Police Chief Catrina Thompson and Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough jointly condemned the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis during a press conference this afternoon in Winston-Salem, with anger over Floyd’s death and police brutality fueling protests across the nation.
“The behaviors witnessed with the officers with Mr. Floyd are unacceptable and would be in conflict with our policies, practices and values,” Thompson said, speaking on behalf of the Winston-Salem Police Department and the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office. Since the Winston-Salem press conference, the Hennepin County District Attorney’s office in Minnesota announced that Derek Chauvin, the police officer responsible for Floyd’s death, has been taken into custody and charged with murder and manslaughter.
Earlier in the prepared statement, Thompson said, “This event has sparked outrage and fear in our nation. The actions and inactions of the officers involved are in contrast with the values of both our department, the profession and humanity as a whole. Mr. Floyd, as well as every other person that encounters law enforcement deserves respect, compassion and empathy. The members of the Winston-Salem Police Department and Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office continue to work tirelessly to build trust and relationships with the communities we serve. We see our roles, as public servants and protectors, as a noble calling.”
Kimbrough said he personally responded to the death of George Floyd, which was captured in a gut-wrenching video made by a bystander, with horror, anger and tears.
“I probably said some words I shouldn’t have said because it angered me,” the sheriff said. “Because what I realize is that, that one man’s actions, he took away from everybody that wears a badge.”
Kimbrough said recent events have revealed stark disparities in Winston-Salem, using the metaphor of different boats — “Some of us are in real-life cruise liners and some are in canoes” — and that all people — “black, white, Latino” — must “stand together against wrong.”
“We have race relationship problems in this country,” Kimbrough said. “But that don’t mean we can’t fix them. What it means is we can’t sweep them under the rug and pretend they don’t exist.”
The sheriff added that he does not condone the property destruction that has been seen in Minneapolis and other American cities over the past three nights.
“The burning and looting, I’m not with that,” he said. “That is wrong. That is wrong. But I understand the anger that the voiceless and the hopeless have.”
Thompson warned against property destruction in stronger terms.
“At the end of the day, we are the United States of America, and there is a First Amendment right to free speech,” Thompson said. “If you want to protest, protesting is not an issue for us, as long as it’s done in accordance with the law, and it is not violent.
“What we cannot tolerate,” the chief continued, “is the violent rioting, the destruction of property, burning, looting, hurting of other people. If we are saying that we are hurting because we feel like we’re not being heard after someone has lost their life in the way that Mr. Floyd lost his life, how do we think or believe that it’s okay to go out and continue to hurt others and continue the violence?”
A livestream of the press conference on the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page attracted upwards of 500 viewers.
Both Chief Thompson, who serves under a Democratic-majority city council, and Sheriff Kimbrough, an elected Democrat, pointedly declined a reporter’s request to address a tweet early this morning by President Trump, who wrote, “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let it happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Twitter attached a notification to the tweet publicly indicating that it violates the social media platform’s rules about glorifying violence.
Thompson noted that her department has its own challenges, but explained that she and Sheriff Kimbrough recognize that a high-profile event like what’s taking place in Minneapolis can create ripples affecting the local community.
“We have had several homicides right here in Winston-Salem that need all of our attention, and will be getting it continuously,” Thompson said. “But we found it necessary to put pause from our schedules and to come here and address this issue because we know that if it’s happening directly in Minnesota, in Minneapolis, it’s indirectly affecting us here in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, and all over our state.”
Both Thompson and Kimbrough said they are proactively working to prevent an event similar to the killing of George Floyd from taking place in their jurisdictions by maintaining ongoing training. Kimbrough also said he’s worked to diversify the sheriff’s office so that it more closely reflects the demographics of the county. “We have diversified this agency,” he said. “It is more diverse than it has ever been.”
Kimbrough went on to describe in detail how he holds sworn officers accountable. He said he tells them: “I will back you if you’re doing the right thing. But if you do the wrong thing, I promise you, I promise you, that razor blade that makes you look good, if you mishandle it, will cut you.”
“And that’s how I move,” Kimbrough continued. “And my guys know that. They know that if you do something wrong, you make a mistake — ‘I did it, I made a mistake’ — we can survive that…. And if I know that you mishandled somebody, I promise you: You’re gonna have to put pen to paper and explain to me why. And if it’s not sufficient, you’re gonna be unemployed.”
On behalf of the Winston-Salem Police Department and Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, Thompson said in the joint statement: “We extend our sincere condolences to the family of Mr. George Floyd, as well as the community in the Minneapolis area who are struggling to deal with the aftermath of this incident.”
In the statement, the two local law enforcement officials also said, “The actions demonstrated by the officers in this incident serves to decimate the fabric of public trust in the community, and thus the officers involved should be held accountable, and all other officers will have to help to restore the legitimacy.”
UPDATE: The Greensboro Police Department issued a statement from Chief Brian James at 4:10 p.m. in response to the death of George Floyd:
“We as a country witnessed a horrific incident this week, which will change us forever and caused many to question law enforcement nationwide,” James said in part. “The actions of the officers involved in this incident were excessive and are counter to everything taught in law enforcement training. This incident has damaged the trust of the communities we serve and will take time to rebuild. As the Greensboro chief of police, I take the safety of our residents to heart. Since becoming chief. I changed our mission statement to ‘Partnering to make Greensboro safe for all people.’ I take that statement seriously and intend for it to be reflected in everything we do.
“We are in a challenging time,” the statement continues. “Communities need great law enforcement officers who serve with professionalism and compassion, willing to treat all persons with dignity and respect. I hope this will be a moment to embrace honest conversations about how we can build, repair and maintain positive relationships with the community. The Greensboro Police Department will do its best each day to ensure we have the right people doing the right things in our communities. As a nation, my hope is that we can build from this tragic moment and not let it define us.”