Members of the Stokes County Militia (SCM)are concerned with how the City of King handled the permitting process for a rally held on the bridge over U.S. 52 last Saturday.
The rally, one of many held across the country on Saturday, was intended to raise awareness over the shooting of Robert Lavoy Finicum, one of the protesters who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon earlier this year.
While the rally, which drew close to a hundred protesters from around the state to King, was held without incident, SCM members told the City Council Monday that getting permission to hold it had been an overly arduous process.
Paula Calloway said King Police Chief Paula May had initially been confrontational when she first notified the police department that people would be picketing on the bridge. She said May was later much more cordial and willing to work with the group to figure out a way to allow the protest within the confines of city and state Department of Transportation regulations.
“On the fourth, my husband started receiving many calls from different people explaining that Chief May had contacted Forsyth County and the anti – terrorism task force making statements that the Stokes County Militia was going to be armed on the bridge and that it was rumored that the Black Lives Matters group was going to counter protest our event,” said Calloway. “You can only imagine the shock I was feeling at this time! This information almost led me to cancel the event. I was in fear for the people attending, myself, my family and for the reputation of the Stokes County Militia, whom wasn’t even sponsoring the event on the bridge.”
May said she had not contacted any terrorism task forces, but had contacted the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office since the event was actually being held in an area of King which is in Forsyth County.
Calloway said the event was peaceful with protesters ranging in age form six to 76 and that the police present at the event were pleasant to work with, but she questioned the need for such a large police presence.
Darrell Calloway said some protesters had driven five hours to participate in the rally because King had traditionally been a safe place to protest, but noted that after the issues with organizing the event he was questioning the ability to have such events in the future.
“Sadly King is no longer a safe place for the first amendment,” he said. “When you get local terrorism task forces involved, we don’t like that. We try to stay on the good side of the law. To be contacting the terrorism department of Forsyth was way over the line.
“There were officers all over the place,” he added. “There was no need for this much law enforcement unless they were looking for a problem to had. I was really disappointed in the way this was handled. We are going to be looking to be doing stuff in places other than King. It is not a safe place for citizens to address grievances.”
He noted that a hot dog fundraiser held after the rally had raised over $2,000 to help the wife of Finicum.
Councilman Brian Carico said he felt the city ordinances were adequate to deal with such situations.
“I think they are very black and white with no gray area,” he said. “As they stand we probably do not need to spend anymore time on it. We need to make sure our job is to be to the public what we are supposed to be, both through their constitutional rights and by upholding the city ordinances. Outside of that we do not need to make mountains out of mole hills. I am glad everything went well. We hope if anyone has an opinion they would like to bring to the City of King they can do so without fear of being given a hard time.”
City Manager Homer Dearmin said he fully supported the way Chief May had handled the entire situation.
” Police Chief Paula May and the King Police Department were placed in the unenviable position of weighing the information they received from various Stokes County Militia members and others prior to the event against the safety needs of the protesters, the citizens of King, and of vehicle traffic along and near the protest route,” said Dearmin. “Initially, there was confusion regarding the ability of the protesters to use the bridge, following the recent changes implemented by NCDOT concerning special events on state controlled streets or rights-of-way. Once it was determined that those regulations did not apply in this circumstance, the protest group had no problems or obstructions in getting the necessary permission to hold their event.”
He said May had notified the Sheriff of Forsyth County and the Highway Patrol as a courtesy so that those agencies had an understanding of what was to occur in their respective jurisdictions.
“Additionally, Chief May needed to ascertain whether the Sheriff had issued a special permit to the protesters allowing possession of firearms during the protest,” he said. “That officers were on-site during the event was a part of their duty to protect the protesters, drivers, and the community at large. Had they not been present, and an incident occurred, outcry would have been far greater, and outcomes might have been far different. At no time was any action taken or not taken due to the nature of the event or the group organizing it. The City’s ordinance concerning pickets and protests is very clear, and all parties have agreed that once confusion regarding NCDOT regulations was cleared up, event organizers and law enforcement officials worked well together to coordinate event details.”
Dearmin said he had reviewed a number of correspondences and recordings that were made by militia members
“I am confident that Chief May acted within the law, appropriately considering the circumstances and information she had, and in the best interest of all involved at all times,” he said. “I am appreciative of the efforts of Chief May and all of our Officers to ensure peace and public safety leading up to and throughout this planned protest event, and I support her actions 100%. Militia members and others may not understand why certain actions were taken, but those actions were for their protection just as much as anyone else’s. To claim that her actions were unlawful or excessive indicates that some involved may not understand the Chief’s responsibilities, as well as the City’s ordinances and related obligations. I am hopeful that any future events will be held with ample communication in advance, and with a more constructive dialogue than that which preceded and followed the otherwise peaceful event held on March 5.”
Chief May said she felt that the level of police protection assigned to the event was appropriate.
“It is certainly a judgment call, but it is the judgment call of the chief of police in the city where the event occurs,” she said. “It is based on experience and training and a constant awareness for the potential for instances to occur that could cause injuries and even cost lives. It is a serious responsibility which is not to be taken lightly or scoffed at. I don’t in any way think that ix uniformed officers in addition to my self is by any stretch of the definition excessive when you are dealing with an event of 90 protesters over a U.S. highway in the main congested area of a city, especially in light of the unrest across the nation and recent conflicts that have been in the media where people have been hurt or killed.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.