*Editor's note: When this article went to print, eight protesters were arrested on July 28, two more were arrested bringing up the total to 10 arrests on July 28, and 55 total arrests in July. The online article has been updated with the most up-to-date information.
This past weekend, through planned acts of civil disobedience, 25 protesters were arrested by the Winston-Salem Police Department on charges of “impeding traffic.” In groups of three to five people, protesters consecutively walked out and linked hands as they stood and knelt in the crosswalks waiting peacefully to be arrested by a fleet of bike patrollers. Some held up their fists, while the rest of the group held signs that read: “Answer our demands,” “Ban the hogtie,” and “Notify the public of all jail deaths.” On July 24, (Day 10), a group of at least 40 protesters walked from Bailey Park up to the corner of Fourth and Liberty Streets, where a historical marker notated North Carolina’s first sit-in victory.
The marker states:
On February 8, 1960, Carl Wesley Matthews began the city’s sit-in demonstration alone at lunch counters near this site and was soon joined by students from Winston-Salem Teachers College, Atkins High School, and Wake Forest College. The nonviolent protest led to a desegregation agreement signed May 23rd by the City and local businesses. Mr. Matthews, the leader, was the first Black served at a desegregated counter on May 25th. The protest ended in a record 107 days.
(On July 28, 10 more protesters holding flowers were arrested on charges of “impeding traffic” at the same spot as the arrests on July 24.)
“I think that it is indeed ironic,” said Citlaly Mora, communications strategist from the ACLU of N.C. regarding the arrests next to the historical marker celebrating 107 days of civil disobedience. “We are seeing the hypocrisy not only in Winston-Salem but all the movements that we have going on in the United States that are really shining a light on the history and resilience of civil disobedience movement, yet how little things have changed when it comes to suppressing the right to protest.”
Mora pointed out that Winston-Salem and Greensboro both have strong roots in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
“Now, when we have movements building up with something that intersects race and how we police people, and who is a victim of police brutality. Again, we are seeing some type of suppression that really put it on its face and really shows that some of the reforms we have seen have been hollow and not an accurate representation of our appreciation of civil disobedience,” Mora said. “The John Neville case exemplifies how we report jail deaths, what counts as in-and out-of-state custody, what authority the sheriff has and who they report to, and their accountability. Those are still unanswered questions and concerns that need to be addressed, but it points to a larger issue that we have in N.C. with how we police, report and are transparent with the public, who essentially is funding these resources and law enforcement.”
On July 24, after marching in a square around the crosswalks for about 30 minutes, the first two demonstrators—Calvin Peña, co-founder of The Unity Coalition; and Hannah Campbell, co-founder of Triad Abolition Project—walked out into the street and wandered around peacefully while carefully dodging passing cars as the rest of their comrades chanted: “Answer our demands.” The 13 others that were arrested walked out in groups of three to five and followed Campbell and Peña’s peaceful lead.
Campbell wrote in a text message that she “sought out like-minded folks wanting to work toward abolition” because of how the prison industrial complex [PIC] and capitalism have affected her life and family. “And because I see the immediate need for abolition echoed in the gaping holes the PIC leaves in our communities here in Winston-Salem,” she wrote. “It’s personal.”
“It felt pretty surreal to be arrested for civil disobedience at such a historical marker in our city,” Campbell continued. “Knowing and seeing so immediately that folks came before me, though, gave me the strength and wherewithal to stand in that street. But it also illuminated for me just how long this fight has been and will continue to be.”
Campbell said that she is grateful for Rep. John Lewis and activist Yvette Boulware, “who made good trouble long before us, and who have shepherded us to continue to make good trouble to demand good change.”
Peña said that his second arrest was easier than the first time around despite him “getting the full tour” on July 24.
“The first time, it was apparent— for whatever reason—they kept me in longer (they took me in first and let me out last),” he said. “The same thing happened, but they gave me the full tour—booked me, had me pull up my bottom lip, my upper lip—the whole nine. It was an experience, but honestly, the joke is on them because I got to go in and meet some of the inmates who know about us on the outside fighting this fight.”
According to the police report, there were no subsequent violations or injuries after the 15 protesters were arrested. “Each group of protestors standing in the middle of the intersection was notified that they were violating the law by impeding traffic and to go back to the sidewalk. The listed protestors refused to comply.”
Rev. Chad Armstong III was the man on the microphone for most of the day on July 24 and said that it was a productive day for the movement.
“It seems to be that momentum is growing; community support is growing,” he said. “It seems to be that the visibility of the John Neville case is growing, which is obviously the intention and goal of what we are doing.”
Armstrong said the demonstration location was not initially planned, but rather something that one of the other group members came up with right before the march began.
“What was kind of tough was to see that there was the police and sheriff’s department there who as ironically as they did, chose to arrest peaceful protesters in the space and spot where the City of Winston-Salem has erected a historical marker to civil disobedience and peaceful protests,” Armstrong said. As a lifelong resident of the city and knowing its history, it was hard for him to see law enforcement make arrests in that spot.
“For there to be the celebratory space of historical marker in once instance, but the degradation of that in the sense of responding to peaceful protesters in that way—it is kind of tough to process,” he said. “What was interesting, for me, was to hear one of the cops ask a question as to why we were forcing them to deal with this, which actually was posed to one of our organizers—one of the cops whispered to one of our organizers,’ why are you making us deal with this?’”
Armstrong said that since the WSPD allegedly used an LRAD as an intimidation tactic on July 8, and because of their “show of force” with the 55 arrests they have made of peaceful protesters (so far) in July, they “have intertwined themselves with the sheriff’s department in this.”
“These protesters are protesting the sheriff’s department, and what happened in a building that is operated by taxpayer dollars,” Armstrong said. “The tough part about it is, Chief Catrina Thompson’s statement that she made in taking back the relationship that she seemed to try to garner with peaceful protesters is very confusing. Not for just one activist group, but for, I am sure, all of the local activist groups in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County community.”
Even though Armstrong said #OccupyWSNC isn’t shooting to break the 107-record set by Matthews in 1960, he said demonstrations and direct actions would continue if Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough and District Attorney Jim O’Neill continue to remain silent by not answering questions or meeting the demands of the protesters. Armstrong said he hopes the community educates themselves about the Triad Abolition Project, The Unity Coalition, and the details surrounding what O’Neill characterized as John Neville’s “avoidable death” and that the public did not know any details about it until seven months after it happened.
On July 25, in a strategic move, the occupiers took the movement to the heart of downtown—in front of numerous outdoor diners of the city’s “Streatery”— and there, 10 were arrested on charges of “impeding traffic.” After marching around the crosswalks, garnering attention from diners with a microphone, cardboard signs, and chants, a group of four walked out on a crosswalk, hands linked facing a bike patroller. Six more followed suit.
“It was a really fortunate thing to happen because the catch of all this happening during a pandemic, is that you can’t really be as disruptive or you can’t be as visible in the downtown area because businesses aren’t open right now,” Peña said. “Ideally, you have people who are out there trying to go about their day, as if we are not in the middle of the biggest Civil Rights movement in world history. Disruption, at least when it comes to protesting, involves reminding them, very clearly, that we are in some unprecedented times right now, and it is not the time to be enjoying yourself casually.”
Multiple times during the march, Armstrong apologized to diners, gave downtown business owners a shout out and encouraged diners to leave a big tip for their servers.
Peña said that #OccupyWSNC has bail funds, community support and that the movement is happening strategically with every decision that is made.
“We even have some of the police officers individually wondering, ‘what’s the point?’ They realize that the city is letting this go on,” Peña said. “It is not checkers; it is chess.”
“It is kind of funny that [WSPD] decided to stop protecting and supporting protesters as soon as we started asking questions about our city and our community and our law enforcement,” Peña continued. “I know we have the upper hand. We inherently have the moral high ground. There is no arguing that.”
Chloe Brewer and Molly Southern were two of the demonstrators that were arrested on both Friday and Saturday.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but I had my friends and comrades with me,” Brewer said. Brewer has been with the occupation since its first day, and she said she is part of the movement because she morally objects with policing.
“It is based and was started in racism, and that is not cool. I am lucky enough where I don’t go to school right now, and I have nothing else to do, and I know what my future holds for me,” she said. “I am lucky I can get arrested for this cause twice in two days. I know that my family is proud of me, and my friends are here standing with me.”
“We are getting in ‘good trouble,’ and my family understands that this is something I believe in,” she added.
Southern said she was held longer than any other protesters with the same charges on July 25, and she alleged that she was targeted. “I think they saw me and Chloe out there, and they probably decided right then, one of you to make an example of you,” Southern said. “Which is exactly what happened, I got booked and was in there for five hours, I think. They wouldn’t tell me what was happening. My mistake, I forgot to write down anyone’s [from #OccupyWSNC] number. So, I didn’t have any contacts with anyone on the outside.”
Southern alleged that even though she made bail, they kept her inside for an additional hour without any explanation of why. She said she wasn’t scared or intimidated, though because she knew her “comrades were out there waiting for me—they are taking care of me,” she said, “I am doing this for a just cause, and I don’t regret it at all.”
Southern said that it felt good to be on “the right side of history.”
“To be able to say that what we are doing is [getting in] ‘good trouble,’ that feels really good and one of the things that make it really, really worth it.”
Santino Ortiz, a former Marine, was also arrested on July 25. He said as a veteran, he was disappointed with the WSPD.
“I think it is disappointing that they want to violate our First Amendment rights—I spent five years of my life defending the constitution and defending people’s rights to do this,” Ortiz said. “This is absolutely the most American thing you can do! So, it is just disappointing that our police want to supersede our constitutional rights.” Inside the detention center, he said most of the officers were cordial, except for one, who “kept talking about how ridiculous it was and how we were wasting their resources, preventing them from ‘fighting real crime.’ When that cop said that, I spoke up and said, ‘Excuse me, I spent five years in the Marine Corps, and I don’t think our First Amendment rights are ridiculous.’ One other cop spoke up and said, ‘I agree that you for your service.’”
Ortiz said this arrest isn’t stopping him.
He said he would keep raising his fist and marching. Another person arrested on July 25 was Richard Hughes, who said that the strategy of going to the Streatery to protest was to cause a “productive disruption” and spread awareness.
“We want people to know about the similar George Floyd case that we have right here in our own backyard,” Hughes said. “I will do this as many times as I need to until we get that justice.”
Hughes feels that an explanation is owed to the public when someone dies on the taxpayer’s dime.
“Something has to be said, you can’t just cover this up and expect anyone not to ask questions; you owe us at least something tangible—something that provides substantial answers, and that is what we want,” he said. “Just do the right thing. For Bobby Kimbrough to be a Black man knowing what we face with police brutality, out of all people, he should understand.”
John Bowhers, who was also arrested on Saturday, said he saw nothing but support at the Streatery from folks dining outside. He said it was necessary to march there and be in front of people “otherwise, it is really easy to fall complacent and go about your day and not remember there are people whose lives are in danger every day right in the same city as you are.” While he was being arrested, Bowhers was dressed in a suit and tie. “I just figured I should represent myself in the way that I feel professionally,” Bowhers said of his outfit. “And to make it clear that someone who wears a suit and tie to work is also passionate about this cause. I treat this occupation very much like a job. I think that one thing I really appreciate about this group is the professionalism that everyone has brought to the table. I think that makes an organization strong, and I wanted to reflect that.”
He has been at #OccupyWSNC since Day 1, and he feels that it is providing the right kind of visibility to sustain the movement.
“I am learning a lot about the idea of abolition, anti-racism, and admittedly, I am getting up to speed with all of that myself,” he said. “I think more people need to take more time to read something that might make them feel uncomfortable. Actually, put some serious thought into something that doesn’t align with their beliefs and see if they can consider the other side of the argument.”
Bowhers described the occupiers as “a group of kind and compassionate people who are really in this to see that the world could become more of a peaceful place.”
“I believe that this group of people is leading the thought process that we can help take care of each other without this potentially violent force that is supposed to be keeping us safe.”
Desiree Dedolce was also arrested that same night, and she said she noticed that her bond was double the amount it was for others the day before. She believes this was an intimidation tactic to try and financially deter protesters from continuing these acts of civil disobedience. She said she hopes the sheriff and D.A. would come to Bailey Park to talk so that “we won’t have to do this again tomorrow.”
“I think there are a lot of people who look at us in the streets blocking traffic and that what we are doing is wrong,” Dedolce said. “I heard a lot of people say I can get behind it if you are peaceful—well, we have been peaceful, and it has obviously not worked out. And it is a shame that we have to escalate it this much just to get attention, but that is what its come to, so we won’t give up until we get some answers.”
In response to the 25 arrests this past weekend, Mora said that arresting peaceful protesters, especially during a pandemic, is “not a wise thing to do.”
“Nothing should be punitive; everything in law enforcement should be for the protection of people. Arresting people, placing them in jail, poses a risk to them as doing quite the opposite.”
Mora also commented that the use of bail is “problematic” in itself, so is raising the bail on peaceful protesters arrested on charges of “impeding traffic,” “especially when there is clearly no risk to the community.”
“They shouldn’t be making it higher and less affordable for people, especially when they are not posing a threat to people, and they are just protesting and expressing their rights.”
Watching the arrests go down during the Streatery, one citizen said she was moved by one of the chants from the demonstration.
“It wasn’t a cliché chant,” said Capri Isles, a Winston-Salem resident of one year. “I felt the true pain from the protest, because ‘this is what democracy looks like’ says so much. This is what we stand for. This is what it looks like, yet we are not getting a fair chance—we are not getting the information that we need. That man was killed, and they tried to hide the information? I didn’t even know about it until during the protest! I was Googling and figuring out who they were talking about.”
Isles said it was sad to find out that John Neville’s death happened almost eight months ago, and that the public wasn’t notified when it happened.
“When I saw the protests, it moved me to know that there were people of all colors standing up for what is right,” she added. “I felt a pain in my heart to see people getting arrested like they were. I had to stop myself from really crying. It was sad seeing people get arrested for standing up for what is right.”
Isles said that she didn’t live in Forsyth County when Sheriff Kimbrough was elected into office. Isles said after learning about the death of John Neville, she would not be voting for Kimbrough.
Bailey Pittenger, a co-founder of TAP, said she continues to ask for transparency and accountability from the sheriff and D.A. When asked what she thought of the increase of detention center nurses, medical training for 50 detention officers on Aug. 1, the revised policy of duty to intervene that public information officer Christina Howell told YES! Weekly last week. Pittenger said she remains suspicious of policy changes that aren’t announced publicly.
“We are asking for transparency and accountability in terms of all of our questions being answered. So, making policy changes away from the public eye, and not fully explaining why they would do that, or how it will impact things or even getting more details of what medical training is like for 50 detention officers and special response team members,” Pittenger said. “This never should have happened in the first place. They should have always put priority over the health of John Neville and our other brothers, sisters, and siblings incarcerated there.”
Pittenger said she has been studying the sheriff’s use of force policy alongside the medical examiner’s report, and she noticed a couple of things that were peculiar to her.
“The use of force policy does say that IRB should have been in effect for any incarcerated members who have a serious bodily injury while in custody. I have not seen IRBs for any of the detention officers that have been involved,” she said. “The use of force policy also states that an IRB is done in addition to the SBI investigation, so I am just not seeing anything adding up still. I think going back to all those questions we very intentionally ask in terms of transparency and accountability need to be addressed, and our demands need to be addressed.”
In response to the 25 arrests this past weekend, Pittenger said that TAP and occupiers are following in the footsteps of the recently fallen freedom fighter, Rep. John Lewis. “That message, ‘good trouble’ means that we will, or we have been standing in the street as direct, nonviolent action,” she said. “It is a statement toward the five that was first arrested on July 8, who really should not have been. But that message doesn’t seem to be really getting across. Knowing that history and John Lewis is so important. He is also the one that said, ‘be on the right side of history,’ we have been using that phrase here for weeks now, and seeing him pass recently, is overwhelming.”
When asked if she was burned out from the occupation, Pittenger said not at all, in fact, she “feels an urge” to be present every day until demands are met, and questions are answered.
“I don’t have to buy groceries anymore because I just eat here, and the camaraderie is amazing,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like a drag ever. I want to be here with these people, and I want to keep pushing. I don’t see us stopping until our demands are met, and we are all on the same page.”
Pittenger said even though she has sent countless emails, she has still not heard anything from the D.A. or sheriff’s office. Pittenger said she is in touch with the ACLU of N.C. every day and that for now, Triad Abolition Project is only asking the ACLU of N.C. for amplification to attract more bodies to Bailey Park and more awareness of what is happening with #OccupyWSNC.
“I have personal hope that we will see policy change that involves this community, and that is not done secretly,” Pittenger said. “I think that the voices in this group will be absolutely heard.”
In regards to the significantly higher bonds set on Saturday than the day before for several protesters, Pittenger said she believes this to be an intimidation tactic.
“Forsyth County Bail Fund posted on social media that they almost spent $28,000 just this week, and that is ridiculous and that the bail system needs to go away entirely,” she said. “In terms of our specific bail bonds increasing and two of our demonstrators being held—they are definitely picking and choosing who they want to intimidate. Yet, when Molly was being held, we had the biggest show of people at the jail that night, still at Bailey Park dancing and waiting. They can intimidate, but it is really just really not doing anything but pushing us to continue the work that we need to do.”
YES! Weekly emailed Mayor Allen Joines asking if he was aware of the #OccupyWSNC demands surrounding the death of John Neville, as well as his response to the arrests on charges of “impeding traffic” this weekend, his response to those same arrests so far in July, and his response to what some demonstrators called “ironic” that protesters’ arrests happened next to the historical marker celebrating civil disobedience and North Carolina’s first sit-in victory.
Mayor Joines emailed back the following response:
“We support peaceful, lawful protests. The Police supported 35 demonstrations before announcing that they would be asking demonstrators to follow city and state ordinances. The Police are enforcing those ordinances. The issues and demands regarding Mr. Neville deal with the Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney and not the City of Winston Salem.”
Numerous attempts were made to contact D.A. Jim O’Neill, but YES! Weekly has not received an email or call back. YES! Weekly also emailed Howell to see if Sheriff Kimbrough had a response to the #OccupyWSNC movement. Howell wrote in an email that all questions regarding John Neville would need to be directed to the D.A.’s office.
“We have very simple demands, and we are not asking for much,” Brewer said when asked if she had anything to say to Sheriff Kimbrough, D.A. O’Neill, or Chief Thompson. “Very simple things like ban the hogtie because it kills people and notify your taxpayers when the death of an inmate happens at the hands of an officer.”
When asked the same questions, Dedolce said that the WSPD needs to start “practicing what they preach.”
“They made public statements saying they were on our side and would protect us, but once we turned the mirror around onto the jail here and the detention center and what happened there, they immediately decided that what we were doing was unlawful,” she said. “I would invite them to have a conversation with organizers our tax dollars are paying them, and they owe it to their community to come out and answer these questions that we have. The questions that we have are not only in regards to justice for John Neville or his family, but every single person in that detention center or will be in that detention center.”
Peña said that the sheriff and D.A. already know what they need to do.
“For anybody who thinks we are doing this willy-nilly, or that we don’t know what we are doing, who aren’t taking us seriously,” he said. “Just know that we are willingly sending our comrades and ourselves into a place where people are unjustly killed. This isn’t a game; we are not playing around; we are not joking. As much as we go in there with a plan, we go in there knowing that the man in the custody of the folks that work this building who handles us—we go in there knowing they killed him in December.”
On Day 13 of the #OccupyWSNC movement, John Neville’s children, Kris and Brienne, showed up to the occupation to pick up the painting of their father by artist Robert Talley AKA Bobby Danger. While they were there, they offered words of encouragement to the occupiers and thanked them for all their efforts and support.
“It is very humbling, and it fills my heart to know that so many people are working for the same cause,” Kris Neville said. “I was seeing all of this and people gathering together, and I never thought anybody—all of this is happening for my family? This is for my dad up there? It didn’t seem real at first. It also didn’t seem fair. I hate that people have to do this because of what happened. I really wish things could have been different. But it is definitely another catalyst for change for the future. It sucks, but it seems like gruesome shit has to happen for change to actually be made. It sucks for people to have to die for other people, especially locally, to wake up and realize they can’t ignore the issue anymore. As someone who has existed in white spaces for most of my life, I have been with people who have absolutely ignored the issues because they had the privilege to do so, and never had to live their lives fearing what was going to happen the next day. They can safely get in their car and drive somewhere, and not have a worry in the world. But I don’t have that same thing; I am always looking for cops—constantly checking my mirror. If anything happens, I never think of calling the cops. First, I always call my mother and friends—I am always praying that I never have to be in the situation or emergency because I don’t want to have to rely on a system that doesn’t really support me at its core. It is really great seeing everyone joined here today; I appreciate each and every one of you—even if I don’t know your names. It really means a lot, a lot more than you will ever know to both of us and the rest of my family.”
“I am not even an emotional person, but this is tearing me apart, and not in a bad way,” Brienne Neville said with tears in her eyes. “It is a level of appreciation that people don’t really understand because the truth is, we really have been alone in a way for seven months. We have been trying to cope with it; we have been trying to get our own answers, we have been trying to go about it in a way that would honor our dad, as opposed to acting crazy and dishonoring him, and just showing everything that we are trying to build up. As you know, it is not only you guys but the kids in Raleigh who slept in the freaking street all night to make sure that the bill did not get passed. The power of these things—don’t think that it is lost on us because we are not here with you guys every day. We watch, we just can’t be here in the way that we want to. But we appreciate that you are not only here but aren’t afraid to ask questions—that you care enough to make it about others and not yourselves. You are not here for the glory; you are not here just to make demands or just to go to jail so you can say you got arrested for fun...No one told you that you had to do that, each of you from your own hearts said, ‘something is wrong, and we are going to make a stand for it; for us and for the men and women in there—that is powerful. Don’t ever think that what you are doing—even if others don’t say thank you, we thank you. We just may not know how to say it. We have spent months trying to edge our own grief, so to speak, trying to get to the cusp. And all of a sudden, we were thrown back into it. We are not upset about that, per se, because without this, the changes would never happen, the possibility of change would never happen. But it has been an emotional roller coaster; it has been a whirlwind for all of us.”
“We hear people who say that racism doesn’t exist; slavery doesn’t exist, but slavery still does exist because we are slaves to the system; we are the same slaves—different master,” Brienne added. “Systemic racism is the new master—the way they don’t want you to speak out even if you are white, or Hispanic. They don’t want you to speak out because they want you to fall in line and follow an agenda that is not even for you. I applaud you for being brave enough to have your own thoughts and to speak out on your own thoughts. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are not doing the right thing, because if you believe in something firm enough getting yourselves arrested for it— that is powerful. Don’t ever stop.”
Campbell said the support of John Neville’s children is “more than enough fuel for the journey.”
“I know we’ll all hold tight to that as we continue pushing for transparency and accountability from our officials in this particular case.”