Community leaders react to decision to clear police officer in Ferguson Laurent shooting death
By Rebecca Rider
SALISBURY — A decision to clear the officer who shot Ferguson Laurent is not the end of the fight for justice, community leaders said Wednesday.
Pastor Latasha Wilks said the district attorney’s decision is not final and there are many levels in the judicial system.
“And I will use every single one of them to get justice for Ferguson Claude Laurent,” she said.
Wilkes and others who reacted to the decision made clear that they were expressing their own views, not those of any group.
They also said they were not surprised by the decision.
“This tends to be a trend in our culture,” Anthony Smith said. “That’s why many in our community continue to raise the banner of black lives.”
Smith said he is concerned that Officer Karl Boehm, who shot Laurent, was also involved in a 2010 shooting, which was deemed justified after an investigation.
“It should cause at least suspicion,” he said. “It should cause concern.”
Smith, Wilks and others said the decision and the manner in which the information was released have not helped community relations.
“This right here has caused a deeper chasm … of distrust in our community,” Smith said.
He also expressed sadness, concern and fear for young black men in the community, who he said may now feel even more that they have to “watch their backs” around police.
Wilks said the city and the Rowan County District Attorney’s Office had had the SBI report and decision for several days. But instead of releasing the information immediately or contacting community leaders, she said, the city waited.
“We’ve been waiting patiently for this report to come back. And they decided to release it when they got ready,” she said.
Wilks said she was offended that the city would believe that there was a threat of violence in the community.
“I just don’t believe that. I don’t believe the city is in a threat,” she said.
After Laurent’s death, Wilks and other community activists called for increased transparency and dialogue between city officials and the black community. The way the past few days have been handled has damaged that relationship, she said.
Al Heggins agreed and said she does not think the city has been “diligent in their efforts” in the past few weeks to keep lines of communications open. She added that worries about community unrest have provoked residents.
“I think the city’s reaction leading up to the announcement has not helped us — it has hurt us,” she said.
Smith said he will continue to push for the suspension of no-knock warrants and continue to raise awareness and consciousness on racial issues.
“We will continue to lift up and expose the continuing presence of institutionalized racism rooted in the institutions of this community,” he said.
Whitney Peckman said she would like to see the community move forward and fight for racial justice.
“It’s done,” she said of the SBI report. “It doesn’t absolve the system of what it’s created.”
Peckman said she would like to see the City Council and white community leaders stand up and “understand fully what oppression does not just to the oppressed but to the oppressor.”
Community members also said their hearts go out to Shiloh, Laurent’s infant daughter. Smith said he is sad knowing that Shiloh will grow up without knowing her father.
Despite hurt over the decision, community leaders urged a peaceful, nonviolent reaction to the news.
“This is a time for our community to be civil and peaceable and for the city to be civil and peaceable with us,” Heggins said.
Smith said it is the people’s right to protest if they feel the need to respond. However, if they do, he urged them to do so passionately and be nonviolent — not to answer violence with violence.
“Don’t respond in kind,” he said. “Though the system has done violence to the community, don’t respond violently.”
Heggins called for “honest community work” and a “dropping of defenses” between city officials and community members.
In a written statement, Rowan County Democratic Party Chairman Geoffrey Hoy said, “No words or actions can restore the life that was lost. Anger, disappointment, relief are all real. There can be no easy peace. My hope is for a greater resolve to seek both greater safety and justice in the future for all. I appreciate and commend all the efforts to deepen our understanding of differences and seek on going dialogue which can strengthen the process of reconciliation. I commend Chief Stokes for moving in the direction of improved police procedures.
“And while community leaders will continue to push for justice and an end to no-knock warrants, many want to know how the city plans to make reparation,” Hoy said.
“You took a whole life here,” Wilks said. “You took a man away from his daughter. What is the city going to do … to try to make some things right?”
Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.