I am here today to talk about the call being sounded right now across our state and country to stamp out the persistent and ugly flames of racism.
The unjust killing of George Floyd, less than a week ago, combined with many other recent and distant events broke open painful wounds. These scars mark generations of trauma that Black people and other communities of color continue to suffer. Trauma that has too often gone unrecognized in our country.
We’ve had moments of heightened awareness, some right here in our own state. But they have faded from the headlines too fast. We have made some progress, but when you see George Floyd on the ground begging for air, you realize we have so much more work to do.
For people of color, these are not just cable news headlines, though. They are life and death warnings. They are stark instructions from parents to children about how to stay safe in their own communities, and how to stay safe during encounters with law enforcement. They are heartbreaking memorials for people who should not be dead.
George Floyd should be alive. Along with many others. All of us should have done more to protect them.
In a number of cities across our state over the past two days, protestors gathered to seek justice for them, and for themselves and their children. To call for changes to the systemic problems that have allowed racism to endure. Many brought their children with them to show the importance of calling for action.
Unfortunately, today the headlines are not about those protestors and their calls for serious, meaningful change. They are more about riots, and tear gas, and broken windows, and stolen property. That’s wrong and must be stopped. But I fear the cry of the people is being drowned out by the noise of riots.
Let me be clear. People are more important than property. Black Lives do Matter.
Throughout this weekend I have been briefed by Emergency Management and Public Safety officials. State resources have been provided to support the response.
Across the state, we saw a pattern in some of our cities. Protests and demonstrations held earlier in the day remained focused, powerful and nonviolent. As night set in, a different crowd shifted to a more aggressive, more disruptive display.
Storefront windows and government buildings were damaged. Retail stores were looted. Small businesses already struggling under CVOID-19 were damaged. And I communicated with some of them today. Fires burned. A civil rights museum — the site of the 1960 Woolworth’s sit in — was damaged. And for a short time, a major highway was shut down.
Violence and destruction is unacceptable. In many ways, those actions undermine peaceful pleas for justice. I am thankful for those who passionately demonstrated and for the EMS workers, law enforcement officers and municipal officials who provided a space for voices to be heard. It was an exhausting and sometimes fearful night. We are fortunate, however, that none of these incidents resulted in death or critical injury. I’m thankful for all who worked to keep the peace.
I have spoken with the mayors of Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro and Fayetteville. Their requests for state support in the form of state highway patrol, SBI and National Guard are being fulfilled.
I have urged these mayors to work closely with their police departments to prioritize de-escalating tensions. And I have encouraged them to meet with the protest organizers in their cities to continue the dialogues they’re having and open dialogues with others. They have tough jobs and we want to help.
We must stop the destruction, but I want to remind everyone of something vitally important. We cannot focus so much on the property damage that we forget why people are in the streets.
Racism. Excessive use of force. Health disparities. Poverty. White supremacy. These are wrong. They are ugly, but they are present. We must deal with them.
George Floyd’s sister, Bridgette, lives in Hoke County, North Carolina. I spoke to her yesterday by phone. While I cannot bring her brother back, I can work for justice in his name. I assured her that’s what we would do.
This is a painful moment for our country and our state.
We have to constructively channel our anger, frustration and sadness to force accountability and action. If we don’t, then we haven’t learned anything. We have to have these conversations, and then move beyond them to do the work of ending racism and building safe, thriving communities for everyone.