The “Hoke County Peacekeepers,” a new grassroots organization created after the death of George Floyd, marched through downtown Raeford Friday afternoon, and rallied at the Hoke Library.
Speakers including organizer Le’tour Ardel, Hoke Sheriff Hubert Peterkin, Police Chief Marc Godwin, Commissioners Harry Southerland, Allen Thomas and James Leach, and Hoke native Terrell Stephens chanted and urged the crowd to continue to peacefully protest injustices to black people. Prayers, the Black National Anthem and personal stories all kept a crowd of hundreds on their feet adjacent to the Hoke Library.
The organizers honored George Floyd and other black Americans who died at the hands of law enforcement by reading statements written from their point of view. Tamir Rice, shot dead in Ohio at the age of 12, and Breonna Taylor, who would have turned 27 Friday, were among those memorialized at the protest.
Many of the speakers, including Hoke elected officials, shared their thoughts and personal experiences with the protesters.
It’s not just about one police officer, but about changing the law enforcement system itself, Hoke County Commissioner Allen Thomas said in remarks.
“I have an issue with the fact that when that man put his knee on George Floyd’s neck and held it there for nine minutes, never in his mind did he think he would get in trouble for what he was doing. I say that because we’re making a mistake by the world pointing a finger at him as an officer,” Thomas said. “We need to point a finger at the system that has allowed people to think they can do whatever they want to do to us and get away with it. Because if you only point a finger at him, and he goes to prison, then you allow the system to continue. That won’t protect you or I, it won’t protect my 10-year-old son who asked me yesterday, dad, are police good or bad?”
The commissioner praised the protest organizers for their work.
“You all showed the world what we can do. And when we change, when we change this system, it’s going to be because of you all, and we’re going to be able to tell our grandchildren what we did to change this world so they can live in a safer place. God bless you,” Thomas said.
Terrell Stephens, who grew up in Raeford, addressed the crowd about his experiences protesting police brutality across America.
“I know what the ugly side of police brutality looks like, because I’ve lived it. But 57 years ago, Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and he told that America is bankrupt, because they had written a check that’s come back insufficient. This wasn’t a check from Wells Fargo, PNC or Bank of America, this was a check from the bank of freedom, written in the blood of our ancestors, and signed by the promise of America, that this country would treat black people the way we deserve to be treated,” Stephens said. “We built this country for free. I’m going to say that again. We built this country for free. And we expect the human decency to be treated like humans when we interact with the police.”
In his remarks to protesters, Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin led the crowd in one of the chants of the day, “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”
As a father, Peterkin said he has had tough conversations with his son about racial profiling and police violence.
The movement of young people today fighting for their rights is “taking it to a whole another level,” the sheriff said.
“We’re living the dream of what King did. But this new group is taking it to a whole another level,” he said. “When I talked to him (Ardel) and he talked to the chief, and he told us it was going to be peaceful, look at how beautiful this is. Unbelievable.”
The sheriff touched on the situation in Cumberland County, which has seen looting and property damage as well as peaceful protesting. Peterkin praised Raeford and Hoke County, and the Hoke County Peacekeepers for speaking out peacefully.
“I was telling the chief coming down the road, right across the (county) line they’re burning, tearing down their businesses and tearing up things that it took them years to build, but look at Hoke County. Look at Raeford.” Peterkin said. “Hoke County, let me tell you something. Young people, we hear you. We hear you. Thank you for not taking advantage of doing something totally different. You’re going to get it done. We’re with you. Trust me, we are with you. And listen, don’t let this be the end of something…this is about peace.”
Ardel spoke about why he created the Hoke County Peacekeepers group, which grew tremendously in just four days.
“This is only the start of a new beginning. I want everybody to know because I’ve been seeing some nasty comments, people asking why do we need Peacekeepers, why do we need that, we’ve got local law enforcement,” Ardel said. “Well, see a lot of people aren’t comfortable talking with these guys. Not saying they’re bad people, they’re just not comfortable because of what’s been going on. So what I’m trying to do with the Hoke County Peacekeepers, I’m trying to shorten that gap. I’m trying to bring us, the community, closer to these officials and law enforcement.”
The rally concluded after about an hour, with attendees marching back up Main Street.
Watch video clips from the protest:
Terrell Stephens, who grew up in Raeford, addressed protesters about racism and police brutality. Click to listen to the audio, his remarks are transcribed here:
“I want to share with you all some very painful truths. I know what police brutality looks like. I’ve been a part of every major uprising for the last ten years. I marched in Ferguson when Michael Brown was killed. I was tear-gassed, shot with rubber bullets. I marched here in Durham, marched in Baltimore with Freddie Gray, New York with Eric Gardner, Baton Rouge with Alton Sterling. I know what the ugly side of police brutality looks like.
Earlier this week I was in Minnesota organizing. The white supremacists surrounded us and shot at us, all because we were trying to protect the north side of Minneapolis and that community.”
“I know what the ugly side of police brutality looks like, because I’ve lived it. But 57 years ago, Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and he told that America is bankrupt, because they had written a check that’s come back insufficient. This wasn’t a check from Wells Fargo, PNC or Bank of America, this was a check from the bank of freedom, written in the blood of our ancestors, and signed by the promise of America, that this country would treat black people the way we deserve to be treated. We built this country for free. I’m going to say that again. We built this country for free. And we expect the human decency to be treated like humans when we interact with the police.”
“Now I want to share with you, that many of us have spent our entire lives fighting to make the police and the individuals in this country see our humanity, treat us with respect, and we’re tired. We’re tired of marching. We’re tired of putting names on t-shirts. We’re tired of saying RIP. We’re tired of hashtags. We’re saying today, tomorrow, and every day there after, no more hashtags. No more names on t-shirts. This is our moment. We didn’t choose this moment. It chose us. What we decide to do with it with reverberate into the histories of America. We have the opportunity to change the way police works in this country. We can reimagine what it means to be black. We can say to individuals that every time a black woman sees her brother, her father, her husband, her son leave the house, they don’t have to pray for their safety, that they will come back safe.”
“Every time a black man gets in his car and drives, he doesn’t have to look in his rearview mirror, afraid because of the police behind him even if his tags are good, his insurance is good, I still am afraid. I want you all to know something. We’ve been fighting for a long time, but we’re just getting started. So I want you all to know this, that there’s nothing we can’t do if we stand together.”
“People may ask why are you protesting like this? Why are buildings being burned? I’m going to tell you in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King. ‘I cannot condemn a riot without condemning first the situation that created a riot.’ Black people have been brutalized and killed by police for as long as we’ve been alive, and I want you all to know this. We’re going to fight, because Dr. King also said that ‘freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.’ So we are demanding our freedom. We are demanding to not be killed by police. I want you all to know one thing, I’m going to baptize you, because I’ve been protesting all over this country, and there’s something that we say when we protest, and I want you to say it with me. It’s in the words of Assata Shakur, who is a phenomenal revolutionary and a strong black woman.
“Assata says this, ‘It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.’”
Click to listen to the audio of Hoke County Commissioner Allen Thomas addressing the crowd, his remarks are transcribed here:
“Good afternoon. I am Hoke County Commissioner Allen Thomas, and I came just to share a few words. I have an issue with the fact that when that man put his knee on George Floyd’s neck and held it there for nine minutes, never in his mind did he think he would get in trouble for what he was doing. I say that because we’re making a mistake by the world pointing a finger at him as an officer. We need to point a finger at the system that has allowed people to think they can do whatever they want to do to us and get away with it. Because if you only point a finger at him, and he goes to prison, then you allow the system to continue.”
“That won’t protect you or I, it won’t protect my 10-year-old son who asked me yesterday, dad, are police good or bad? I didn’t want to have the discussion with him that early. I wanted maybe 12 or 13, but I had to teach him. I had to teach him about our history. I had to teach him to do things that many of our white brothers and sisters never have to teach their children. I teach from my personal experiences. I have privilege in this county, but as soon as cross the county line, my privilege ends. I know that because in 2014, I should have filed a complaint on Deputy Clark, when he threatened to beat my ass when I was simply trying to go to my seat at Fayetteville State University. When he put his finger so deep in my chest, I was afraid for my life. I should have filed a complaint, but the reason I didn’t, the same way a lot of women here can understand, women who were victims of sexual assault, if you think filing a complaint is a waste of time, sometimes it’s better to just shut up. But I’m telling you now, what we just saw, it’s time for us to speak up like never before.”
“And I’m going to Cumberland County next week, and I’m going to file that complaint on Deputy Clark. Because folks, let met tell you something. The same way when we do something they go back and check all of our tickets whenever we’ve been arrested, the same way when a law enforcement officer does something wrong, they also check their records. If someone has treated you wrong, and they do something wrong to someone else, make sure their personnel record has your complaint in it.”