Sherilla Horton, left, LeShawn Yates and O’Linda Watkins organized local demonstrations following the slaying of George Floyd.

Sherilla Horton, left, LeShawn Yates and O’Linda Watkins organized local demonstrations following the slaying of George Floyd. 

Galvanized by the murder of George Floyd, hundreds of people attended racial justice demonstrations last year in Moore County.

The local chapter of the NAACP held a vigil for Floyd in downtown Southern Pines, where a throng of masked mourners knelt in silence for nearly nine minutes. That is about how long a former Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck before the unarmed Black man perished in front of a convenience store on May 25.

O’Linda Watkins, president of the Moore County NAACP, was delivering food to needy families on Tuesday when she learned that Derek Chauvin, the white officer who killed Floyd, had been found guilty of murder. While pleased with the jury’s verdict, Watkins said she is “a little on edge about the sentencing,” which will not be announced until June.

“I don’t want to get too excited until I hear what the judge has to say,” she said.

Floyd’s killing spurred protests across the nation last summer, some of which descended into violence and vandalism. Other demonstrations — including the ones held in Moore County — were peaceful.

On June 4, a vehicle procession organized by the N.C. Impact Coalition rode through Southern Pines, Aberdeen and Pinehurst in protest of police brutality. About 380 motorists participated in the demonstration, which is believed to be the largest caravan in Moore County history.

“The verdict was a step in the right direction,” said Sherilla Horton, president of the coalition. “Justice was served in this instance. However, there’s so much work to be done.”

She noted that Ma'Khia Bryant, a Black teenager in Columbus, Ohio, was shot and killed by police shortly after the jury returned from deliberation. Bryant, who was shot four times in front of her foster home, had attacked two other girls at the scene with a knife, according to the Columbus Police Department.

“I am hoping that this verdict is the first of many cases where we as a country make an honest, serious effort to overhaul systems that were intentionally designed to hinder and keep Black people from prospering,” Horton said. “We not only need to overhaul our justice system, but the education, banking, investment and real estate systems as well.”

Following last year’s vigil and vehicle procession, the Black Christian Mothers Business Alliance organized a 3-mile equality march in Moore County. Over 200 people, many of whom carried signs or wore shirts referencing Floyd, walked from Aberdeen Lake Park to the parking lot of ALDI and back.

LeShawn Yates, director of the alliance, led the march with her son and youngest daughter in tow. On Tuesday, she called both children into the room to watch as the verdict was read on live television.

“I explained to them that it had been a year and Chauvin had been held accountable for his actions, and that this was something to celebrate,” she said. “I told them it was ‘justice,’ but I’ve been rethinking what that word means. We still have a lot of work to do, in my opinion, in terms of understanding and having compassion for one another.

“The fear a lot of us have for ourselves and our children will not be erased until we really start to have conversations and try to understand each other.”

Still, Yates said she “breathed a sigh of relief” after seeing that Chauvin had been found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

“There is so often no accountability, so it was just nice to see something different and something fair,” she said. “But when the world is watching and there is an opportunity to do good, people will seize that opportunity. I would hope for the same kind of accountability and for justice to be served when no one is watching.”

(12) comments

Patricia Bryan

I think all people in law enforcement should wear body cameras and marked police cars have cameras in them as well. It seems to me with all the money being thrown at states and divided up to counties and towns, that one valid thing to do with it should be to buy this expensive gear for all of the law enforcement groups. It is astounding to me that in this day and age of "abolish/de-fund" the police that our Sheriff's office has none. Videos help protect the public and the law enforcement officers. Speaking about the case of the knife-wielding teenager in Columbus, Ohio, not only was there a video from the policeman's body camera and I believe from his vehicle, but a camera at a home across the street recorded the scene as well. Both have been played over and over, including in very slow motion. So far I haven't heard any background information on what precipitated the event, but from the videos I believe the policeman was damned if he did, damned if he didn't act. As far as Elizabeth City, video could not be revealed to the public without a judge ordering it, and from what I can gather was shown to the family, it was about 20 seconds of nothing. I'm not sure of all of Moore County's history concerning police actions, but I think we appear to be lucky that we haven't made the national news. Unfortunately most of the national news reports lack a lot of detail, but most are immediately interpreted to be police misbehavior and make the headlines.

Lynette Crosby

Time to visit Elizabeth City!

Leigh Thomas

Aren’t the words “slaying” and “perished” a little dramatic? I would like for Ms. Horton to give more details on what exactly needs overhauling in the education, banking, investment and real estate systems.

Kent Misegades

From everything I have read from credible, fact-based reports of this and similar cases, the tragic consequences could have been avoided if those involved had followed the demands of police. If wronged, everyone has the right to a public defense and his day in court. Yes, there are a few, rare bad apples among the police, but also among teachers, doctors, government bureaucrats, etc. The vast majority of policemen are outstanding citizens who sacrifice much to protect law and order. I do not want to live in a community without them.

Jackie Sharp Brown

He did have his days in court, and he was found guilty on all three counts. Some of his fellow officers testified against him, in fact.

Laurel Holden

Kent, it's astounding that YOU, who hates all forms of government spending, is supportive of this massive suck of tax dollars. So, you want to eliminate funds for public schools, libraries, parks, etc but allow state-sponsored murders at the hands of the police. Sounds like a great world!

Jane Haladay

This whole "bad apples" theory is consistently being debunked by informed people who have done deep and careful research into the origins and history of policing. Police culture originated in keeping enslaved people under surveillance and in submission to white authority. There are many good cops, obviously, but it's not just a few apples that are bad: the roots of the tree are toxic.

Elgett Floyd

Thanks for speaking what is true. Truth will free us as American people.

Dusty Rhoades

"Do what the government man tells you if you don't want him to kill you" is not the credo of a free society, Kent. But I suspect you only apply that rule to certain classes of people and not to people who look like you.

Kent Misegades

“About 380 motorists participated in the demonstration, which is believed to be the largest caravan in Moore County history.” The Trump Trains and Trump Flotillas were much longer.

Jackie Sharp Brown

In Moore County, not nationwide. If you have proof of larger caravans in MoCo, please share it.

Jim Tomashoff

He doesn't and he won't. Kent lies whenever his fingers touch his computer keyboard.

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