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.”