Vandals or activists? District attorney called on to drop charges against well-known Black Lives Matter protesters
Ashley Daniels, of New Hanover for All, speaks at a press conference Monday calling on the prosecutor to drop charges against three prominent protesters in Wilmington alleged to have destroyed property. (Daily photo from Port City / Alexandria Sands)
WILMINGTON – Signs calling for “Drop the Charges” rejoined the steps of the New Hanover County Courthouse on Monday – this time to urge District Attorney Ben David to dismiss charges against leaders of the Black Lives Matter protests, which the government brought had taken over downtown Wilmington streets around this time last year.
The meeting was held a few blocks from David Walker’s historic marker on North Third Street, an organizer discovered. The 19th century free Black Wilmingtonian is remembered for defiantly writing an anti-slavery pamphlet. The organizers highlighted the importance of this venue and compared the activists who defended it to the Greensboro Four and Wilmington 10.
“Everyone likes the victory story, but few people ever speak of the effort it takes to be a leader,” said Ashley Daniels, one of several organizers behind a broad-based coalition that pushed for dismissed charges.
The guides Daniels and others spoke of were the guides in lower case. Prominent members of the Wilmington activist group – Nicole Nelson (who goes from Lily Nicole), Timothy Joyner and Joshua Zieseniss – are due to appear in court on May 27 on charges of violation of real estate and personal property.
After months of tensions over downtown protests – complaints about demonstrations disrupting traffic, disrupting the public and reportedly consuming police resources – the group was accused in October of destroying a “Wilmington for Trump” billboard Time was supported by the New Hanover County GOP.
“I find it outrageous,” said the leader of the Republican Party, Will Knecht, of the coalition’s demand to file charges. “If you are innocent, you should be found innocent in a court of law.”
In the autumn, according to Knecht, protesters shared photos of themselves with the damaged signs online.
The “Wilmington for Trump” billboard initially raised red flags for violating campaign laws without establishing who paid for it. After the local media learned of the federal violation, the New Hanover County GOP announced it would take over the sign. It also replaced it once it was destroyed.
“Donald Trump was the Republican candidate for President of the United States,” said Knecht. “You didn’t have to vote for him. You could work for Joe Biden. You could do anything to get your candidate to vote. But whoever the culprit is, destroys property. “
James Earl Frazier was one of the four defendants who tore apart the pro-Trump billboard. His charges were dropped on November 17 when he was on trial with Joyner over a June 14 incident.
Both plead guilty of spraying “BLM” and swastikas on a downtown Confederate statue, and both have continued a prayer for the verdict, a tool used in North Carolina to mitigate the effects of a conviction. On the same day, charges against Frazier over the poster incident were dismissed. Frazier told Port City Daily he didn’t understand the reason for this.
“I wish I knew why because if mine were dropped, so should they,” said Frazier.
Nada Merghani wears a shirt that says “Community Support is not a crime” and speaks at a press conference on Monday. Merghani, passing the pronouns, said they have also been tried on protest-related charges and understand the financial and emotional pressures. (Daily photo from Port City / Alexandria Sands)
Less than 10 days after the May 27 court hearing, the coalition pledges to contact the district attorney every day to move the charges against Nelson, Joyner and Zieseniss to be dismissed. The group is also soliciting donations through mobile payment apps to help cover the protesters’ legal fees.
The coalition is seeking other individuals and groups to keep in touch with David on an ongoing basis, although the call to action sponsored by this week’s media conference may have failed. The district prosecutor said they had received dozens of calls and not all of them were in favor of firing.
“Some citizens are calling for the cases to be dismissed while others are calling for the prosecution to continue,” David’s assistant Sam Dooies wrote in an email to Port City Daily.
Joyner, Nelson and Zieseniss made no statements to the outlets and were not present at the press conference. “All you have to do right now is breathe air and drink water,” coalition member Daniels told reporters.
The coalition believes the charges are a waste of government resources and subordinate law enforcement agencies are using the nonviolent charges to “set an example” of protesters. Organizer Nada Merghani told reporters the protesters were victims of police surveillance, a tactic that has historically been used against black activists like Martin Luther King Jr.
Merghani accused the Wilmington Police Department of flying drones over the homes of the defendants. She said WPD was posted in front of their homes and instructed their landlords to cut trees so they could better examine their properties. The Wilmington Police Department denied the allegations.
“I mean we have real crime,” said Speaker Lt. Leslie Irving.
The coalition also points out that the three do more good than harm to the community. A press release listed some of her accomplishments, including the fact that Joyner reads to children at New Hanover County Schools and that Zieseniss served as the director of Hannah Block’s youth camp, and that Nelson helped start the Wilmington School of the Arts and volunteer for Sokoto House’s youth programs.
“Rather than threatening these people with jail, we should thank them for their willingness to show up day in and day out and remember the work each of us must do if we are to face those who still want to use the race to divide us, ”said spokeswoman Anna Lee, co-director of Working Films, on Monday.
But Knecht argues that “we like them” and “we believe what they believe” is no reason to bypass the court.
“It’s not the same as the Greensboro Four,” he added.
Send tips and comments to Alexandria Sands at [email protected]