Editorial: Salisbury Police make the right call

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 4, 2020

Salisbury Police made the right call Wednesday by seeking equal justice in an incident that has altered the course of protests in Salisbury.

First on Wednesday, the Salisbury Police Department charged a black man, Harvey McCorkle III, with inciting a riot and felony damage to property. McCorkle was identified by police as the person who tossed a rock into the Salisbury Post’s window early Tuesday morning, shattering it during the tail-end of a protest.

The police department had previously charged a white man, Jeffrey Long, with offenses that included carrying a concealed weapon and discharging a firearm in the city limits, but nothing rising to the level of inciting a riot. This after he allegedly removed a pistol from his waist and fired shots in the air during a protest that was tense, but peaceful.

To be clear, state statute says anyone who “willfully incites or urges another to engage in a riot, so that as a result of such inciting or urging a riot occurs or a clear and present danger of a riot is created, is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.” And there are many who will argue that definition is relevant for someone who fires shots in the air from a pistol during a peaceful rally. For things to rise to the level of a felony, damage must be greater than $1,500.

For a brief period, the difference in charges was an example of the different systems of justice employed in the country. The Salisbury Police Department corrected that.

A window can be replaced. A person cannot.

Importantly, it appears a meeting between Salisbury-Rowan NAACP President Gemale Black and the department’s chief and deputy chief was a key factor in ensuring Long faced the same charge.

As our community sees protests similar to those sweeping the nation, it’s important that there’s a valued, open line of communication between the NAACP and the Salisbury Police Department, police want to listen when concerns arise and both are interesting in partnering on programs.

This is not the first time when police and the NAACP have worked together on an issue facing our community. Just two days ago, Police Chief Jerry Stokes and Black made a joint statement on video in which they encouraged the continuation of peaceful protests. One month ago, they walked East Lafayette Street together after a deadly shooting for a “Stop the Violence” walk. The two organizations joined together last year for a “Cease Fire Summer” program.

The police department must continue to listen as peaceful and nonviolent protesters raise their voices to speak about injustice in our community. We hope that other law enforcement agencies in the county will be paying attention, too.