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WATCH NOW: Morganton residents hold peaceful protest against police brutality
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George Floyd Death
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WATCH NOW: Morganton residents hold peaceful protest against police brutality

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Throughout the nation, protests have raged for four straight days in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Monday.

Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes — nearly three of which Floyd was unresponsive.

On Friday night, protests in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Detroit, Oakland and Charlotte coerced Burke County residents into holding their own peaceful protest in Morganton.

Saturday morning, more than 50 protesters gathered at the corner of Bost Road and North Green Street, at the site of the old K-Mart in Morganton in a stand of solidarity against police brutality.

A diverse mix of demonstrators — white, black, young and old — met for hours and waved signs. The idea for the demonstration was started by Morganton’s Tiffany Smith and Michael Gore. Smith said she came up with the idea Thursday morning and made posts on the Facebook group “Let’s Talk Burke County” as well as her personal timeline.

“We’re here to protest the injustice that’s going on in this country against minorities,” Smith said. “We’re tired of it. It’s heartbreaking. It’s sad and we’re mad about it.”

Morganton resident Gregory Harper said he showed up because the mistreatment of black Americans is an important issue.

“We’ve been dealing with police violence and violence of other citizens against us and (the perpetrators) literally getting away with it,” Harper said. “We just want to be treated fairly — we want to be respected. We don’t want to be treated like criminals just because the color of our skin. We’re viable in this community — we contribute to this community. We pay our taxes. We respect our neighbors — white, black, Asian, whatever, it doesn’t make a difference. We want the same respect. We deserve it. We’ve earned it. We’ve put in our work in this country. We don’t deserve to be treated this way just because we’re black.

“It’s becoming a daily occurrence. From my viewpoint, since the death of Trayvon Martin, it seems like it’s been open season on black men and that no matter what they do to us, they can get away with it.”

Some signs read, “I can’t breathe,” a double reference to what Floyd was heard saying in a viral video captured of the incident Monday and also a reference to what Eric Garner was heard saying in a similar incident in 2014 in New York in which he also died.

Valdese resident Patricia Bare said she showed up after watching the video of Floyd’s mistreatment on TV.

“Watching TV, it just tore me up,” Bare said. “(I think this was) a situation that could’ve handled more reasonably. (Floyd) was in handcuffs. The cops didn’t have to throw him to the ground and put a knee on his throat. They could’ve handled it by putting him in a squad car or putting him on the sidewalk on the curb.

“They didn’t have to throw him to the ground,” Bare said. “He’s human.”

Countless cars passing on North Green Street honked in approval at the demonstrators. A handful of people even stopped to provide the crowd with food and water, including Shannon Hawkins and her son Noah, who handed out bags of McDonald’s burgers.

CBS Sports owner Bryen Searcy also stopped by to voice his support for those in attendance, bringing a case of water, a cooler and ice.

“People should be able to express their feelings,” Searcy said. “I think that what they’re doing, they should be able to do that. It’s a hot day and I want to be able to support them. I don’t agree with looting and tearing things up, but I do agree that this country needs to know when things like (Floyd’s death) happen, it’s wrong.

“I completely support our law enforcement," Searcy said. "There are so many good people in our law enforcement that would never do what happened. The law enforcement in Morganton would never do that. The people need to get behind us and stop it. This (police brutality) should never happen. I think that’s why these (demonstrators) are here.”

For others in attendance Saturday, the deaths of black Americans like Floyd serve as a reminder of the potential of police brutality happening at any time.

“I have two teenage black sons,” Ashley June said. “I’m tired of black men getting killed by police officers. This is my biggest fear. Every time I walk out my door, I pray that my kids are safe. I pray that my sons are safe when they walk out of my front door.”

Johnny Casey is a staff writer and can be reached at jcasey@morganton.com or 828-432-8907.

Johnny Casey can be reached at jcasey@morganton.com or 828-432-8907.

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