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Protesters Gather at Wilmington City Council Meeting, Demand Police Reform

Hannah Breisinger
Protestors carry signs on June 4, 2020 at an earlier march against police brutality.

It was a tense City Council meeting in Wilmington this week, with Black Lives Matter protesters in attendance, demanding changes to police procedures and the city budget.

“My name is Sonya Patrick and I represent the local Black Lives Matter and the National Black Leadership Caucus Southeastern Region. I am also a descendant of former slave captives.” 

On Tuesday, June 16, protesters -- including former mayoral candidate Devon Scott -- confronted city leaders with a list of demands. Most requests pertained to law enforcement: mandatory body cameras, more training and mental health screenings for officers, and the formation of a Citizens Review Board to review allegations of use of force or other misconduct by police. 

Speakers praised Interim Police Chief Donny William’s performance in his position, and asked for him to be hired in the role permanently. But they also criticized the Wilmington Police Department’s requests for drones and additional vehicles -- items approved and funded by council in recent weeks. They argued that money -- and the substantial funds allocated for public safety in the city budget -- could be used for other community resources.

Wilmington resident, Angela Marie Colon:

“There is countless [money] being spent on replacing unused ballistic vests, simply because of expired warranties, new cameras and intercoms replacing those that are still functioning and other superfluous expenses. Wilmington has essentially allowed a blank check policy to their police based on vague descriptions of need. These requests need much more scrutiny. So as it currently stands, no this budget is not acceptable.”

Mayor Bill Saffo responded to the demands, saying the mandatory use of body cameras is already a policy for WPD officers, and a meeting to discuss a possible Citizens Review Board has been scheduled. He noted various community programs WPD is already involved with, as well as community and social programs that the city budget funds.

As for the police budget?

“This budget is needed based on the service calls that we as a community are receiving every single day. And one of the primary missions of the city of Wilmington is to protect our community and make it safe.”

Saffo’s colleagues echoed the mayor’s sentiments, and stressed the amount of work that had been put into the creation of the budget.

Councilman Kevin Spears: 

“I don't want people to come in and slight the work that's being done by staff, by council or by other community members, because now you've been awakened to an issue that's been going on for a while.”

The budget was unanimously approved. But as the evening continued, protest organizer Lily Nicole attempted to interrupt the meeting through its virtual live feed. She was cut off by Saffo. 

Later that evening, protestors took to the streets. WECT reports demonstrators blocked traffic, and five people were arrested. One was taken to the hospital; the news organization did not provide any further details as to how they were injured.

Hannah is WHQR's All Things Considered host, and also reports on science, the environment, and climate change. She enjoys loud music, documentaries, and stargazing; and is the proud mother of three cats, a dog, and many, many houseplants. Contact her via email at hbreisinger@whqr.org, or on Twitter @hbreisinger.