Ignoring inclement weather, about a hundred people marched against racist police violence in High Point, with both organizers and police ending on a high note.
The march started at a church on Brentwood Street with hardly more than a couple dozen people.
But by the time the group — chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot” — passed the Snack Corner store on East Green Drive, their ranks had grown to about a hundred, with people coming out of their houses to join, or smiling and cheering them on from front porches.
Organized by brothers Travis and Parris London, the July 16 march wound through a predominantly black, economically depressed section of east-central High Point, drawing people like High Point Councilman Chris Williams and Human Relations Commissioner Jason Yates.
The marchers headed west on East Green Drive, accompanied by a robust police escort, then rounded the corner at University Drive, taking up a lane of traffic, and circled back on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Brentwood Street. A steady patter of rain did little to discourage the energy of the marchers, many of whom wore matching white T-shirts emblazoned with the words “black lives matter,” with the I formed from a silhouette of the iconic image of 1968 Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith making a closed-fist human rights salute.
The march prompted discussion among neighbors about both institutional racism and personal responsibility.
David L. Matthews watched the march from the front porch of his home on East Green Drive. While he said he was happy to see young people getting engaged in community affairs, he added, “A lot of stuff needs to start at home at the kitchen table, and then it can spread around.”
Jay White, a marcher who had stopped for a friendly chat with Matthews and to take shelter from the weather on his porch, nodded in agreement.
Matthews continued by saying that he doesn’t want to see anyone get hurt while expressing a view that wouldn’t sound out of place coming from a police officer. “When an officer asks you to do something,” he said, “the best thing you can do is follow his lead.”
White said stereotypes of young, black men contribute to their deaths at the hands of the police.
“A lot of cops aren’t familiar with the young, black generation,” he said. “They’re afraid. When the police pull over white drivers, they don’t feel like they’re in fear. When they pull over young black drivers, their mind focuses on stereotypes. They think of guns and drugs.”
White said he holds out hope that police abuse against black men will end in the aftermath of the killing of five Dallas police officers by a sniper because police can now appreciate what it feels like to be the victims of violence. At the time of the march in High Point, the killing of three more officers in Baton Rouge, La. had not yet transpired.
“Officers’ lives are being taken,” White said. “Hopefully the body cameras and a lot of what happened in Dallas will make them realize people are fed up. The Dallas ambush made a big difference. Now that they feel they could be targets, that could lead to a change.”
When the marchers returned to Greater Mt. Calvary Ministries on East Green Drive about an hour later, a few people spoke before the crowd dispersed to take shelter from the rain.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” Travis London told reporters. “I’m at a loss for words. Me and my brother throw parties. This is a whole different thing.”
Parris London said he and brother were motivated to try to do something positive for the community after seeing coverage of black men killed by police and racial tension on television. This is the second march they’ve organized, the first being a response to the killing of Trayvon Martin in central Florida three years ago.
Deanna Daniel of Greensboro told the marchers that the killing of young black men is symptomatic of black people lacking economic power. She urged them to patronize black businesses and open accounts with Mechanics & Farmers Bank, a black-owned bank based in Durham that has branches in Greensboro and Winston-Salem.
“If you smoke, don’t smoke in front of children,” she added. “If you drink, don’t drink in front of your children.”
Travis London concluded the gathering by inviting High Point Assistant Police Chief Travis Stroud to speak.
“Thank you,” Stroud told the marchers. “We appreciate it. Thank you for a peaceful event.”
Reflecting on his meeting with Travis London before the march, Stroud said, “He and I talked about how we both grew up in High Point. We said we have a chance to have a peaceful event. Do we have issues to work on? Yes. This is just a step. High Point has been able to avoid every major event in this nation. Let’s keep it up.”