McRae: The Ferguson incident called for ‘respect on both sides’

More than 100 join in prayer, vigil for slain Missouri teen

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Nancy Harris Buchanan, of Rockingham, continues to mourn the death of her son, Octavius, who was shot and killed in 2002 at the age of 21. There have been no charges filed against the person who shot him.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Nancy Harris Buchanan, of Rockingham, continues to mourn the death of her son, Octavius, who was shot and killed in 2002 at the age of 21. There have been no charges filed against the person who shot him.

* Video from Friday night
Previous coverage
County men plan rally, vigil for slain Missouri teen

ROCKINGHAM — Nancy Harris Buchanan’s son Octavius was shot and killed on Sept. 16, 2002, at the Bread ‘n’ Butter convenience store in Roberdel.

She has waited one month shy of 12 full years for an event like the one staged Friday night on the steps of the old Richmond County Courthouse. The Rally for Justice: Prayer for Peace prayer and vigil organized by Richmond County residents Michael McRae and Chris Clark aimed to honor slain 18-year-old Michael Brown. Brown was shot and killed Aug. 9 by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo.

It won’t bring Octavius back, but she needed to be around people who understood what it was like to lose a young man far too soon.

Buchanan stood near the front of the crowd of more than 100 people during the hour-long program of song, prayer and fellowship with a handwritten sign on a regular piece of white copy paper. At the top was Octavius’ name and the date of his death.

“I have a small sign, but it’s a powerful sign,” said Buchanan, noting she felt the public knew who killed her son. “This is what I’ve been waiting for.”

Buchanan said she has survived the past 12 years of hardship, including seeing her two other sons jailed on a variety of charges, through her religious faith.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Joshua Williams, the youth coordinator for the Marlboro County (S.C.) chapter of the NAACP and a middle school teacher, was in the crowd to support it and learn how to duplicate this effort in his community.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Joshua Williams, the youth coordinator for the Marlboro County (S.C.) chapter of the NAACP and a middle school teacher, was in the crowd to support it and learn how to duplicate this effort in his community.

There were plenty of other signs held by those in the audience. We Are One. Pray for Peace. Black Lives Matter. Keep Calm and Don’t Shoot. Justice for All. Those who attended traveled from across North Carolina, South Carolina, from Pennsylvania and beyond.

It was a lesson in peaceful demonstration — a lesson Joshua Williams plans to take to the classroom. Williams, is the youth coordinator for the Marlboro County (S.C.) chapter of the NAACP. He’s also a middle school teacher. Discussions of the shooting and subsequent demonstrations and police reaction in Ferguson, Williams said, shouldn’t be kept out of a classroom. They should be encouraged, he said.

“I bring current events into the classroom by teaching them social action,” Williams said.

Williams said he uses community service and writing assignments as two ways to get young people involved and make them aware of society’s pitfalls and what they can do to help. His job, Williams said, is to teach them “not just content, but about life, too.”

Kayal Hodge, 21, of Ellerbe, was an atypical member of the crowd. She was younger than the majority who appeared 40 and older and certainly older than some parents who brought their younger children with them. She’s also white.

Hodge said she watched the news reports on television of the events in Ferguson.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com The crowd of more than 100 children and adults listen to Michael  McRae and Chris Clark of Unarmed Coalition for Change.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
The crowd of more than 100 children and adults listen to Michael McRae and Chris Clark of Unarmed Coalition for Change.

“It upset me really bad,” Hodge said. “The way I heard it, (Brown) didn’t do anything wrong. I wanted to come out to support (Brown) even if I didn’t know him.”

There were concerns about bringing “a race war” to Richmond County from an event that occurred more than 800 miles away. When The Pee Dee Post reported early Thursday afternoon about the prayer and vigil planned, the Post’s Facebook page lit up with many against the idea.

“We don’t need this in our county,” wrote one man.

Posted another: “This is complete and utter garbage. Why bring the race war to Richmond County?”

The comments grew darker, and nastier, from there.

McRae, a 2005 Richmond Senior alum and a recent Drake School of Law graduate — but not yet a lawyer — used the opportunity to encourage those in attendance to know their rights — and exercise them.

“You have a First Amendment right to talk about what’s bothering you,” McRae said in an appeal for residents to connect with decision makers and lawmakers at the local, county, state an federal levels.

He described a lengthy and wieldy permit application process in the county for Friday’s assembly. He and Clark were directed to City Hall, then the Rockingham Police Department, then the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, then City Hall, then the sheriff’s office, then City Hall, then the police department and, finally, City Hall. McRae’s point wasn’t to complain about the system but the need to work within it.

“The First Amendment,” McRae said. “It’s in the Constitution. Google it if you have to.”

There are reports that Brown was involved in a convenience story robbery on the same day of the shooting. McRae said that, or anything else Brown might have done, shouldn’t matter.

“We don’t know what he did in his past,” he said. “We don’t’ know, thanks to the police officer, what he was going to do with his future. Once his hands were up … in war, even our enemies, when they put their hands up, our troops respect that international symbol of ‘I give up.'”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

McRae said the incident in Ferguson could easily happen in Rockingham or “up town at the Piggly Wiggly” in Hamlet.

Dobbins Heights Mayor Antonio Blue believes it. The 52-year-old Army veteran said the issue in Ferguson could just as easily occur in Richmond County — and it’s not necessarily race as the divisive factor. You can be black, he said, or white and poor. He said the makeup of the police departments and elected bodies in both Rockingham and Hamlet fail to reflect the populations they oversee.

Several months ago, Blue said, he was stopped in Hamlet by a Hamlet Police Department officer. The officer asked Blue where he’d been and where he was going. Blue, answered. Walmart. Home. Blue said he believed there was racial profiling involved — he’s black, and he was driving a Cadillac SUV. Had he been 19 or 20 years old, Blue said, he might have told the officer it was none of his business.

“That could have started an argument,” Blue said. “You just cooked up a menu for an explosion.”

McRae said why someone is stopped is one issue. What happens next is another one.

“Once (Brown) was stopped,” McRae said, there should have been respect from both sides.

McRae said that beyond a shadow of a doubt there are times when law enforcement officers are required to use deadly force. He believes that — but more than in that, he believes in the right to due process. That’s something Brown will only get posthumously.

McRae and Clark expressed satisfaction in the number of people who supported the gathering, which Clark started off by asking everyone to turn to the left and right and introduce themselves to five people they didn’t already know.

“Even if it was just me and him and a few family members,” McRae said, they still would have taken the time to address the issue. “Numbers didn’t matter.”

McRae and Clark said their newly formed group, Unarmed Coalition for Change, could make contacts in other cities but they noted that the effort “started right here in Richmond County.”

Rockingham Police Chief Billy Kelly and his officers stayed a respectful distance away from the crowd across the street. Kelly said they was there primarily to provide traffic control if needed. He said there were no issues during the event, traffic or otherwise.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

 

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