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Series of peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters take to Winston-Salem from morning to night

Series of peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters take to Winston-Salem from morning to night

As protests, some of them violent, roil America's largest cities in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, Saturday afternoon’s Black Lives Matter protests in Winston-Salem were peaceful but scattered.

The demonstrations in Winston-Salem were just some of several across the state’s largest cities, as protests were held in Raleigh, Fayetteville, Durham, Charlotte and Greensboro.

The first group of protesters showed up at the intersection of New Walkertown Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive sometime around 10 a.m. Saturday morning. The group, about six in total, carried signs and chanted “no justice, no peace,” while cars drove by.

One protester, who asked to be only identified by her first name, Ladybug, described the anger she felt as a black person and mother in America, and the lack of trust people in her shoes have in law enforcement.

“If it doesn’t stop,” Ladybug said, “the rioting will only get worse. We’re doing a peaceful rally, but not everyone is.”

Ladybug, and people of color across the United States, are tired of seeing black and brown people die at the hands of police officers, tired of systemic racism and tired of the general public’s apathy to their problems, she said. 

Black Lives Matter is an international activist movement, originating in the African-American community, that campaigns against violence and systemic racism toward black people.

Throughout the afternoon, the protests at New Walkertown and Martin Luther King grew in size, with more than 50 people at its peak during mid-afternoon. Frankie Gist, a protest organizer and member of the activist group HOPE Dealers, said the demonstration Saturday was not just about George Floyd.

“It’s about bringing awareness to the four homicides we’ve had in the city this week,” Gist said.

While a flyer for the event posted to Gist’s Facebook page called Saturday’s protest “Increase Da Peace: Black on Black Crimes Stop the Violence,” the protesters still focused their attention toward police brutality and Floyd’s death.

“I’m pissed,” Gist said. “I’m real angry. I have a 3-year-old son who could’ve been without his father. This could’ve happened to me.”

Barbershop protest

Across town, around 1 p.m., a group of protesters gathered outside of a downtown Winston-Salem barbershop Saturday afternoon after a post circulated online Friday night showing a racist comment apparently posted from Michael Berrier's Facebook account. 

Berrier owns the barbershop, Old Winston Barber & Style Co. near the corner of Sixth and Trade streets. It was closed Saturday, with one of the windows boarded up and the others covered so no one could see in.  The comment was posted on a video of protesters sparring with police in another city.

"Throw some bananas down the street and they'll run towards them ... they like bananas," the comment read.

Screenshots of the comment, as well as that of Berrier's Facebook profile, circulated on social media Saturday, drawing the ire of hundreds. In a phone interview Saturday night, Berrier said his account had been hacked and he didn't know what happened until he woke up Saturday morning. His Facebook account has since been deleted.

Sara Hines, one of the barbershop protest organizers, said she was here because racists should be called out into the open and exposed for who they are.

"We will show up at your establishment and shut you down," Hines said. "We will show up at your house, to your job. Calling all racists. Let's go."

Monique Parks owns a hair salon in the same building and expressed her distress Saturday afternoon. Parks has worked in the same building as the barbershop owner for four years and said she was so upset she hardly slept Friday night. Parks originally posted the screenshot to her Facebook page, where it was widely circulated.

“I have worked in the same building as this man for almost four years,” Parks wrote online. “I just don't understand why the hate. As much as I have heard about him, this just proved it all.”

Salem Organic Supply, which neighbors the barbershop, had its employees board up its windows Saturday afternoon as a precaution.

"We're in support of the protesters," manager Dustin Kielbiewicz said. "We want to be safe just in case. We have no affiliation with (the owner) and his ignorant comments."

Hines, along with fellow organizer Hatasha Carter, led protesters around the block before returning to their spot in front of the barbershop. Some protesters, in direct response to the Facebook comment, brought bananas to place in front of the barbershop.

The protesters outside of the barbershop had disbanded by 3:30 p.m., but bananas remained at the entrance.

That protest also doubled as a Black Lives Matter rally.

Rhetoric sharpens at police department

A group of about 30 protesters gathered at the corner of Cherry Street and Eighth Street — outside of Winston-Salem Police Department headquarters — and demonstrated for more than three hours.

This crowd was more diverse than the day’s other two protests, and the rhetoric of protest leaders sharper than others.

“We’re not mad, we’re not angry,” CiCi Chanel shouted into a microphone. “We’re ------- pissed.”

As police officers drove through the intersection, the demonstrators would shake their signs and scream chants, but never left the sidewalk or tried to stop traffic. During one incident, Chanel sat on the sidewalk and put her arms behind her back, miming being in handcuffs and chanted: “Officer what are your charges? Officer why am I your target? The beauty within, black is my skin, they’ll hate me regardless.” The officer appeared to be talking on his cell phone and drove off when the light was green. He did not look in Chanel’s direction.

“This is no longer going to be peaceful once the sun goes down,” said a man with a megaphone. The man declined to share his name with the Journal.

On Friday, Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson and Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough held a joint press conference, where they both asked people to remain peaceful while expressing their outrage.

On Saturday, Kimbrough offered the following statement to the Journal commending the protesters for remaining peaceful: “I want to thank our community members for the peaceful protest and not harming anyone or our community while expressing their outrage. I am continually praying for peace for our nation.”

Solomon Gaither, who attended the barbershop protest and helped organize the police department protest, said he felt disrespected by what he perceived to be police officer's indifference to the protesters.

"They still ride by, but they're not saying anything," Gaither said. "They should be out here with us, standing with us. They've got bad energy; you can sense it from the car. They could come out here, talk to us, let us know they understand it was wrong."

One officer who drove by offered to bring water and ice to people, and Gaither called it a start.

"That's the first small step," he said.

On Twitter @LeeOSanderlin

lsanderlin@wsjournal.com

336-727-7339

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