Just three months after taking over as Elizabeth City’s chief executive, Montreux Freeman never expected to have to deal with such a situation. And that one in the center of national attention.
For the past week and a half, Freeman, the city manager of Elizabeth City, has clashed, with hundreds of protesters taking to the streets after Pascutanck County Sheriff’s Deputy gunmen shot and killed unarmed black Andrew Brown Jr.
“As an African-American man, I’ve seen enough of that, haven’t I?” Freeman said in an interview with The News & Observer. “It simply came to our notice then. You are not going to run a city with these things in mind.
“And you hope you pray you will never have to.”
Coming to a family that has also had marches and protests throughout history, Freeman said his approach at the time was to protect the protesters, the citizens of Elizabeth City.
The protesters gathered near the center of the sheriff’s office, marching in the city for several hours every day, chanting “20 seconds. It is not enough! »: This refers to a video of the deputy body camera, which shows Brown’s death, but was not released to the public.
An unarmed black Brown was killed less than 24 hours after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Shavin was convicted of killing George Floyd Floyd.
The protesters promised to be peaceful, not wanting to escalate the Browner family’s plight into a small town where so many people know each other. Although some shop windows are located along the main roads and the center’s businesses are almost all closed, night rallies do not lead to vandalism or violence.
The curfew was reduced on Friday from 8pm to 6am. It is now midnight until 6 am
ECSU graduate coming home
When Freeman took over as Elizabeth City Mayor earlier this year, it was a kind of return home. He played football and ran at Elizabeth City State University, historically SJ University, which is part of the UN system.
Freeman said that to do this job, he combines his appreciation of himself with so much of the city that he later attended another HBCU NC Central law school in Durham. He was taught there by Durham County Manager Wendell Davis.
Freeman said he relied on a lesson his father taught him when he was 12 years old. He said that when you make a decision, you are either afraid or you think about it. Because your mind will not allow you to do both.
“I just choose to think through it,” Freeman said.
Freeman said he was on the phone with Elizabeth City Police Chief Eddie Buffalo every day from 6 a.m. to midnight to talk about the situation.
They “watch the temperature of the demonstrations” and assess the curfew.
Freeman said he welcomed the protests and respected the rights of the First Amendment. And he is proud of how the protesters, the locals, are patient, peaceful or non-violent.
According to him, part of it is due to the relationship established by the efforts of the community police led by Buffalo for many years.
Freeman also called the protesters a “de-escalation team” that monitors when emotions run high.
“They need to be able to encourage each other to police each other for lack of a better word so that everyone can focus on the issue under discussion,” Freeman said.
Freeman understands where the protesters come from and why they are there. He said it “seemed like something else” when Brown was shot dead.
“The reality is that this is a very emotional situation,” he said. “I feel it.”
The price of protests
On the first day of the protest, the city cost about $ 5,000, and last Sunday, according to Freeman, it was as high as $ 48,000. It now costs about $ 100,000 for local resources to organize the protests. And that number is steadily rising, he said.
“We are just trying to do our best to respond to the call of the citizens, the protesters, the Brown family,” Freeman said.
Part of that money is spent on overtime officers, extra equipment, and law enforcement outposts coming to town to help about 75 Elizabeth City police officers.
Freeman said Chief Buffalo had asked for feedback from all state police departments, some from Charlotte. The city approves the expenses of those officers, such as accommodation and food.
The money will come from taxpayers’ dollars through the city’s reserves and the police budget, which needs to be changed, Freeman said. City officials are likely to discuss the costs at a budget-council meeting on Monday.
Freeman said he was concerned that they were financially “stretched” but that they would keep the officers on the ground for as long as necessary.
“You do not have a budget for civil unrest,” Freeman said. “Right now we have to respond to that call.”