ROCKINGHAM — Two Richmond Senior High alumni are planning a rally for peace and justice today on the old county courthouse steps following the shooting of an unarmed teenager by police in Missouri.
Michael McRae and Chris Clark, founders of Unarmed Coalition for Change, say the goal of their organization is to spread awareness of the need for a systematic change.
“We’re seeing trends all over the country of police shootings of unarmed people,” said Clark, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“We have this culture now that has a serious disdain for authority figures, especially police,” he said. “There’s a lack in accountability.”
Michael Brown, 18, was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri last Saturday.
In a Thursday news release, the pair said: “His loss is important because it has sparked a combustible sentiment around the country that we must pay attention to the way some citizens interact with the patrol system. We recognize that this injustice could have easily happened on so many streets throughout the Sandhills area.”
The name of the officer who shot Brown has not yet been officially released.
“In Ferguson, there’s obviously an issue with transparency,” said McRae, who graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Drake University Law School.
“We’re approaching a homicide investigation,” he said. “If there is a suspect, I think the public deserves to know who it is.”
The hacker group Anonymous released a name Thursday, but the Washington Post reported that St. Louis County police say that name is inaccurate.
Since the shooting, anger over Brown’s death has led to looting and rioting by protesters.
Local police have responded by firing rubber bullets and tear gas canisters to disperse crowds.
Various media outlets report that more than 40 people have been arrested in the past week, including journalists from the Washington Post and Huffington Post and a local alderman who had been posting videos from the scene.
Videos posted online even show riot police lobbing tear gas into residents’ yards.
Closer to home, former Florida State University football player Jonathan Ferrell was shot and killed by Officer Randall Kerrick in Charlotte last September.
Ferrell had been in a car wreck and was reportedly seeking help.
A woman called 911 after Ferrell had knocked on her door and police soon responded.
Police said Kerrick opened fire when Ferrell started moving toward him, shooting him 10 times.
Kerrick was charged with voluntary manslaughter shortly after the shooting and indicted in January. Attorney General Roy Cooper called for a second grand jury after the first refused to indict.
“What happened to serve and protect?” McRae asked.
“Every time something like this occurs, people go back to Rodney King and recreate race issues,” Clark said.
Both he and McRae say they’re not playing the race card.
“It’s not a color thing, it’s a children thing,” Clark said. “What we want people to see is that’s someone’s child. Imagine that being your child or nephew.”
Both men, who recently moved back to Richmond County, said they had to jump through hoops Thursday to get the permit for the rally, but added that city and county staff were helpful.
“At first they said that we were not going to be able to do it for up to 14 days,” McRae said. “I understand they need advance warning on some things, but two weeks seemed exorbitant.”
He said they began the process by going to Rockingham City Hall, where they were directed to the police department. Police sent them to the sheriff’s office, where they were referred to the Richmond County administration office. They were eventually sent back to the city clerk to get the permit.
McRae said it seemed like no one was familiar with the permit process because a rally hasn’t been held in some time.
“Have we forgotten about peaceful assembly in Richmond County?” he asked.
The rally is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. today on the steps of the old Richmond County Courthouse.
McRae and Clark are encouraging all Richmond County residents to attend and wear white shirts “in remembrance of Brown.” They also request that signs and posters be respectful.
Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr,McRae said in the release, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675.