SOUTHPORT — Thursday was one of Southport Police Chief Todd Coring’s busiest days on the job.
As organizers worked to assemble a peaceful march downtown in solidarity with the national movement confronting police brutality and racial injustice, confusion and fear spread online.
“I’ve been inundated — that’s probably an understatement — with calls and screenshots,” Chief Coring said Thursday afternoon.
Across the county line, peaceful protestors have occupied the steps of Wilmington City Hall for six nights straight, drawing the largest crowd yet Thursday evening. Sunday, May 31 an initially peaceful protest in Wilmington turned quickly chaotic, with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office deploying tear gas and rubber bullets on the crowd that would not disperse from the streets. Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said he personally witnessed “things being hurled” at law enforcement vehicles before tear gas was deployed. No clashes between protestors and law enforcement has occurred since.
Protests have not yet made their way across the river into Brunswick County. A group plans to lead a peaceful demonstration in Southport on Sunday beginning at noon at the waterfront.
Some concerning and even threatening posts online about the Southport march seemed to stoke fear, urging people to arm themselves to confront the protestors. “It’s a sad time with everything going on. Hype on social media has fueled the fear in people,” Coring said.
The chief is getting calls from all angles — from people worried about the online threats to residents concerned about rioting and looting observed in other cities to business owners worried about the safety of their storefronts. Even visitors have reached out with concerns.
“It’s sad that we have to see the pain and hear the fear in people’s voices. The calls I’ve gotten today is not something I’ve experienced in my career,” he said, adding that many callers have broken down and cried. “It’s been a tough day.”
March planned Sunday
Though the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, it’s illegal to bring firearms to public gatherings in North Carolina, including parades and protest demonstrations.
“Certainly guns should not be brought to a protest. You don’t need to bring guns to a protest,” Chief Coring said. “I’ve had folks leave messages about should we carry guns? Do we need to worry about our safety? My message is to allow us to serve in that capacity.”
There are no legitimate threats that the planned march will be anything other than peaceful at this point. Southport Police Department is constantly monitoring online activity related to the march, Coring said. The chief helped organizers obtain an official permit and said he has agreed to speak at the event. The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office is also coordinating the peaceful prayer march, according to a City update shared Friday.
“I’ve been in law enforcement for over 20 years. This is not who we are,” Coring said, referencing the actions of the four officers involved in killing George Floyd. “No one hates a bad cop more than a good cop.”
Taking a proactive approach to the national movement, Coring said he already plans on stepping up regular and random audits of his officer’s body camera footage. “I can’t be in the car with them all the time,” Coring said. “I’m not there for every call they respond to. I just hope and pray they treat people the way they want to be treated.”
As a law enforcement leader, Coring said the past week has been painful but important. “This has been going on for years and years, how do we make it stop?” Coring said.
“This, in my opinion, this is a heart issue. We as law enforcement, we train and we teach and we try to say that we show compassion and integrity,” he said. “But you can’t test that. That is in someone’s heart.”
Across the country, law enforcement officers and agencies that have participated in peaceful protests of George Floyd’s killing under the knee of a Minneapolis Police Department officer have de-escalated events that can quickly escalate otherwise peaceful events when met with police force. Southport Police Department’s decision to participate, rather than only monitor Sunday’s planned activities is in line with de-escalation and community healing efforts.
“We just want to try to make sure as law enforcement — as chief — we mourn with them,” Chief Coring said. “I’m proud that local law enforcement officers have stepped out of the shadows to say, ‘We don’t condone this, we march with you.'”
- Who: Citizens United in Brunswick County
- What: A peaceful prayer march
- When: Sunday, June 7, from noon to 3 p.m.
- Where: Beginning at Keziah Park, head down Lord Street to West 11th Street and return to the park.
Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee Still at email@example.com