WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A news conference held by members of the Revolutionary Black Panther Party on the steps of the New Hanover County Courthouse ended Sunday when law enforcement arrived and seized members’ firearms.
Spokesman Jerry Brewer with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office said deputies safe kept 10 weapons today brought by members of the Revolutionary Black Panther Party to a gathering held at the New Hanover County Courthouse steps.
Brewer said the Sheriff’s Office was brought in to address the gathering due to its location on county property at the courthouse.
“Members of the Revolutionary Black Panther Party were in violation of local county ordinance section 38-31 by possession of a weapon where it is posted “The Display of Firearms and Possession of Concealed Handguns Prohibited on this Property,” Brewer said.
Deputies also had members who were wearing masks at the gathering lower their mask due to North Carolina state law prohibiting the wearing of masks at meetings or demonstrations.
Brewer said two revolvers, five semi-automatic pistols, and three shotguns, all loaded were safe kept. This investigation is on-going and additional information will be released as it becomes available.
“We will not tolerate violations of the law,” Sheriff Ed McMahon said.
A New Hanover County deputy informed the group’s leader Dr. Alli Muhammad that the group was violating local and state law by being on the courthouse property armed. The group fully cooperated with a request to place all weapons on the ground, where they were seized by deputies. Muhammad and other members of the group stood with deputies as they inventoried the firearms and loaded them to be taken to the Sheriff’s Office, where deputies say owners can pick them up tomorrow.
Wilmington Police, some in tactical gear with guns raised, also arrived at the scene with the deputies upsetting many in the crowd of about 25 people, especially relatives of Brandon Smith, who was shot and killed by officers in 2013 after he shot a deputy in Creekwood. Smith’s sister Georgia Davis said she joined the Black Panthers and asked them to come to Wilmington to help get justice for her brother, who she says was the victim of premeditated murder at the hands of law enforcement. She also says police harassed her and her family after Smith’s death.
“Something has to be done,” Davis said. “We just want justice for my brother, because what they did was wrong.”
Before law enforcement arrived, Muhammad said the RBPP’s plan for an armed event in Creekwood would be moved Sunday to private property on Dock Street after District Attorney Ben David and Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous said last week anyone armed during a demonstration on pubic property would be arrested under state law. Muhammad said he believes the law to be unconstitutional. He said his group will file suit to challenge it and plans to hold a larger event in Wilmington in the future that he says will draw hundreds of thousands of people from around the country and the world.
As deputies left with the seized guns, the deputy in charge shook hands with Muhammad, who said both sides acted professionally. He said his group’s afternoon events will continue as planned.
“They don’t want us to continue that kind of stuff but like I said, those aren’t the only firearms we’ve got,” Muhammad said. “We still have some work to do today and we’re going to be at a private location.”
From the steps of the courthouse the group came to the corner of 12th and Dock street to speak about issues that affect the community.
Hundreds gathered as the Black Panther Party stood armed with guns and spoke about the injustices they feel are going on in the country. Those in attendance said that they don’t mind them having guns. It’s about a bigger cause.
“They’re just saying just because we have guns doesn’t mean we’re going to shoot you and it’s not right for you to go and shoot us.” Wilmington native Denise Barnes said.
Barnes says that events like this are for informing and she hopes everyone can learn the lessons.
“I hope it starts a broader communication throughout all communities,” Barnes said. “I hope it goes nationwide.”
The message from the Black Panther Party was clear, it’s not about violence, the day was about justice.