On Aug. 28, 51 years after Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, cries of “No justice, no peace” rang out in the streets of downtown Wilmington. A group of about 50 protestors marched hand in hand down Red Cross Street, making their way to the 1898 Monument on 3rd Street.
The nonviolent march served to honor the anniversary of Dr. King’s speech and also bring awareness to victims of perceived excessive use of force by police. Many of the protestors held signs bearing the names Brandon Smith, Trevon Robinson, Ronald Roland, and Grace Denk, the four victims killed by police in Wilmington since October 2013.
In the shadow of the 1898 Monument, a memorial commemorating the racial violence of 1898, family and friends of the victims took turns addressing the crowd. Grace Denk’s friend, Kaitlyn Carpenter, read a letter written by Denk’s mother. The letter described how a 911 responder found Denk in her car, despondent and intoxicated, and shot her three times in the chest and twice in the arm.
“She was stolen from us and it feels like only yesterday,” Bonnie Anderson wrote. “Events such as this are important because they serve to bring awareness to others and to keep our loved ones’ memories alive…this excessive use of force has no boundaries.”
Sonya Patrick, chairwoman of the New Hanover County Black Leadership Caucus, said it was important to honor Dr. King’s memory by taking a peaceful approach to protesting.
“In the words of Martin Luther King, the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy,” Patrick said. “We can’t just stand back and do nothing…there are too many mothers crying and too many children dying.”
After family members were recognized, pastor Steven Gates spoke passionately to the gathering.
“When I see Brandon Smith’s mother and sister and wife having to busy their son, husband and brother, I ask the question why,” Gates said. “When I see the senseless murders in the streets of Wilmington, I ask the question why.”
Brandon Smith’s family stood nearby, listening to Gates. Smith was shot by law enforcement last October while attempting to pull an object from his belt, although he was ultimately found to be unarmed at the time of the shooting.
Georgia Davis, Smith’s sister, said she attended the protest to help prevent other families from going through what hers did.
“The longer you stay quiet, the more men and women are going to lay dead in the street,” Davis said.
Smith’s mother, Dorothy Davis, added that she wished police had used stun guns or dogs to give her son the opportunity to go to jail and be tried by a jury.