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GPD with sonic weapon warn Friendly Center protesters of ‘risk’

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“They thought I was done, but I’m just getting started,” said AJ at the start of the march that began at 2:20 p.m. last Friday in front of the Regal Grande 16 Cinema in Greensboro.

AJ, also known as Anthony and Free Dope Major, is co-founder of The Three, the multiracial Black activist organization that shut down sections of I-40, Wendover and Battleground Avenues on previous weekends. The organization’s name is derived from both the 336 area code and the Christian Trinity.

The march began with about 40 demonstrators and grew slightly, but unlike previous ones, never numbered in the hundreds.

“Lot of people who would be here are working,” said the young Black man marching beside me. “Look at the livestream, and you’ll see a bunch of white folks getting salty about us not being at work. They either think we don’t got jobs or this our job, and we paid by Soros.” 

(He then pointed out the establishment where he said he would be clocking in at 5 p.m., but asked me not to use his or the business’s name.)

A cursory glance at the comments on the YES! Weekly livestream of the march proves him correct, with none of the commenters mentioning why they themselves had time to watch a long Facebook video on a Friday afternoon.

Turning right out of the Regal Grande parking lot, the march headed east on Northline Avenue.

“How are you doing, beautiful people?” said one of AJ’s fellow organizers to the drivers of approaching cars. One vehicle did a screeching U-turn, but three stopped. Two drivers opened their windows and exchanged fist bumps with marchers.

The Bike Patrol, activist bicyclists who protect protest marchers in the Triad by riding ahead and behind and blocking intersections, did just that at Northline and Pembroke.

“It’s time for you to really feel us,” said AJ through his bullhorn as he waved at chain stores. “We gonna cut all these million-dollar companies. Guess what, Old Navy! We coming in there and we ain’t buying no clothes!”

An Old Navy employee moved to lock the door, stating the store was at capacity, but not before AJ and a couple of others got inside. (I didn’t, and couldn’t hear what was said there.)

 A few minutes later, they emerged and led the march through Green Valley Road. The bike patrol zipped ahead and blocked the intersection of Northline, Green Valley and the Wendover ramp. 

“She got a gun!” yelled someone as AJ led the march down the Wendover exit.

One of the drivers stuck on the exit ramp, white and appearing to be in late middle-age, had a pistol, which she placed on the seat beside her as she stared stonily ahead, hands-on her steering wheel.

“Don’t walk up on these people’s cars,” AJ said. “They so scared, they might actually shoot us.”

I walked ahead to see just how far the exit lane was backed up on Wendover. The jam appeared to extend past the Benjamin Parkway overpass. A driver screeched out of the blocked lane into the clear west-bound one, pounding angrily on his horn as he roared by. 

“Fuck you, cracker, we ain’t going nowhere,” AJ yelled, as he walked back up the ramp.

At the intersection of Northline and Green Valley, the bike patrol and about half the march still blocked traffic in four directions. A man in a medical delivery vehicle honked. AJ shook his head, but when the driver indicated the nature of his vehicle, AJ told marchers to let him through.

Next to the Circle K, a woman revved her engine and appeared to aim her car at marchers in her way, then braked. 

“We got a Karen!” shouted a marcher.

An organizer named Josh walked up beside her vehicle. 

“Calm down and enjoy your day. No reason to be so upset, baby.”

Two police officers had arrived on the scene but watched without intervening. The march proceeded down Green Valley toward Friendly Avenue.

“This is a physical statement,” AJ said. “Been doing this for a whole month, and I ain’t been arrested yet! Think I’m gonna get arrested because I’m on this side of town? Guess what! I ain’t going nowhere! Look at the traffic jam we caused back there.”

More police officers arrived. AJ recognized Sgt. Eric Goodykoontz, of whom he once said to me, “I call him Goody ‘cuz he’s a good man.”

“We’re not getting off the street, Goody!” AJ shouted.

“No reason to yell at me,” Officer Goodykoontz replied.

“I know they sent you over here because I’ll talk to you,” AJ said.

“Let’s talk, then,” Goodykoontz said. 

He and AJ moved off Green Valley to speak in the shade of Fidelity Investments. At least 20 officers stood in a line further west, with more arriving on bicycles. The marchers were reluctant to let AJ stand so near them by himself, but AJ repeatedly told them and the media to back off while he spoke with Goodykoontz, whom he appeared to trust.

“They don’t care when we’re on Elm, but now we’re inconveniencing white people it’s a problem,” said a Black woman shading herself with a rainbow umbrella.

More officers arrived.

“Y’all boys coming out to play today,” Josh said, booming through his megaphone at the assembling riot squad. “Got those shields, but why none of y’all wearing masks?”

No officers were. Of the 40-50 marchers, I counted 27 wearing masks. Three of the four Black men who appeared to be AJ’s fellow organizers wore masks—AJ did not. 

AJ walked back to the march, his discussion with Goodykoontz apparently resolved. As the march proceeded toward Friendly Avenue, one riot squad officer said that the vehicles driven by protesters and containing bottled water and other supplies could not continue.

“AJ, they’re not letting the cars through,” a marcher yelled.

“They better let ‘em through,” said AJ as he walked toward a tall Black officer. “Goody said cars can go through! Said they got to stay behind us and be on only one side of the street, but they can come through.”

One white officer scowled, but they all stepped back and let the cars pass.

The march reached Friendly Avenue at about 3:20 p.m. In the middle of the intersection, AJ addressed the demonstrators and onlookers who’d strolled over from Belk’s.

“This could have all been so simple, but guess what, until the world wakes up, we will continue to inconvenience you. This is not something that’s gonna stop. Roy Carroll and Nancy Vaughan, I know you hear us, and you feel us, and I know you see us now. It’s because you don’t have a choice.”

AJ then spoke about The Three’s intentions.

“If it wasn’t for this movement, nothing would be getting stopped. Everybody else is downtown, but they’re not actually stopping the money. We’re inconveniencing you like you been doing to us for years, economically and academically. All l want is free education!”

Free college education for African-Americans is one of The Three’s oft-stated demands.

“It’s a Black Friday, but ain’t nothing on sale,” said another organizer. “They can’t get in to shop, they can’t get in to eat, and they got to look at all our Black asses out here.”

The march proceeded west on Friendly. Police in riot gear formed a line on the other side of Friendly and Avondale, but AJ had already stated his intention of turning back into the mall and going to Ben and Jerry’s, where management would have free ice cream and bottled water for the demonstrators.

Before doing that, he led the marchers in a prayer for the police facing them and burned sage. Then he pointed out several officers.

“I wonder what this Black man had to go through to get here on this front line of police? I wonder what this woman had to go through? Why are there not more women on the front line? Because they don’t get the same opportunities. They don’t get the same opportunities we get as men.”

Turning back into the shopping center, the march continued to Whole Foods, where it was greeted with scattered applause from cashiers and customers. Then it continued to Ben and Jerry’s for a 45-minute ice cream break.

At 4:05 p.m., the march returned to Friendly and Avondale, where AJ set off canisters of green, yellow and red smoke before turning back to the Shoppes at Friendly.

The march entered REI for several minutes of chanting and speeches. A store employee on the second-floor admonished marchers not wearing masks. 

Harris Teeter was the next destination. The march entered the store at 4:25 p.m. “This is the re-education of America,” Josh declared.

In front of the check-out stations, the marchers observed 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence in honor of George Floyd, who took that long to die with a police officer’s knee on his neck. During this time, one customer, a balding red-bearded white man, bought a case of bottled water and handed it to AJ.

“I was with you until Black Lives matter equals Defund the Police,” said another shopper, a tall, gray-haired white man.

“I say anything now, all of a sudden, I’m against Black lives?” said a young Asian-American man in a muscle shirt. “You’re coming into a grocery store and making a bunch of noise!”

Josh and a young Black woman spoke to both men, but neither tempers nor voices were raised on either side.

“Chill, don’t worry about it, don’t argue with them,” AJ said. Several Harris Teeter employees sat on the floor with protesters during moments of silence. After that interval, AJ and Josh spoke of the school-to-prison pipeline and the corporate privatization of America’s penal institutions. 

“They want us incarcerated,” AJ said. “Black bodies in the Guilford County jail are worth a quarter-million dollars. If that jail is at less than 90% capacity, they have to pay the state. They don’t put us in jail because we’re bad people, they put us in jail to make money. It’s monetized slavery. In the Constitution, it says that slavery will be abolished unless you become a felon. If you become a felon, you are a slave again. Now, slaves make jeans, make license plates, clean the highways off— they do a lot of free labor, and they do it right up under our faces. That is the disgusting system that we live in.”

“In 1994, Bill Clinton passed the three-strike rule,” Josh said. “And Joe Biden passed the Crime Bill. Because they didn’t know how to keep the prisons full, they created the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Josh then spoke of white privilege. 

“It means that your son or your daughter has the privilege of going to this store in the middle of the night without worrying they’ll end up lying face down, either in cuffs or shot dead!”

As the marchers prepared to leave, two men in three-piece suits and Harris Teeter name tags set up a cooler full of ice water near the exit. 

“Have a good day and take care,” they said as they handed out Dixie cups.

After a recess in the shade, where AJ handed out freeze-pops donated by the shop West Elm, the march continued to the Sears parking lot.

There it was met with a black GPD van equipped with the department’s Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD. While LRADs can be used as a directional PA system (Greensboro Police Department and other police departments have touted how clear and undistorted the directional sound is), the devices can also be used as sonic crowd control weapons capable of inducing vomiting and damaging eardrums.

“Attention,” boomed a male voice from the LRAD. “This is the security director of Friendly Central Property. You are now being directed to leave the property. You will be trespassing if you do not leave.”

“How is a mall cop using that damn thing,” a protester asked. “GPD work for Friendly Center now?”

“Because we messed up your money, you gonna blow our heads off,” AJ asked.

The next voice to emerge from the LRAD was that of GPD Lt. Daniel Knott. 

“You are currently trespassing on the property of Friendly Center. I order all those in front of Sears to immediately disperse. If you remain on the property you will be in violation of the law. If you don’t disperse, you may be arrested or subject to other police action. Other police action may include physical removal, the use of riot control agents, and/or less lethal munition, which could cause risk of injury to those who remain.”

 “Go back to your cars,” AJ told the marchers. “Don’t be stupid. They want to fuck people up.” A line of officers in riot gear and shields had formed across Pembroke. When a protester strode toward them, AJ dashed after him and physically dragged him away.  “I said, get back to your car now!” As the marchers departed, Lt. Knott emerged from his vehicle to talk to some of them, including Josh, several Black women, and an older Black man in a button-down long sleeve shirt and khakis, who had recently joined the demonstration. “You usually be with us,” shouted a departing organizer.

“I just want to know how we were breaking the law,” a woman asked Knott. “I’m not trying to be rude, but I want to know. Isn’t it our right to protest?”

“Ma’am, it is,” Knott said. “What happened here today is that Friendly Center decided they wanted you guys to leave.”

When the group continued to argue, Knott told them to address their concerns to the management of Friendly Center, and that more information would have to come from the GPD public information officer.

 On Monday, I asked GPD Public Information Officer Ronald Glenn about the use of the LRAD, which Lt. Knott’s command seemed to imply might be used as a weapon if the marchers did not disperse.

“We use it as a directional PA system,” Glenn wrote in an email. 

UPDATE

After this article was published, AJ told YES! Weekly that he actually saw the woman on the Wendover exit ramp holding her pistol, and that’s why he told the marchers to give her a wide berth.

“She actually had the gun in her hand ready to fire,” he stated, “which is why I told people to stay away, because I knew she would shoot without hesitation.”

Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.

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