On this episode, we take a deep dive with independent journalist Zach Wickes — who goes by Mr. Wickes in his work — to look at the Wilmington protests and the 2013 Brandon Smith shooting, which is still contentious seven years later. Wickes’ work can be found at the Fahrenheitone40 Instagram and Facebook pages.
Wickes got his start in independent journalism during the Black Panther tribunal in early 2017, due largely to his belief that mainstream media outlets either wouldn’t cover it, or wouldn’t cover it in-depth.
During the tribunal, he met Georgia Davis, Smith’s sister, but it would be another three and a half years before he would start looking in-depth into Smith’s shooting.
That happened when Wickes started covering the downtown protests, including the May 31 protest that turned violent — with authorities and protestors both claiming the other side instigated the violence.
Wickes was there, filming from inside the fray, and disputes the account of law enforcement and Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo. Wickes also took issue with New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon’s assertion that his deputies did not use tear gas (the Sheriff’s Office later admitted they used both inert and tear gas). Wickes, who was himself tear-gassed on May 31, notes that the Sheriff has never addressed this discrepancy.
Wickes also again ran into Georgia Davis, who has attended many of the protests since. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, Smith’s shooting was heavily on people’s minds — and Wickes started looking into it.
Since then, Wickes has brought new audio of Smith’s shooting to light — and discussed how, in his view, the recording challenges parts of the official narrative of what happened during the shooting.
Wickes has also questioned other parts of the narrative presented by the District Attorney’s office, including the lack of transparency, and way in which law enforcement agencies ‘investigated themselves,’ and the ‘validated gang member’ title that was affixed to Smith. The latter, in particular, has been a source of frustration for some who feel both law enforcement and the media use the term uncritically — without explaining what it means, how it differs from a criminal conviction or charge, and how it’s open to subjective interpretation.
We get into it.
Below: Wickes’ coverage of the January 2017 Black Panther tribunal in Wilmington.