NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Several members of the Revolutionary Black Panther Party were met by local law enforcement while on the steps of the New Hanover County Court House, where the party held a press conference Sunday morning.
Those party members, some armed with weapons ranging from shot guns to handguns, were led by the Founder and Chief General in Command of the Revolutionary Black Panther Party, Dr. Alli Muhammad, who said they had gathered to state they would be taking legal action against what Muhammad claimed to be “unconstitutional actions” by District Attorney Ben David and Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous.
Late last week, both the district attorney and police chief pledged to support First Amendment rights, but also to enforce state law that disallows the carrying of weapons during certain activities. During a press conference on Friday, Evangelous specifically cited North Carolina state law (N.C. Gen. Stat. 14- 277.2), which prohibits the open carry of weapons during demonstrations that take place on public property.
The Revolutionary Black Panther Party had planned on holding a “human rights tribunal” at the Creekwood Public Housing community on Saturday afternoon, followed by an armed march on Sunday. But Muhammad claims the Wilmington Police Department kept the group from hosting the Saturday event at Creekwood’s Community Center and had violated the group’s right to free speech and its member’s right to bear arms. The armed march that was planned Sunday was also postponed.
“We maintain that the current statute cited by the district attorney and the police chief in order to violate our constitutional, civil and human rights is because we are black, and because we are Black Panther. This is in clear violation of the state and United States Constitution, freedom of expression and the right to bear arms,” Muhammad said during the press conference.
Muhammad said further that “law enforcement officers went to the Creekwood Community Center and stated that they were doing surveillance for security threats, intimidated the people. We know that the definition of terrorism is intimidation and threats or violence or anything of that nature against civilians, in pursuit of political angles – that is a form of terrorism. They went there and they frightened these people. So we were no longer able to use the center. We couldn’t use the center anymore.”
The Revolutionary Black Panther Party was in Wilmington with a mission of “justice,” he said.
“Justice, we want justice. At this point now, there’s a whole different type of justice. We’re getting ready to challenge this law tooth and nail. So, we want justice and we want the unconstitutional statute to be removed,” Muhammad said. “We’re not picketing, we’re not protesting … we’re not doing any of those things.”
Muhammad also stated that he is a firearms instructor, a years-long member of the NRA, that he teaches a hunting safety course, and trains in civilian firearms safety and tactical firearms defense firearms safety in personal protection.
“I also have my concealed weapons permit … which has reciprocity in several states and I also have a federal firearms license,” he said.
While the group held its news conference, members of the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office marched onto the grounds of the courthouse and were quickly joined by officers with the Wilmington Police Department, some of who carried high-caliber weapons.
While tensions heightened among members of the party, Muhammad told members to “stand down,” as he met with New Hanover County Sheriff’s Lt. D.M. Warnick away from the steps of the courthouse. There, in a peaceful exchange of words between the two, Warnick told Muhammad that he and his members were in violation of a county ordinance that prohibits weapons on courthouse property. Members of the party were asked to leave their weapons on the steps of the courthouse and they complied.
Among them were family members of Brandon Smith, a 30-year-old man who was shot and killed by law enforcement in the woods near Fulbright Street in Castle Hayne on Oct. 13, 2013. Smith at the time was wanted in connection with a shooting three days earlier in the Creekwood community in which New Hanover County Detective Michael Spencer was injured.
While the district attorney has since cleared the officers involved in fatally shooting Smith of any wrongdoing, Smith’s family claims his death was unlawful and seeks justice for his death. While still outside the courthouse, Georgia Davis, sister of Brandon Smith, said she called the Revolutionary Black Panther Party to Wilmington to help seek that justice.
“What they did to my brother was wrong,” Davis said. “What’s being done to our black people is wrong and I don’t … like it.”
Deputies disarmed the Revolutionary Black Panther Party’s weapons and carried them off courthouse grounds, where they were documented and recorded in front of the leading member of the party. At the end of the exchange, Muhammad and Warnick shook hands and parted ways.
“Basically he was professional and we’re professional. We still understand our rights. And from our vantage point, we’re cool,” Muhammad said. “What I didn’t like was the GI-Joe people that came out and pointed guns at people … but we will still proceed.”
A statement released later on Sunday by the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office reported that deputies confiscated two revolvers, five semi-automatic pistols, and three shotguns; all of which were loaded. New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon said in the release “we will not tolerate violations of the law.”
The news release stated: “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.'”
No one was arrested following the press conference Sunday. Party members were told they would be able to pick up their weapons on Monday.
The Revolutionary Black Panther Party and members of the community gathered again at private home in the 1200 block of Dock Street, where members of Brandon Smith’s family live. There, the party held its armed “tribunal,” along with a large crowd of people that filled the front of the home and sidewalks. Several went to the tribunal to hear Muhammad speak and speak out themselves.
“We are not anti-police,” Muhammad said. “We’re not anti-white, we are not racists … We believe and respect the humanity of all people regardless of race, creed or occupation. The reason why we fight and stand so hard for people of African descent, is because we suffer the hardest.”
Muhammad said he was hosting the tribunal for “victims of genocide.” He talked about the centuries-long effects of slavery and touched on human rights, political and health education, firearms rights and safety.
Muhammad and members of Smith’s family repeatedly questioned the official story of Smith’s shooting by officers, which they say is not supported by forensic evidence. They also questioned the facts surrounding the initial shooting of the detective. Family members said evidence yet to be shared with the public indicates someone else shot the detective.
The tribunal continued into the evening hours and was followed by the vigil. Muhammad said the vigil was held for Brandon Smith, while recognizing other individuals around the nation killed in officer-involved shootings, victims he claims are of “terrorism and genocide carried out by the agents of the state known as law enforcement,” though he did specifically make distinction between those police officers who he said abuse the power of their badge and police officers who act lawfully.
Muhammad said an armed march is still planned for Wilmington, the details of which have not been announced.