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Clergy gather in Raleigh park to ask for peace after protests.

A dozen Raleigh clergy members gathered in Moore Square Park Saturday afternoon to ask God to deliver what protests, curfews and police tear gas so far have not: peace, justice and unity.

“I don’t know what God is going to do, but I know God is not going to let this harvest pass,” Rev. Dr. James Forbes told a crowd of 80 to 100 people gathered for the “Shine the Light” prayer vigil. The event was billed as a call for social equality, unity and healing. It was organized by the Shaw University School of Divinity, the City of Raleigh, Shop Local Raleigh and the city’s mayor, Mary-Ann Baldwin.

And in downtown Durham on Saturday night, hundreds of protesters, most wearing black, carried signs saying “No justice no peace” as they marched toward police headquarters.

The events came the day after a protest in Raleigh against police brutality and systemic racism devolved into some vandalism of downtown property. At least 14 people were arrested following the Friday night protests, after some people remained downtown an hour past the 10 p.m curfew announced by the mayor.

The same curfew was in place Saturday night. A smaller group of protesters moved through downtown Raleigh streets and was mostly disbanded by the 10 p.m. curfew.

“It is so important, at this time in our city and our country, that we honor the diversity of our community,” Dr. Johnny Bernard Hill, Dean of Shaw University School of Divinity said before the Moore Park event began. “The religious, racial and ethnic diversity in Raleigh is unique. It is my prayer that by bringing people together we can move forward together, and that the light of our city will shine.”

Residents across the city were asked to step outside at 9 p.m. Saturday and shine a light for unity and social peace — a flashlight, cell phone or candle — as a sign of solidarity and call for peace.

“Now, more than ever, we need to find ways to come together and find our commonality. A desire for peace and understanding is universal. We are Raleigh. The strength of this great city is found in our diversity,” Mayor Baldwin said in an announcement of the Saturday afternoon event. “Each of us holds a light within us to share with the world. Saturday, I ask that you share your light to symbolize that we are unique individuals with the same intention — to live in a peaceful and loving community.”

Those attending were asked to wear masks and keep a safe distance from one another to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They did so, spreading out across the grassy park.

Seeking solace

Phyllis Roberson and Becky Ebron both heard about the Moore Park vigil through Journey Church in Raleigh and came seeking solace. Both said they have been troubled by what appears to be an increase in racism across the country despite protests that have tried to draw attention and seek remedy for racial inequity.

Ebron, who has a biracial son, and Roberson, who has a black son, have been praying a lot lately, they said, for the safety of their children.

“Every time he leaves the house to go to work, I pray, ‘Lord, is he going to return home?’” Roberson said.

Not everyone who attended the event was reverent. A group of about a dozen protesters interrupted the string of pastoral prayers by walking to the stage, lining up holding protest signs and chanting. They called out the names of some of the people who have been killed by police and shouted, “No justice, no peace,” before walking away.

A group of friends from Enloe High School who came to listen said that the event felt “performative,” including a short address by Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck Brown. in which she said every person is called to be the change they want to see.

Afterward, the students — Victoria Smith, Emilia Cox, Yakob Lemma and Meadow Pacheco — approached Deck-Brown to ask about arrests made during Friday night’s march.

“She said she wasn’t here to argue and she wouldn’t talk to us,” Smith said.

The four students said they have participated in protests for months, including Friday night, when more than two hours of marching and speeches drew a crowd that of about 1,000 people at its peak.

“Keep it peaceful”

On Friday night, hundreds of protesters continued marching after curfew. At the Wake County Justice Center, some protesters tossed around plastic barricades meant to keep them away from the building, while others started a fire in the middle of Salisbury Street and sprayed red paint on a memorial to fallen Wake County sheriff’s deputies.

“We are asking protesters to keep it peaceful,” the police Twitter account said at about 9:20 p.m.

By 10:30 p.m., police began warning those who continued marching that they could be arrested. About 45 minutes later, officers began making arrests. Fourteen people were charged with violating curfew, according to the Raleigh Police Department.

The city also closed the street and nearby sections of Martin and Hargett streets to traffic from 5 p.m. Friday until 5 p.m. Sunday.

The protest was organized after last weekend’s shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was paralyzed after a white police officer fired seven shots towards his back as he opened the door to his SUV. Blake, who had briefly scuffled with police as they tried to arrest him on an outstanding warrant, was hit four times.

Thursday’s announcement from Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman was also on protesters’ minds. Freeman said a Raleigh police officer acted lawfully in January when he shot and killed Keith Collins. Collins, who was Black, ran from officer W.B. Tapscott, who is white, carrying what proved to be a BB gun.

Josh Shaffer and Ashad Hajela contributed to this report.

Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.


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