By Rick Henderson
Carolina Journal News Service
RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper activated 450 members of the N.C. National Guard to help cities deal with potential property damage if riots relating to the death of George Floyd continue. He said the State Bureau of Investigation, N.C. Highway Patrol, and State Capital Police will be available if local officials ask.
Officials in Raleigh and Fayetteville had asked for help, Cooper said.
The governor announced the call-up at a Sunday, May 31, news briefing. The night before, peaceful protests mourning Floyd, a black man who died Monday at the hands of white Minneapolis police officers, erupted into vandalism and destruction in Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, and Fayetteville.
Dozens were arrested, injuries were reported, shots fired, and hundreds of buildings were damaged, including the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro and the historic Market House in Fayetteville.
Businesses, which had barely reopened after COVID-19 regulations had been relaxed, were gutted.
Meantime, legislative leaders acknowledged the anger over Floyd’s death as justified. But they wondered why tougher actions weren’t taken sooner to prevent violence and demanded to know if local officials were ready for what hit them Saturday night.
Violent protests and riots broke out in cities across the nation Friday and Saturday.
Cooper said the initial protests were about healing centuries-old wounds of racism.
“Unfortunately, today the headlines are not about those protesters and their calls for serious, meaningful change. They are more about riots, and tear gas, and broken windows, and stolen property. I fear the cry of the people is being drowned out by the noise of riots.”
Fayetteville enacted an immediate 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. Mayor Mitch Colvin also asked people to stay away from a planned Monday protest so police could have more time to distinguish protesters from looters.
At a Sunday morning news conference, Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown distinguished between legitimate protests and “anarchy.” She said she’ll never defend the latter. Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin said “Last night wasn’t about building bridges. Unfortunately, it was about burning them.”
Both officials praised volunteers who arrived just after dawn, scouring downtown to clean up broken glass and other debris.
Cooper also chided those who were more interested in causing mayhem than protesting injustice.
“We have to constructively channel our anger, frustration, and sadness to force accountability. If we don’t, we haven’t learned anything,” he said.
House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, posted videos of the Raleigh riots as they were happening on his Facebook page. He said he texted Cooper Saturday night, urging him to deploy the National Guard immediately.
Sunday, Moore posted photos on his Twitter page as he visited business owners and volunteers in downtown Raleigh.
In a statement Sunday afternoon, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, demanded information about the readiness of state and local law enforcement last week to handle potential trouble as tensions mounted.
“Lawlessness and destruction cannot be permitted. Given the experience of other localities in recent days, preparations should have been in place in the event things were getting out of hand. Were such contingencies contemplated? If so, what was the plan? If not, why not? What, if any, advance preparations were taken to involve state emergency and law enforcement resources?” Berger asked.
“Local and state executive agency leaders have a duty to the public to be prepared to respond to the kind of anarchy seen on our streets last night. I hope the advance preparation yesterday was not for the police to be given stand-down orders as rioters set fire to buildings and looted stores. Leaders in Raleigh and Wake County should be forthright with the public and explain how this was allowed to happen and provide assurance that adequate steps are in place to prevent this chaos and destruction from happening again.”