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“A Warrant Is Not a License to Kill”: Rev. William Barber Condemns Police “Execution” of Andrew Brown

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Hundreds of demonstrators have taken to the streets of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, to protest the police killing of Andrew Brown Jr., a 42-year-old Black father shot dead in his car on April 21. On Monday, authorities allowed Brown’s family and attorney to watch a 20-second video clip of the shooting. The family says it shows Brown was shot in the back of the head while his hands were on the steering wheel of a car, calling it an “execution.” Seven sheriff’s deputies have already been placed on paid administrative leave; two other deputies have resigned, and another retired over the past week. But supporters say authorities must provide greater accountability and release the full footage of the shooting. “They waited 120 hours to get 20 seconds,” says Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and president of Repairers of the Breach. “That is absolutely ridiculous.” Barber notes police killed Brown Jr. on the same day Virginia cops shot Isaiah Brown after he called 911, the day after Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd on the same day a Columbus police officer killed 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Hundreds of demonstrators have taken to the streets of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, for a fifth day to protest last week’s police killing of Andrew Brown, a 42-year-old Black father. On Monday, authorities allowed Brown’s family and attorneys to watch a 20-second video clip of the shooting. The family says it shows Andrew Brown was shot in the back of the head while his hands were on the steering wheel of his car. His son, Khalil Ferebee, described the shooting as an “execution.”

KHALIL FEREBEE: It’s like we’re against all odds in this world. My dad got executed just by trying to save his own life. You know, he was not in no — the officers was not in no harm of him at all. It’s just messed up how this happened, for real. For real. He got executed. It ain’t right. It ain’t right at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Chantel Cherry-Lassiter, an attorney for Andrew Brown’s family, described what she saw in the 20-second snippet.

CHANTEL CHERRY-LASSITER: Andrew Brown was in his driveway. The sheriff truck blocked him in his driveway so he could not exit his driveway. Andrew had his hands on his steering wheel. He was not reaching for anything. He wasn’t touching anything. He wasn’t throwing anything around. He had his hands firmly on the steering wheel. They run up to his vehicle shooting. He still stood there — sat there in his vehicle with his hands on the steering wheel while being shot at. Now, keep in mind, this is 20 seconds. I have three pages of notes for 20 seconds. We watched this over and over and over to make sure we were clear at what was being — going on and what was transpiring.

AMY GOODMAN: Attorney Ben Crump, who’s also representing Andrew Brown’s family, called on authorities to publicly release all bodycam footage.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: We want to say on the record from the onset: We do not feel that we got transparency. We only saw a snippet of the video, when we know that the video started before and after what they showed the family, and they determined what was pertinent. Why couldn’t the family see all the video? They only show one bodycam video, even though we know there were several bodycam videos, if they were following the law and the policy in this county that everybody has video cameras on their uniforms.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew Brown was shot dead April 21st while the County Sheriff’s Office was attempting to serve him an arrest warrant on drug charges. Officials in Elizabeth City have already declared a state of emergency ahead of the public release of the bodycam footage, warning it could result in a “period of civil unrest.” At least eight officers were at the scene of the shooting. Seven sheriff’s deputies have already been placed on paid administrative leave; two other deputies have resigned, and another retired over the past week. This is attorney Bakari Sellers, who’s also representing the Brown family.

BAKARI SELLERS: Only in this country can you have the trial of Derek Chauvin be interrupted by the death of Daunte Wright, be interrupted by the death of Adam Toledo, be interrupted by the death of Ma’Khia Bryant, and now we find ourselves here in Elizabeth City.

AMY GOODMAN: The Reverend William Barber was also there yesterday. On Saturday, Reverend Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign traveled to Elizabeth City to meet with the family of Andrew Brown.

REV. WILLIAM BARBER II: It happened to a man. It happened to a father of seven. It happened to a cousin, to a nephew. He is not a caricature. He is a man, a young, 42-year-old Black man. Say his name.

CROWD: Andrew Brown.

AMY GOODMAN: The Reverend William Barber joins us now, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, president of Repairers of the Breach.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Reverend. Let’s begin with yesterday. What a scene unfolded, as the family had been promised at 11:30 in the morning they’d be shown unedited video of what happened to Andrew Brown. It went on. They waited for hour after hour. And then they go inside, and they’re shown a 20-second snippet. Can you explain what took place — you were there outside — what they saw and what you’re demanding?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER II: Well, thank you so much, Amy.

And, you know, we have three powerful attorneys that are representing the family. Harry Daniels, who’s representing one of the mothers and five siblings — people ought to know there are five minor children and two grown children. And he’s also representing one of the aunts. And then you have attorney Ben Crump and Bakari Sellers representing the older children. And they’re all combined and working together.

Let me set a context, Amy. And that is, the sheriff and the DA — we need to start saying the DA, because the county lawyer is not the DA. The sheriff and the DA could have gotten all of this done within an hour or so. The law simply says a judge has to do it. And all it would have needed was the sheriff and the DA, or the DA alone could have gone to the judge and said this needs to be released. And we’re in the context of when something happened like this in Columbus, it was released — Columbus, Ohio, was released almost immediately. And the same thing could happen in North Carolina, just would have been one extra step.

When we went there, this young man, 42 years old — and by the way, never have — no gun was found. No drugs were found. And this boy has no history of any kind of violence or violence on his record.

They had been promised — we had been promised to see the tape. I was there. They didn’t even let all the family in. They didn’t let some of the aunts in. They literally closed the door and wouldn’t let them in.

And yesterday represented 120 hours — 120 hours —  since this murder. And, in fact, I want to mention to you that this is the second one on the East Coast since and during the Chauvin trial. There’s another one called Donovan Lynch in Virginia Beach, who was also shot. And in his instance, there were no body cameras. They cut the cameras off. So, now we have Andrew Brown. They waited 120 hours to get 20 seconds. A hundred and twenty hours to get 20 seconds. That is absolutely ridiculous.

We also learned on Saturday, because one of the local reporters asked us in our press — in the press conference: What did we think about them using a SWAT-like team to go get this one person that they allegedly had a warrant for? And, you know, a warrant is not a license to kill. A warrant doesn’t mean you get executed on the spot. A warrant doesn’t mean you’re guilty. And there’s no — the Supreme Court has said if you flee, it is not illegal, that people don’t have a right to shoot you in the back. And we know from the audio reports he was shot in the back.

AMY GOODMAN: The back of the head.

REV. WILLIAM BARBER II: In the back of the head, that’s right. And we don’t know how many shots. You know, today there’s going to be an independent autopsy that will be actually released. But 20 seconds after 120 hours, that is absolutely unacceptable. And they were promised that they would be able to see it.

Now, one last thing. They said they needed to redact the film. Now, this is the people that’s supposed to be doing the investigation. You know, in national security matters, you redact. But the national security here is, they haven’t shown the tapes. And the family wasn’t even asking that they see — that they see, the whole public; they were saying, “Can we and our lawyers see this?” And they said, “No, we have to redact the tape. We’ve got to do certain things with the tape.” And this is problematic.

The last thing you should know is the DA there could have asked the state attorney general to come take this over, because they bungled it and fumbled it. He could easily say, “I want the state attorney general.” And you have to know, in North Carolina, the state attorney general can’t just take it over. The law says the local DA must ask.

And today we’re meeting with pastors, the North Carolina NAACP, Repairers of the Breach, the AME Zion Church, the North Carolina Council of Churches. We’re meeting with some of the lawyers. And afterwards, we are going to announce and declare a moral emergency and a justice emergency. There is no real emergency in the city. There has been no violence. It’s all been peaceful and everything. So the real emergency here is a moral emergency and a judicial emergency.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Reverend Barber, I wanted to ask you — you mentioned that the autopsy results will be available soon. But this issue of the number of shots fired, the police know that — they knew that immediately. They could have at least said this number of shells were spent by all of the officers on the scene. It seems to me, especially given the fact that we’re hearing that two officers have already resigned and one retired, that that clearly is a signal, when some police are leaving immediately, before even any investigation is through, that this is a horrendous shooting. Your thoughts about this whole issue of not even giving information on the number of bullets fired? And also, is there a role for the governor here to step in, in some way or other, on this case?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER II: Yeah. The governor has already said that the tapes should be released, and so has the state attorney general. The tapes should be released. You know, North Carolina does not make its bodycam automatic public record. Now, that bill is sitting in the General Assembly right now, and the Republican Legislature has blocked it. And even some of the police associations have fought against it. But it could be passed in 20 seconds right now, if they wanted to do that.

But you’re exactly right in terms of things that could have been done immediately. We could have known exactly how many officers went and why that many officers went. We could know what kind of team went. Was this just sheriffs? Was this some kind of SWAT team? We could know what kind of weapons they used. Was it pistols? Was it assault rifles? And we should be able to know exactly how many shots were fired. All of those things could have been done almost immediately, or at least within the first day. And none of that has taken place.

You know, this is one of the reasons why we have to challenge this issue. I was looking at a report from NewsOne, that was done last year, I believe, and it showed how there were these eight white killers, some of them mass murderers, like Dylann Roof, who was arrested and, some say, even got a hamburger. But all of these persons were white. They were arrested. Some of them resisted arrest. They killed people. All were arrested. None of them ended up dead.

But too often we hear about Black men being shot in the back or Black women being shot in their beds by these police. And what we say is — and it doesn’t matter even if some of the cops were Black. That doesn’t matter. The fact of the matter is, a gun and a badge and the ability to take a piece of paper and extract your loved one from your home, or wherever they are, is too much power for a bigot and for a trigger-happy officer that kills — that can literally kill people in my name, because they get their power from the state.

That’s also why, Amy and Juan, we need federal laws. You know, what we really need is, when and if police murder or execute someone, and we know that, we need accountability. We need arrests. We need prosecution without immunity. We need the appropriate prison time. And some of us are beginning to say we need payment. And it doesn’t all need to come from an insurance company that’s paid for by the taxpayers. It needs to come out of these people’s pensions and from these police departments. And then we need pattern and practices investigations.

You know, this is eastern North Carolina. There is a long history of this. My father — I was raised here in this area. And I’m about — just a few miles from where I live is Elizabeth City. It’s the home of Elizabeth City State University. It’s the Black Belt of North Carolina. It’s where slave patrols used to chase down Black people heavily, because this is where most of the slavery was in North Carolina. I can remember, in the 1970s, my father was fighting against police in the eastern North Carolina and a sheriff in another county, who almost made it a habit to shoot somebody every so often who was African American. So, there is a lot of undercover things that are going on here. This is the same eastern North Carolina where, in the last few years, we helped two — what was it? — one, two, three African American men who were put in jail for murder, only to be found that they were not guilty, and released after 20 and 22 years in jail, and even a young man over in Wilson, which is in eastern North Carolina, that was put in jail and was threatened with life imprisonment, only to find out he didn’t do the killing.

So, this is eastern North Carolina. This is the South. And that’s why we must pay a lot of attention to this and understand what’s going on here, because this case is about Andrew Brown, it’s about the South, and it could break open some things in the South, because some of the most horrendous laws, the most restrictive laws, when it comes to policing, some of the most egregious things that have happened down through the years have happened in these Southern, small, rural counties across America.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’m wondering, Reverend Barber, in the wake of the guilty verdict for Derek Chauvin and after now nearly a year of massive protests all around the country in terms of Black Lives Matter, your sense of — these killings continue to happen as if these police departments are not heeding or listening to the massive outcry in the — not only in the African American community, but among people of color and people of goodwill everywhere. Your thoughts about what’s happening right now in terms of law enforcement in the country?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER II: Well, it makes everybody unsafe. I mean, you look at these marches even in eastern North Carolina. They’re mixed, Black and white and Brown and Native and Asian, gay and straight, young and old. I mean, that’s one of the things people understand, that rogue cops or a systemic problem within policing makes us all unsafe. When you don’t have any transparency and trust, we are all in tremendous danger. It is a violation not only of humanity; it is a violation of fundamental constitutional rights, and it is very dangerous.

As I said, I’m a nonviolent person. I practice nonviolence. But the only person I know that can come to my door with a piece of paper and take my wife and my children out, or someone I love, and just take them, and I don’t resist and don’t say, “No, you can’t have them,” is an officer of the law. That’s the only person that I’ll say to my loved ones, “I’ll see you downtown.” That is too much power. And we’ve got to get — that’s why we have to have these federal laws. We can’t have one standard in one county with one DA and one sheriff and then another standard in another county and then another standard in another county.

And I will tell you what people are saying. You know, even my sons, they said, “Daddy, it almost looks like and feels like Chauvin gets arrested and gets prosecuted, and there is an increase, you know, like, ’We’re going to get them now.’” Now, that can’t be proven, but people feel like that. They say, “What is going on?” The more these officers get exposed, it seems like they’re getting more reckless. I watched the tape —

AMY GOODMAN: And, Reverend Barber, just making that point, you have Chauvin verdict comes down last Tuesday; on Wednesday, two men are shot. I mean, for people who are confused, you have [Andrew] Brown in North Carolina. He is shot dead by sheriff’s deputies.


AMY GOODMAN: On the same day, in Virginia, a Black man was hospitalized after he was shot by a sheriff’s deputy who responded to a 911 call. Less than an hour earlier, the same sheriff’s deputy drove that same man, Isaiah Brown — not [Andrew] Brown, Isaiah Brown — home after Brown’s car broke down.


AMY GOODMAN: Isaiah Brown was unarmed, was holding a cordless phone in his hand, when the officer fired seven shots at him. Brown’s family said he was on the line with the police, with 911, when he was shot. Can you comment on this, and then, finally, this demand for the George Floyd Police Accountability Act?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER II: Yeah. Yeah, well, you’re exactly right, and shot seven times. I want folks to hear the multiplicity of bullets. We’re not talking about — you know, one time is enough, but shot seven times. And we said we don’t know how many shots — they said the car was riddled with bullets with Andrew Brown.

And then, don’t forget, in the midst of the Chauvin trial, you’ve got Donovan Lynch who was shot in Virginia Beach and killed. And that case is being dealt with. And then we’ve had two teenagers that were killed — all of this during and after the trial. I mean, this is the pandemic of injustice and the pandemic of police brutality and violence. And it must be held accountable. I mean, a police person must be held accountable, murder.

And let us not forget, in the South, when Walter Scott was shot in the back, it took federal prosecution to get that particular officer, Michael Slager, I believe. It took federal prosecution. The state didn’t even prosecute him. It took federal. And then, let us not forget what it took to get Chauvin. It took millions of people marching. It took a nine-minute video by a young girl. It took the attorney general. It took calling a prosecutor out of retirement. It took police turning on themselves. People who thought the Chauvin trial represented some fundamental shift are actually mistaken. That is one case. But that has not dealt with the systematic issues that we’re addressing.

And, Amy, we must have this bill. Many of us are looking at it to see if it needs to be even stronger, because, I’m going to tell you, one of the things that a lot of these people count on is to continue the immunity, but also they know that if they kill someone and they’re tried in the state and they get acquitted in the state, they can’t be tried again. And you know from the civil rights movement, oftentimes the Klan did things because they knew they weren’t going to get found guilty at the local level, and if they got charged at the federal level, they only faced five years. We must make sure that these federal laws are of such that it’s automatic that there’s going to be prosecution and there will be a penalty that meets what a penalty for murder ought to be, and there’s not going to be any immunity, and there will be arrest. And we’re going to have to have laws that say there will be independent prosecution, not these local prosecutors that are tied in with the police departments and those things. That’s what has to happen.

And I like what Garland is doing, the new attorney general. And it’s going to have to happen not only in Louisville, not only in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but it’s going to have to happen in places like Elizabeth City in Pasquotank County and in the South. This is serious business. It is systemic. I don’t care even if Lindsey Graham says racism is not systemic. It’s systemic in voting. It’s systemic in healthcare. It’s systemic in economics. And it’s certainly systemic when it comes to police violence against people of color.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you, Reverend Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, president of Repairers of the Breach, longtime North Carolina reverend, as he continues to deal with what’s happening in Elizabeth City, in Virginia, in Columbus, Ohio. And a correction: I said Anthony Brown; I meant Andrew Brown, the man who was killed in North Carolina. Ma’Khia Bryant, the 16-year-old, was killed in Columbus, Ohio, the teenager who was 16 years old, one year younger than the video — than the young woman who filmed the murder of George Floyd. Ma’Khia Bryant was killed by police on the day that the Chauvin verdict came down. Then, the next day, Andrew Brown was killed, Isaiah Brown was shot by police.

REV. WILLIAM BARBER II: And Donovan Lynch. Don’t forget Donovan Lynch. We need to know about that case, because in this fight, Amy, we can’t just be bothered when a white cop kills a Black person. Even if it’s a Black person who shoots an unarmed Black person — and in Donovan Lynch’s case, it was a Black and a white officer — it does not matter. Police don’t care what your color is. I don’t care if you shoot somebody white, Black, Brown, Native. If it’s a bad shoot, it’s a murder or an execution, they must be prosecuted. So, call Donovan Lynch. Call Andrew Brown. Call Ma’Khia, little Adam Toledo up in Chicago. This is just too much. And we must unite. We must fight this. And we’ve got to [inaudible] laws and standards. They got 20 seconds after 120 hours. A hundred and twenty hours, they only got a chance to see 20 seconds.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Reverend William Barber, thank you so much for being with us. And be safe.

Next up, we’re heading to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to look at a shocking report about how two Ivy League schools — University of Pennsylvania and Princeton — have been using the bones of a child killed in the 1985 MOVE bombing, when the city bombed the house of the radical Black group MOVE, killing 11 people, including five kids. How is it possible these bones have been used for decades? We’ll get response from Mike Africa Jr., a second-generation-born MOVE member. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “La Cigarra” by Afro Yaqui Music Collective, a tribute to political prisoners around the world.

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Ivy League Secret Exposed: Classes Used Bones of Black Children Killed in 1985 MOVE Police Bombing

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