ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (WAVY) — North Carolina NAACP and Elizabeth City leaders gathered Friday to share their next steps to bring justice for Andrew Brown Jr., exactly one month after he was shot and killed by Pasquotank law enforcement.
The group included the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach; the Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the North Carolina Conference of the NAACP; and Keith Rivers, president of the Pasquotank County NAACP.
The leaders said they would take a direct approach – traveling with a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to deliver it to him personally. The letter calls for a federal investigation into Brown’s death.
Brown was shot and killed while trying to flee deputies in his car on April 21 in Elizabeth City. The local district attorney, Andrew Womble, announced this week that he would not press charges against the deputies involved, and said their actions were “justified.” Barber called the decision “scandalous”.
“This is not dead or alive. A warrant is not a license to kill,” Barber said. “Even the DA has to submit to the U.S. Constitution.”
Womble said Tuesday that he knew his decision would not be popular, but he was following the law. He said once Brown put his car in gear next to the deputies who were trying to arrest him the car became a deadly weapon, thus making the shooting justified. Justifying a shooting requires a law enforcement officer to have a reasonable belief there is a threat.
Womble said if people disagreed with his decision, their recourse would be at the ballot box as he plans to run for judge. Barber says there’s another more immediate option.
“We don’t have to wait for the ballot box. We can get a federal investigation now. We can call for patterns and practices now. We can keep marching on non-violently now.”
The leaders say an outside prosecutor should have run the investigation, which was echoed by Gov. Roy Cooper (D-N.C.).
“There’s too much corruption in Elizabeth City. We need the FBI to continue its investigation,” said The Rev. Spearman, president of the North Carolina NAACP.
The president of the Pasquotank County NAACP says the DA’s decision not to charge has only strengthened the resolve of Brown’s supporters.
“We will fight until hell freezes over, and then we will fight on ice,” said Keith Rivers.
Organizers collected signatures on the letter to Garland demanding the federal probe of patterns and practices by the District Attorney and Sheriff Tommy Wooten II following the press conference. They plan to travel to Washington and deliver it to Garland the first week of June.
The leaders have heavily criticized Womble, saying that he is biased and too close to local authorities. They’re hoping the deputies can be convicted by federal prosecutors instead, citing previous cases.
After the press conference Friday, protesters once again gathered in the streets as they have since Brown’s death a month ago.
At 6:44 p.m., Elizabeth City police issued a warning for unlawful assembly. There were about 80 people blocking the intersection of Elizabeth Street and Water Street at that time.
Currituck County Schools posted a notice that any families traveling to Elizabeth City for the JP Knapp Early College graduation should be advised the bridge had been closed and seek an alternate route.
The roadways reopened to vehicular traffic as of 9 p.m.