by Joe Schwartz
Then state NAACP President the Rev. William Barber came to town and along with local leaders demanded a chance to tell their side of the story, a full report on the status of creating a civilian review board and a five-year review of all police activity including arrests, stops and their location and race.
The requests were delivered this morning to Mayor Kevin Foy, and the NAACP is giving him until the week's end to respond.
Barber stated as much in a press conference this morning at the Peace and Justice Plaza in front of the Franklin Street post office. Speaking as local activists, both residents and UNC students stood behind him, Barber made clear the NAACP's intent to make the Brown case, in which the Chapel Hill barber was stopped and searched because police say he resembled a suspect, a harbinger of change.
"This is wrong. It's a stain on this city until it's corrected," he said, adding that the incident will be a major topic at this week's State NAACP Convention.
"We can't afford to have someone with the power of a badge and the power of a gun to be engaged in this kind of suspicious activity when it comes to search and seizure."
For their part, Chapel Hill police say there's no evidence that Brown was taunted, as he suggests, and suggested establishing in-car cameras and a practice of filing reports for all cases of investigative detention.
But it's clear that the story won't end there.
Brown, who opened Precise Cutz & Styles in the rear of the Bank of America Building, gives the NAACP a perfect example to pursue its long-time claim of police injustice. Not only is he a black business owner, he has no criminal record, and NAACP leaders say his role as a barber makes him a valued member of the community.
Barber says the way Brown was treated could discourage black business owners from coming to town, increase skepticism of police and actually make residents less safe as a result.
"It's not just illegal or unconstitutional," he said. "It's dumb."
Those standing with Barber included Barry Freeman, who was arrested in 2007 for trespassing at the grand opening of Chapel Hill's U.S. Army Recruitment Office while holding a "Keep your hands of my grandchildren" sign. Ever since, he and his wife, Janie, also arrested with in the sign incident, have advocated for a civilian review board.
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but I wouldn't hold my breath," he said about the establishment of such a board."
Laura Bickford, a UNC student and member of the school's Protester's Defense Committee, also voiced support. Her group was created after the arrests tied to the Tom Tancredo protest and has lobbied for a review board for the UNC Department of Public Safety.
"We need a community presence, forceful and unafraid, to challenge and review police actions," she said. We’re committed to seeing the creation of a review board on campus and will continue to stand in solidarity with the NAACP in all of their demands. "
Many at the event questioned how an internal review using only police officers as sources could yield a just outcome. The local NAACP is demanding that they be given a chance to offer their own review, and to do it in public at a council meeting.
Al McSurely, chairman of the NAACP's Legal Redress Committee and Brown's lawyer, says a lawsuit seeking damages is an option but that it's "moreso in the pocket than on the table. We hope it just stays in the pocket."