PITTSBORO — Urging governments across the country to recognize and bring an end to a “cycle of white supremacist terrorism that historically raises its ugly head,” the Rev. Curtis Gatewood led …
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PITTSBORO — Urging governments across the country to recognize and bring an end to a “cycle of white supremacist terrorism that historically raises its ugly head,” the Rev. Curtis Gatewood led a demonstration by the STOP Killing Us group Saturday at the Chatham County Justice Center.
The hour-long event, held on the morning of July 4, drew about a dozen spectators, who filtered in as Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” played over two loudspeakers. They watched from nearby sidewalks as Gatewood and other organizers addressed them from a podium on the courthouse steps.
Speakers noted the need for “true independence” for Black Americans, referencing the Independence Day holiday, and several emphasized God’s justice and judgment in their calls to fight white supremacy. Next to the podium, organizers stood in Black Lives Matter T-shirts and held red stop signs featuring SKU, the group’s acronym, and a large black banner with contact information.
During his opening statement, Gatewood said the purpose of the demonstration was to bring an end to the “terrorism that is infiltrating law enforcement across the nation.” Gatewood, a former high-profile NAACP member suspended last fall after allegations of sexual misconduct, has led a number of other STOP Killing Us events in recent weeks.
“We’re here to present a national plan of zero tolerance for white supremacist terrorism to be considered by (electoral) candidates and others,” Gatewood said in his opening remarks. “We the people demand that we gain respect and not allow people to continuously blame Black people and kill Black people. We’re here to say stop killing us. Enough is enough.”
Gatewood said he planned the rally after watching a Facebook Live video of a June 17 protest near the former site of Pittsboro’s Confederate monument.
The video, taken by Raleight activist Kerwin Pittman, showed a man hitting a woman with a Confederate flag attached to a hockey stick. Following the event, a warrant for Tommy Parnell of Surry County was issued with multiple charges. Gatewood said he started raising awareness for a rally to speak out against the disturbance shortly after seeing the video.
On Facebook, a graphic cover photo for the event, “Stand Against White Supremacist Terrorism” depicted a police officer wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood holding a gun at the head of a Black child, with a Confederate flag in the background.
Despite the low turnout, Gatewood said he received a lot of support for planning the event. Though he said he would have preferred someone in Pittsboro lead the rally, he said he was invited but did not mention anyone by name.
In September 2019, Gatewood was suspended from the national NAACP following allegations that he sexually harassed a former NAACP employee. Prior to his suspension, Gatewood was the president of the Durham County and Alamance County NAACP chapters. He resigned during the organization’s investigation but has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Last week, Bob Pearson, a member of NAACP Chatham Community Branch who works with the local Equal Justice Initiative, told the News + Record he didn’t know of any group in Chatham County that had sponsored the event or invited Gatewood. Neither Chatham NAACP branch is affiliated with Gatewood or the SKU event.
After Gatewood’s opening remarks, four local organizers from across the state stepped to the podium for brief speeches. Kathy Greggs, the president of the Fayetteville Police Accountability Community Taskforce, outlined how police departments need “independent civilian oversight” boards.
In an interview, she also highlighted two points of focus for her group: weeding out white supremacy, which she said is “everywhere in the community,” and holding accountable some Black elected officials who she said are “not willing to help” advance social justice initiatives.
“I’m not just going to talk about white supremacists,” Greggs said. “I’m going to talk about Black elected officials that are not doing anything at all as well.”
Speaker Elizabeth Crudup, an Our Revolution organizer from Harnett County, called for criminal justice reform and said the current system is “just a synonym for slavery.”
“We have suffered and we continue to suffer the multi-generational consequences of racism institutionalized into the American legal system,” she said. “And this must end.”
Scottie Brooks, who works with Fight Imperialism Stand Together, said it was a “crying shame” that he, at age 49, was still fighting the same issues his 70-year-old mother did. His group’s main push now is for equity — which, he said, goes further than just equality.
“We want equal access to money,” he said. “We want equal access to jobs. We want equal access to everything, because we’re all Americans. I was born in America. I will die in America … We just want the same rights and privileges that everyone else enjoys.”
The event’s last speaker was Darrion Smith, a 47-year-old healthcare worker and union organizer. He critiqued the idea of celebrating “freedom” on the Fourth of July, given the country’s longtime history of oppressing Indigenous Americans and Black enslaved people.
“How can you celebrate freedom, and you’re oppressing people yourself?” he said. “See, America was built on genocide and on the backs of enslaved Africans — my ancestors — and this country was built on the premise of oppression.”
Smith, who is also active in the Black Workers for Justice group, said in an interview that to enact change, “we must change the hearts of America.” He called on white people to initiate tough conversations with their friends and family on race, racism, privilege and the United States’ past.
“Acknowledge it,” he said, addressing white people in general. “It’s an ugly history. Yes, it’s really ugly. But that doesn’t mean we’ve got to stay there. You didn’t do it. Your ancestors did it, but you didn’t do it. But guess what’s fallen on you? Their sins have fallen on you. You have to change it.”
Gatewood said he received intimidating messages telling him to stay away from Pittsboro after he posted information about the July 4 event on Facebook. He said these threats were not just directed at him personally.
In a memo distributed to SKU supporters on July 2, Gatewood said his organization was taking the widely distributed threat alerts seriously and coordinating high levels of security with local law enforcement. On Monday, Rik Stevens, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, said Gatewood had reached out to the office and Pittsboro’s police department a week ahead of time “to convey his desire to peacefully express himself.”
“In anticipation of an unknown crowd size, Chatham Street in front of the Judicial Center was closed for a short period of time, much like it has been for similar events in the past,” Stevens said in an email. “The Sheriff’s Office and Pittsboro Police Department were able to staff this event in much the same way we have for similar events in Pittsboro. The event was peaceful.”
About 45 minutes into the event, a man and a woman pulled into the parking lot across the street from the courthouse, got out of their car and watched the event from a distance. The man was concealed carrying a handgun, and two deputies approached him a few minutes after he left his car. After a short conversation, the man walked back to his car and put the handgun in the passenger seat.
“There was a warning given to an individual who was in the vicinity about a county ordinance against carrying a firearm on county property,” Stevens said. “He was cooperative and compliant and secured the weapon in a lawful manner. We had no further incident with him.”
In an interview, Gatewood said “there was a lot of intimidation going on” before the event.
“So I’m not surprised that there’s not a mass of people here,” he said. “Not at all. In fact, I’m so proud of the people who came in spite of it.”
In his closing remarks, Gatewood announced SKU’s “zero-tolerance initiative” for law enforcement to identify and investigate white supremacists as terrorists, in the same way it has for foreign threats such as Al Qaeda and ISIS. Adopting such strategies, he said, would legitimize politicians “who claim to work as defenders of democracy when they’re actually defenders of hypocrisy.”
“I’m going to leave by saying God stands with those who stand for what is right,” Gatewood said. “And as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: a man that has not found something worth dying for is not fit to live.”