Wilmington police chief says he’s ‘committed’ to protecting First Amendment rights, as well as community, during Revolutionary Black Panther March

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WILMINGTON — A second law enforcement official has issued a promise of enforcing the law when it comes to Sunday’s announced Revolutionary Black Panther march in Wilmington.

The Revolutionary Black Panther Party of Wilmington first advertised an armed march via its Facebook page on Jan. 22. Since the announcement, District Attorney Ben David on Thursday and Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous on Friday, pledged to support First Amendment rights, but also to enforce state law disallowing the carrying of weapons during protests.

In a press conference on Friday, Evangelous said the department was notified about a planned march by the Revolutionary Black Panther Party several weeks ago. Evangelous said the department reached out “several times” to national and local leaders of the group to inform them about local code and state laws. 

Evangelous specifically cited North Carolina State law (N.C. Gen. Stat. 14- 277.2), which prohibits the open carry of weapons during demonstrations, protests or marches that take place on public property.  

The march is supposed to take place at 1:30 p.m. Sunday in the Creekwood Public Housing community of Wilmington, according to the Revolutionary Black Panther Party’s Facebook page.

The page also advertises a “human rights tribunal,” to be held at 714 Emory St. at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

The site of Sunday's Revolutionary Black Panther March in the Creekwood Community of Wilmington. Photo by Christina Haley.
The site of Revolutionary Black Panther “human rights tribunal” in the Creekwood Community of Wilmington. (Photo by Christina Haley)

Though a permit is not required for a demonstration, Evangelous said the group was asked to fill out “a notice of intent to picket form, so that the city would be placed on notice.”

“That particular form has not been received … at this time,” Evangelous said.

Evangelous said his department was “committed to protecting” First Amendment rights, regardless of message.

“With that in mind, we are also committed to making sure all citizens are safe and protected during this event,” Evangelous said. “Our officers, along with our law enforcement partners will provide security for this event and will ensure that all city and that all state laws are obeyed, and we will take appropriate enforcement action if necessary.”

Evangelous’ statement echoed a similar statement issued in writing on Thursday by David. David also said his office supports First Amendment rights, but that state law will be enforced. The statement read, in part:

“This statute will be enforced in this district without regard to the applicant who seeks to assemble or the viewpoints of that group. When the assembly is convened on public property, individuals are prohibited from possessing firearms while demonstrating or picketing without advanced permission. Anyone in violation of this statute will be prosecuted.”

On Friday, Evangelous further went on to assure the residents of Creekwood that police would keep that community safe during the event.

“There are some good people in this community and your well-being is important to us,” he said. “We will do everything in our power to keep your community safe and move forward from this event.”

Evangelous declined to speak about specific plans for Sunday, but said it involved a command post and law enforcement partners.

“I assure you, we will have this under control,” he said.

Attempts to reach out to the Wilmington and national offices of the Revolutionary Black Panther Party were unsuccessful.