Demonstrators at the “Stand with Elizabeth City” solidarity rally for Andrew Brown in Raleigh on June 1. Photo by Jenny Warburg. 

For more than 40 nights, protestors have gathered at 5 p.m. in the streets of Elizabeth City, demanding accountability for the  police shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. on April 21. Brown, who was 42 years old, was killed while in his car as Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies were serving a warrant for his arrest.

Yesterday evening, Raleigh activists hosted one of eight  “simultaneous solidarity”  rallies that took place at 5 p.m. in several of North Carolina’s major cities. Protestors sent messages of support to Brown’s family and Elizabeth City and called for transparency; much of the deputies’ body-worn camera footage that would have captured Brown’s death has not been publicly released, and Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble said last month that none of the involved officers will be criminally charged. 

As protestors await justice and Brown’s family plans to file a federal lawsuit, a recent poll from Carolina Forward, a left-leaning nonprofit focused on policy, found that a broad set of North Carolinians want police reform. Brown’s death may have influenced voters’ opinions, says Nicole Quick, a member of Carolina Forward’s board of directors and a former candidate for the state House of Representatives. 

More than half of North Carolinians surveyed said the state should end the policy of qualified immunity, and almost 60 percent support further scrutiny and restrictions on police use of deadly force. 

Qualified immunity protects state and local officials, including police officers, from facing a personal civil suit unless the court initially determines they have violated an individual’s “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights.” 

Critics say that the doctrine makes it difficult to hold individual officers accountable for use of excessive force. Law enforcement officials and other defenders of qualified immunity say the policy helps police officers do their jobs without fear of excessive civil lawsuits. 

More than three-quarters of Democrats and more than half of independents surveyed believe the state should end qualified immunity, compared to around one-fourth of Republicans. Support for abolishing qualified immunity was strongest among people of color and those living in urban areas.  

“This reflects not only the disparity in opinion across racial groups, but also likely the lived reality of policing itself as practiced in urban areas versus rural ones,” an analysis that came with the poll states. 

Aside from the significant 43-point gap between Democrats and Republicans, a diverse coalition of North Carolinians surveyed want increased restrictions and scrutiny on deadly force by police. 

“Strikingly, majorities of every racial group supported additional scrutiny of the use of deadly force,” the poll’s analysis states. “Black respondents (70 percent) and those who identify as some other race (85 percent) most wanted more scrutiny, but so did a clear majority of whites (55 percent). Majorities of every educational group, income group, and respondent area (urban/suburban/rural) agreed, in an alignment of opinion rarely seen in North Carolina politics.” 

The poll’s results follow a recent N.C. Policy Watch report, which found that Black North Carolinians are twice as likely to be killed by police compared to whites. Black people accounted for a third of almost 250 police-involved deaths that have taken place since 2013—despite accounting for only 22 percent of the state’s population. 

Only one case involving a Black victim resulted in charges against officers, according to data from Mapping Police Violence. Only one of the 250 police-involved fatality cases resulted in conviction.

Despite a lack of older data to compare the poll to, Quick says she believes police reform has become a more publicly visible issue, following George Floyd’s videotaped death, Derek Chauvin’s trial, and, of course, Andrew Brown Jr’s death locally.

“Whereas George Floyd created the awareness, this case definitely brings it home, and I don’t think it’s going away,” Quick told the INDY. “I know that the DA dismissed any idea of pressing charges, but now we’ve got this federal lawsuit, so I don’t think it’s going away. I think that it’s still very much in the public mind, and the public wants some sort of resolution and response to that killing.” 

The Carolina Forward poll indicates that voters are indeed paying attention to the Brown shooting. More than half of those surveyed were closely following the case, although urban voters and black individuals were more likely to pay attention. 

“To see that it’s not just Democrats, it’s not just African Americans, but you’re getting—across demographics—support for change, and for getting rid of qualified immunity, and holding these bad offenders accountable,” Quick says. “So that surprised me somewhat for North Carolina where it’s a purple state, but there’s still a lot of conservative feeling and support for law enforcement. And this demonstrates that we still support law enforcement, but we also think that when they screw up, they should be held accountable.” 

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