armed march’

Published: Jan. 26, 2017 at 8:58 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 27, 2017 at 6:48 AM EST
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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David issued a statement Thursday in response to a planned "armed march" of the local chapter of the Revolutionary Black Panther Party.

The march, set for Sunday afternoon at the Creekwood Community Center, was initially advertised through a post on the group's Facebook page as an "armed march against terrorism & genocide" seeking justice for Brandon Smith, Walter Scott, and Keith Lamont Scott, three African-American men who were shot and killed by police.

David cited state statute that prohibits possessing firearms in certain situations.

My office has received several press inquires regarding an announced march scheduled to take place in Wilmington this weekend. The right to gather and speak freely is a great American tradition and is enshrined in our First Amendment. The right to bear arms is protected by the Second Amendment. To ensure public safety, reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions are codified in N.C. Gen. Stat. 14- 277.2, which prohibits the possession of firearms under certain circumstances.

This statute will be enforced in this district without regard to the applicant who seeks to assemble or the viewpoints of that group. When the assembly is convened on public property, individuals are prohibited from possessing firearms while demonstrating or picketing without advanced permission. Anyone in violation of this statute will be prosecuted.

Dr. Alli Muhammad, head of the party, said on Thursday the organization was working to obtain a local attorney to represent them following David's statement. Muhammad also confirmed participants still plan to march with their weapons, reiterating his previous position of the law not applying to the march because it does not fall under the umbrella of picketing, protesting, or parades.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said his concerns didn't lie with the group wanting to demonstrate, but instead with their intent to bring weapons.

"The chief and his staff have an action in place. I'm going to be meeting with them to discuss that action. Our concern is it's not the Black Panthers. It's not the demonstration. Our concern is coming to an event armed," Saffo said. "We know that when people are demonstrating, there may be people making derogatory comments to them and things could escalate and people have guns in their hands -- terrible things could happen, and we don't want that to happen in the City of Wilmington."

The Wilmington Police Department has not issued a formal statement at this time, but previously said they communicated with the group that it was against the law to be armed at a public picketing event.

Several residents in the Creekwood Community don't want the march to happen at all.

"I am praying that they don't have it, and it is not good for this community right now. Little children are getting hold of firearms, shooting for no reason at all," said Diane Conyers a resident of Creekwood.

Through the city's public email server we learned the group submitted a special event application for the event on Dec. 26, 2016. That application was then shared with members of the city council and staff.

"This is an armed First Amendment (& Second Amendment demonstration) lawfully in accordance with North Carolina Law. We will obey all laws, we will be carrying firearms," the applicant noted in the purpose of the event section.

According to Muhammad, the Wilmington chapter of the Revolutionary Black Panther Party was formed in 2015 and has 14 members. Muhammad said nationwide, the organization has held around 13 events, none of which have had violent encounters.

Deborah Maxwell, president of New Hanover County's NAACP chapter also released a statement addressing the march on Thursday.

"My knowledge about this local group has been primarily from media accounts. I sincerely hope all events are peaceful and enlightening."

"We support their right to march peacefully."

In addition to the march, the group has planned a tribunal on Saturday, also at the Creekwood Community Center.

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