Above the Law? Review of Police Killing of Andrew Brown Jr. Demanded After DA Calls It Justified

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We speak with Reverend William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and former head of the North Carolina NAACP, who is in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, to call for an expedited independent investigation into the police killing of Andrew Brown Jr., the 42-year-old Black father who was killed there last month by a bullet in the back of his head after seven deputies blocked him in his driveway while serving an arrest warrant. On Tuesday, the Pasquotank County district attorney announced a state investigation had found the officers who shot Brown were justified and will not face criminal charges. Barber says the district attorney “represented a kind Southern arrogance that we’ve seen in Southern judicial systems, where these Southern DAs and officers think they’re above the law.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we spend the rest of the hour with the Reverend Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, president of Repairers of the Breach. He’s right now in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, after new developments in the police killing of Andrew Brown Jr., the 42-year-old Black father shot dead in his car there last month. Brown was unarmed when he was killed by a bullet to the back of his head, after seven deputies blocked him in his driveway while serving an arrest warrant.

On Tuesday, the Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble announced a state investigation found the officers were justified and will not face criminal charges. Andrew Brown Jr.'s family and their attorneys say video from the officer's body cameras and dashboard cameras show his hands were on the steering wheel of his car before he was killed. They’ve requested the full release of the videos.

Tuesday’s decision prompted protests in Elizabeth City. And on Wednesday, two reporters with the Staunton News Leader, Ayano Nagaishi and Alison Cutler, were arrested as they filmed a protester who was being arrested from across the street.

AYANO NAGAISHI: Police officers are walking toward the protesters, not just one now. I don’t know, Jesse. There are — second one. A second person has been arrested. A third person has been arrested over there.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as African American Elizabeth City Councilmember Gabriel Adkins has said police targeted him after he joined protesters in calling for more transparency in the case. Adkins says surveillance video at the funeral home he owns shows a police officer in uniform urinating on his property twice last week. Meanwhile, the FBI is conducting a federal civil rights investigation into Brown’s killing.

The Reverend Dr. William Barber is with us now. He spoke at Andrew Brown Jr.’s funeral in Elizabeth City and is there in Elizabeth City right now to prepare to launch new demands in the case.

Reverend Barber, thanks for joining us again. Can you lay out what you are demanding and who you are representing there?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER II: Thank you so much. And let me just say thank you for what you just did on Israel and Palestine, the ceasefire, and just say, as a nation and as a world, now we must work unceasingly to bring liberation and justice to the Middle East and to the Palestinian people.

This 42-year-old man was shot in the back of the head, this tactical unit. The first question, Amy, is: Why all of this weaponry? Why in a residential area, in a school zone? Why killing? And why didn’t even the city police know this was going on? There are a lot of questions here.

And the DA this week proved himself inept, incapable and incompetent to handle this. He made those decisions, not even the FBI. He made those decisions. And he said a number of things that are wrong — why we are calling today for an expedited, not just an FBI investigation, but we need a pattern and practice review here in Pasquotank County and in all seven counties that this DA is over. We need it of the sheriff’s department and the DA’s Office, because what Womble said was two things.

One, he said, “We couldn’t let him go,” as though he was suggesting the warrant was “dead or alive.” That is not the American way. That’s not the way our judicial system is worked. It’s not what the Tennessee v. Garner Supreme Court said. It said that when a person is fleeing, it does not give license to the police to take life. In fact, it is not even illegal for them to flee. They can catch them later, rather than shoot them down and risk other lives, as well.

Secondly, Womble said in his statement that there was no recourse for the people of Pasquotank County as to what he did, unless they meet him at the ballot box. Well, that’s not true. We can have federal review. That’s what the federal government is about. That’s what the U.S. Justice Department is about. He represented a kind of Southern arrogance that we’ve seen in the Southern judicial systems, where these Southern DAs and officers think they’re above the law. We must have immediate pattern and practice review. We’ve called for the resignation — I mean, a special prosecutor in this case.

The truth of the matter is, Amy, when there is a police killing, the local DA shouldn’t be able to prosecute it anyway. It should be a special prosecutor in every case, that’s not connected to the local police system.

But there is something going on here that’s sinister. We haven’t gotten all the way to the bottom of it. But there are a whole lot of questions. And there’s a father dead. And now they’re trying to kill his character and say he was involved in drugs. And he was. I mean, people know that. But that’s not a license to kill people. We know of instances where white men have committed murder, mass murder, and they still got arrested, like Dylann Roof got arrested right here in North Carolina. So, a warrant is not a license to kill. This DA is inept, incompetent and incapable of handling this. And we must have federal review, federal investigations fully of the department.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, just to be clear, looking at the George Floyd case, it was protesters who ultimately got the case taken out of the hands — right? — of the local DA and given to the attorney general and a special prosecutor, the Attorney General of Minnesota Keith Ellison. And we have a similar case here, but it wasn’t taken out of the local DA, who is notoriously close to the local sheriff’s department. I think their offices are together.

REV. WILLIAM BARBER II: Exactly, their offices are together. He is a former Democrat who’s running — he’s a Republican now, who’s running for the seat — he’s trying to run for the current seat of the judge, African American judge, who’s retiring. And watch this. You didn’t know this, Amy. The day he did that press conference was at the same time that the governor of the state had sworn in a Black woman to take the unexpired term of the retiring African American judge. So he had his press conference about Andrew [Brown] at that time.

Now, in North Carolina, the local DA has to ask the state to take it over. We are pushing for a bill that says, no, it should automatically be taken over. But while that’s happening — that’s going to be a long time off — the federal government has to come in and do a pattern and practice. And today we are calling for an expedited — we’re releasing a formal letter publicly, and we’re going to get signatures from people in the community. Normally, you know, you just send a letter, like the NAACP would send a letter, or an organization. But this time we’re going to actually turn the letter into a petition and have young people in the street and other people to sign on, to say to U.S. Attorney General Garland, “This is emergency right now. We need it to happen right now. Just like what’s going on in Minneapolis and in Kentucky, we need pattern and practices review right now in Pasquotank County and Elizabeth City.”

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Barber, explain the video footage and why it has not been released. First it was 20 seconds that only the family could see, and then it was 20 minutes that only the family could see. But there is far more of it. What are the laws around this? And will this be released? And is there a chance that there will be a federal investigation into this?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER II: Well, you know, the law here in North Carolina is the DA could have asked for it to be released in 20 seconds. It could have been released that day. We are sure that if it showed without a matter of a doubt that the police acted properly, it would have been done. They gave a snippet of 20 seconds, then a snippet of 20 minutes. It’s over two hours. The judge in the case ruled that only the family — one family member and lawyers who were barred in North Carolina could see it, not the public.

Now, this judge, interestingly, that did this, when the DA went before him, he acted as though he was the defense lawyer for the sheriff’s department and the deputies rather than the lawyer for the people. And you should also know that the judge that was — that this went before, some people have seen a Facebook post where he was lauding Rush Limbaugh. But all of a sudden his Facebook space, all of that, went down, and it’s no longer up.

I mean, this is septic, what we see going on here. But it’s what happens in the South and places like eastern North Carolina — why what you’re doing and other media are doing and the protesters are doing and the preachers are doing is to keep the light on this. The only thing that’s going to deal with this issue is to keep the light on this matter until we clearly know what actually went on here. Why did this man have to die? What’s really going on? What’s really going on? What’s really going on in the midst of so-called drug culture? Why did these police have to kill him? Why couldn’t they let him go? Why are these tapes being held? The governor can’t make them release them. The state attorney general can’t make them release them. It’s only the courts. And I think the lawyers are going back. They’re even appealing the decision to get those tapes fully released.

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