Approximately 90 people gathered Sunday night in Smithfield and Selma to protest the death of George Floyd who died May 25th while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The officer who arrested Floyd, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third degree murder and manslaughter.
Floyd’s death prompted protests and riots in numerous cities across the United States over-the-weekend. Many businesses were vandalized and looted.
Sunday night, businesses at the Carolina Pottery Outlet Center closed early amidst social media posts and rumors a large number of people from South Carolina were headed to the Outlet Center to protest. Many feared it would lead to looting.
The Johnston County Sheriff’s Office and Smithfield Police closed off the entrances to the Outlet Center, however, no incidents were reported.
Protestors from the local community gathered peacefully at the Johnston County Courthouse in Downtown Smithfield and later marched to Selma. At one point, protestors and law enforcement officers held hands and prayed. There were no reports of any looting or vandalism. Rumors of Smithfield Selma High School being vandalized were unfounded.
Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell said Monday, “As Sheriff, it was an honor to partner with the Chief of Police, the Mayor and other leaders in our town to ensure the safety of the protestors and to ensure the security of businesses and the Smithfield community. We were truly blessed yesterday that everyone worked together with a mutual respect for each other, and this morning it was good to ride down Market Street and Brightleaf Boulevard and all our businesses looked normal.”
Sheriff Bizzell said 107 deputies were on duty Sunday to provide security.
During Monday’s regularly scheduled Johnston County Board of Commissioners meeting, Sheriff Bizzell told commissioners, “Everyone went home safe. It’s great to look this morning and see no buildings damaged, no graffiti. We were blessed last night.”
County Commission Chairman Ted Godwin replied, “People certainly have a right to go out and voice their opinion. They don’t have a right to loot and destroy other people’s property.”
Smithfield Police Chief Keith Powell told Johnston County Report, “I would first like to take the opportunity to thank all that came out last night to express their concerns over a very tragic incident. This interaction allowed open dialogue with members of the community and local law enforcement. Communication is the key to overcoming the problems we face daily. The protest was conducted in a peaceful manner that ended with prayer. It is during these times of turmoil to remember the solution is to work together and pray for a better tomorrow.”
Smithfield Town Councilman Marlon Lee, the only African-American on the town council, said, “Yes, I understand everyone is mad. I am mad too. I am mad with everything going on. Everybody was able to come together and express themselves. They were able to talk with Chief Powell and a few of his officers, Sheriff Bizzell and (Chief Deputy) Bengie Gaddis were there. More has to happen. We need to come together. We just got more to do and hold people more accountable. It was good to see the young folks because they were hurt just like everyone else is but without the rioting and stuff like that.”
Mr. Lee added, “We still got a long way to go. I tried to educate the young folks and invited the kids to come to a council meeting. The young folks need to see how government works and how they have a voice by coming to the council meetings and speaking during citizen comments. They have a right to voice their concerns.”
Selma Police Chief Billy Thomas said, “There were no arrests and no damages which proves that a peaceful protest can take place and voices can be heard without destruction of property. I want to thank my officers, Smithfield Police, and the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office for their assistance. It shows our community that the vast majority of law enforcement officers serve with the highest degree of fairness, compassion and integrity. I want to thank a citizen Theo Burnette for the message and strong prayers for each and everyone one of us that he conveyed during the protest that ended peacefully.”