By Nathan Ham
Hundreds of students and Boone residents peacefully assembled on campus and marched down King Street to the Watauga County Courthouse on Sunday afternoon as a united voice seeking justice for George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man who died in police custody on May 25.
One officer in the case, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Other charges could be filed as Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has taken over the investigation and prosecution of Floyd’s death.
Many protests across the nation have turned violent with multiple injuries to officers and protesters and many buildings being looted and burned. Thankfully in Boone, none of that came to pass.
University students, athletes, coaches, faculty members, and Boone area residents marched together seeking justice, not just for Floyd, but for many other incidents of violence against minorities by police departments nationwide.
Appalachian State Athletic Director Doug Gillin, Mountaineer football head coach Shawn Clark and App State men’s basketball head coach Dustin Kerns all took part in the march.
As demonstrators walked through the street, Boone Police Department officers blocked traffic to allow the protestors to walk and even provided bottles of water for the marchers on a warm and sunny day in the High Country.
Numerous law enforcement agencies across the country have condemned the actions of the Minneapolis Police Officers who were involved in Floyd’s death. Appalachian State Police Chief Andy Stephenson issued a statement saying that he was “angered, sickened and ashamed by the actions of the police officers who are responsible for the death of George Floyd.”
Stephenson has been in law enforcement for 24 years and felt the need to address the situation on Saturday even before the student march had been organized.
“I have felt compelled to apologize for those members of my profession who have yet to understand, or are not capable of understanding, what policing is meant to be. Policing is much more than simply the enforcement of laws. What matters most is the manner in which police officers interact with members of our communities. Policing must transition to a profession that attracts the brightest minds. Police officers must be actively engaged in building stronger communities, together with every member of the communities they serve,” said Chief Stephenson. “I know I have to go beyond apologizing, beyond talking, and take action. I view our App State Police academy program as a means for introducing reform into the communities of North Carolina, and beyond. Our young police officers need education and training that goes well beyond the minimum state training standards, both in the number of training hours and the topics of mandated instruction. Unless we engage and employ innovative new strategies, policing will continue to be destined for failure. This change begins with education. I feel extremely fortunate that I have been able to begin this work in the short time that I’ve been at Appalachian State University. Policing has always been controversial, and our university leadership has supported the work I have wanted to do to enact change. As we graduate officers with new standards of education, training, and a clear understanding of their role in the communities they serve, our university police department is changing. Our officers have made some errors in judgment, but we are becoming a better department, better officers of the law, and most importantly, better stewards for our community, each day. We pledge to continue our work as a department, and the work of our academy, to change our profession so that police are truly protecting and serving every member of the communities in which they live.”