Protesters mourn Sandra Bland, Elisha Walker in midnight march

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Protesters block traffic on the Eugene Street overpass.

Written by Daniel Wirtheim and Joanna Rutter / photos by Caleb Smallwood

Protesters with the Black Lives Matter movement made a midnight march to the Guilford County Detention Center in Greensboro on Jan. 1, demanding an end to violence against black women and black trans people. The march highlighted recent deaths including Sandra Bland, who died under questionable circumstances while in custody in Waller County, Texas in mid 2015.

“Maybe I should’ve said 10:30,” said April Parker, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Greensboro and the Queer People of Color Collective, or QPOCC.

It was 9:45 p.m. on Friday, and people were already filling up the QPOCC offices on Arlington St. near downtown to participate in a midnight march. People gathered to mourn recent alleged victims of police violence and racial profiling, particularly Sandra Bland, Elisha Walker and Tamir Rice. A similar action was taking place in Durham around the same time that evening.

Parker said that she was motivated specifically by the death of Elisha Walker, a transgender woman killed in 2015 in North Carolina. Multiple media outlets reported that Walker’s remains were found in Johnston County, not far from Raleigh.

The late-night timing of the protest was intentional, Parker said.

“It is about reclaiming the streets at an hour when black women don’t feel safe,” she said.

She also shared the intention behind the evening’s action with the early crowd.

“Greensboro’s best skill is to act like nothing’s happening,” Parker said. “They won’t speak to Black Lives Matter, but they will spend $30,000 on crowd control [equipment]. This will flex on that.”

An hour later, about 50 activists had assembled outside. Parker invited people to share notable events in 2015 within the Black Lives Matter movement, recalling a local die-in at Whole Foods and another at the 2014 Christmas tree in Center City Park, and to voice their reasons for “freezing their asses off.”

“It’s hard being dark brown,” one participant said, with a breaking voice. “I’m treated differently, followed more.”

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The march began a few minutes before midnight, starting on Gate City Boulevard and turning onto South Eugene Street. Participants chanted phrases such as “Say her name,” a slogan used to highlight overlooked deaths of black women and trans people nationwide, and “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

By 12:05 a.m., at least three Greensboro police cars had begun following the group. Seven police officers on bikes flanked  one side of the march as protesters took over two lanes of traffic on the relatively empty streets. When the march arrived at the Guilford County Detention Center, Parker read a list of demands that included dissolving Greensboro Police Department’s Civil Emergency Unit and requiring all police officers undergo an undoing racism training.

“The youth of this city will not accept any back door [governing]. We will be relentless,” Parker said.

Triad City Beat recently uncovered the existence of the unit, which is primarily designed for crowd control during “civil unrest.” It has existed for about a year, according to the department, though it appears not even the city council’s public safety committee was briefed on its existence.

It was a chilly 37 degrees when the protesters, including Carmen Antonetty, began to march back to the Queer People of Color Collective office.

“I’m here for my children,” Antonetty said. “I have two little boys that I don’t want to die in the streets. I’m freezing my ass off for them.”

Editor’s note: The initial version of this post mistakenly assumed the gender identity of the speaker. The article has since been corrected, and we deeply regret the error.

  • libertygirl76

    Mr. Wirtheim and Ms. Rutter: I believe it would be worth the effort of writing an unbiased article (if that was the intention) to have also cited that many city and county law enforcement agencies across the US have trained civil emergency units. These are not readily available just for violent, reckless protests that may pose a danger to the community but for disaster management as well. It is also important to have noted that perhaps the officers “flanked” and “followed” the protesters in order to keep them safe as they were walking in the middle of the street. To have omitted this not only entices public anger towards law enforcement but is also indicative of your lack of [combined] journalistic experience. Lastly, but certainly not less important, it is refreshing to see members of the community exercise their right to protest something they feel is unjust in a civil and peaceful manner as it is also refreshing to see law enforcement officers exercising the oath they swore to upon graduation.

    • There is plenty of other information that have been included about how much money the “civil emergency units” cost and about who they are accountable to.

    • There is plenty of other information that could have been included about how
      much money the “civil emergency units” cost and about who they are
      accountable to.

  • Eric Ginsburg

    I’m going to step in here as the editor of this piece. The original copy
    lacked a reference to what exactly a civil emergency unit is, so I
    added clarifying language. The only reason the public knows about the
    civil emergency unit here at all is because I accidentally stumbled on
    information about its existence in a public-records request, and then
    the department initially refused to answer any questions on the subject.

    But the wording in this piece is entirely accurate and appropriately
    descriptive. Don’t like it? Here’s a quote from a 2013 internal police
    department memorandum on the formation of the unit: “The benefits
    associated with having an organized and trained Civil Emergency Unit is
    the Department will have a standing unit readily deployable in the event
    of localized civil unrest and disobedience.” In case you’re curious,
    the message was written by Capt. Joel T. Cranford to then-deputy chief
    Wayne Scott (who is now the police chief). Yes, there are references to
    disaster management for the unit as well, but based on officers’ own
    descriptions in a variety of emails, that appears to be a secondary
    benefit and motivation of the unit while the primary function is to
    handle “civil unrest” (a term they repeatedly use which is why it
    appears in this article). This article isn’t about the CEU and thus it
    only merited a brief explanation of what the protesters were referring
    to in their demands.

    I understand your concern about the word “flanked,” though I’m not sure
    that it’s somehow more or less biased than the word “followed” depending
    on how the reader interprets the intention of the verb.