Winston-Salem pastors and civil rights leaders, joined by city officials, urged a peaceful response to the death of a Winston-Salem man shot by a police officer on March 30.
“We’re saying to our citizens: It’s your right to have freedom of speech,” said Bishop Todd Fulton, the social justice chair for the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem & Vicinity at a press conference held at the Winston-Salem NAACP headquarters today. “We’re asking that you march, hold your banners up. Get permits. Do things in decency and order. But for those of you on social media who have an intentional interest in keeping us divided, we will not — I repeat — we will not riot, we will not destroy our city.”
Edward Van McCrae, 60, was fatally shot during a traffic stop in northeast Winston-Salem on March 30 by Officer DE McGuire. The police said in a press release that McGuire ordered McCrae, who was in the backseat, “to stop reaching toward concealed areas of the vehicle,” then ordered him out of the vehicle. The police said that as the two men continued to struggle, McCrae ignored the officer’s commands to “stop reaching,” and “a handgun became visible to Officer McGuire.”
Capt. Steve Tolley, commander of the department’s criminal investigation division, has previously stated to Triad City Beat that a handgun was recovered from the scene and was turned over to the State Bureau of Investigation. But during the press conference on Monday, city officials declined to address a question by a reporter from another news outlet about whether a firearm was recovered from the scene.
Officer McGuire has been placed on administrative leave, and the State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting.
Winston-Salem police Chief Catrina Thompson sat next to Fulton during the press conference, but did not take questions from the press because of the SBI investigation. Instead, all questions about the circumstances surrounding the shooting went to Councilman James Taylor, chair of the public safety committee, and Mayor Allen Joines. Taylor read from the police department’s press release, but otherwise was not able to provide answers to many questions.
The police and city officials have not indicated the reason for the traffic stop that led to McCrae’s death.
“The answer to that specific question will have to await the final SBI report — that’s if the district attorney releases it,” Mayor Allen Joines said. “As you know, it’s sure frustrating sometimes for our police and others to not give you more specifics, but due to the nature of the investigation, that’s the way it will have to be.”
City officials also did not elaborate on an investigation by the police department’s criminal investigation division into an allegation of assault on an officer against McCrae during the struggle that led to his death, with Taylor stating that it was “simply procedure.”
While repeatedly stating that the city is committed to transparency, at one point Taylor said, “I don’t want to seem like I’m evading the question. That information will come out. You’ll know when we know.”
A sign posted outside the door of the room where the press conference was held said “press only,” but police officers, city council members and even one candidate for Forsyth County Commission filled the audience. But the press conference drew considerable interest, with about 20 people gathering outside the NAACP headquarters. The Winston-Salem International Socialist Organization created a Facebook event for the press conference, urging people to “show up and make sure they know that the community is watching, and we want justice, transparency and accountability.”
Both the Ministers Conference and city council expressed confidence in Chief Thompson.
Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke, who represents the Northeast Ward where the shooting took place, said she has not received any communication from constituents questioning the police department’s handling of the deadly traffic stop.
“We regret what happened, but we have said to citizens in this city and in the Northeast Ward that we have to be safe,” Burke said. “In order to be safe we have to have a strong Winston-Salem Police Department. And we’ve had a police department that’s been consistent, that’s been out into the community, that’s worked hard to reach the citizens to let them know that we all care about them. But once you cross the line there’s a price you have to pay.”
Taylor said the city is committed to releasing the police body-camera video of the incident — if necessary, through a court order — to maintain trust with citizens.
“It is incumbent on the police department and the district attorney’s office to release the footage as soon as possible,” he said.
Fulton said the pastors enjoy a collaborative relationship with the city and the district attorney’s office.
“We will come together as civilized human beings, and once the SBI — I have spoken with our district attorney, Jim O’Neill,” he said. “He has assured us full transparency. I have spoken with our chief of police. She has assured us total transparency.”
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