Between 200 and 300 residents, mostly women and children from the Wise Street area, gathered at the town meeting along with Newberry police, Sheriff’s deputies, S.C. Highway Patrol troopers and S.C. Law Enforcement Division agents.
Sheriff Lee Foster says law enforcement did not know about the planned meeting until they were forwarded an e-mail by The Newberry Observer Monday morning.
The town meeting by the New Black Panthers had been scheduled for Fellowship Baptist Church in the Pomaria community. But officials with the New Black Panthers said that local officials tried to stop them from coming and threatened the pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church for them not to come.
Pastor Johnny Mac Scurry, who is also a Sheriff’s deputy, says he nor his deacon board were asked if the group could use the church. He adds he was not threatened in any way.
But the organizers added that “God is the best planner“ who brought them to the Wise Street Park, which was bigger than the church.
“We want to be where our people are and not downtown,“ said one New Black Panther speaker.
The New Black Panthers claim they came to Newberry to protest the shooting death and then dragging of the body of Anthony Hill, 30, of Winnsboro, but they added that they were also here to teach people how to defend themselves.
“Anytime someone is dragged, it is a hate crime and the Sheriff needs to tell it like it is,“ said Leader of the Black Lawyers for Justice and the New Black Panther Party Malik Zulu Shabazz.
Shabazz claims there were both Confederate and Rebel flags in the home of Gregory Collins, who is accused of killing Hill and then dragging his body over 10 miles. The group also allege that Collins has white supremacist tattoos and an arsenal of weapons.
Shabazz called for the case against Collins to be tried outside of Newberry County and by the federal courts as a hate crime.
Sheriff Lee Foster says it would be the FBI that determined if the crime was one of hate and not him.
“You can’t trust Barney Fife and Andy to try the case,“ said Shabazz calling Foster a “white sheriff from Mayberry.“
“Since their speaker chose to identify me as the Mayberry sheriff, I would like to say that although he meant that condescending and hateful, I have a great admiration for what the mythical Sheriff Andy Taylor stood for in his community,“ said Foster. “Sheriff Taylor has a good heart and stood for what was right. He also always wanted to help anyone regardless of their status in life. I emulate that persona. As Barney once said, being a sheriff is much more than being a law enforcement officer, it is about being a friend.”
Shabazz also said with Collins being so much smaller than Hill that he believes that someone else was involved with the crime and moving of the body. He alleged the crime was part of a network with some participants even being uniformed officers.
Foster says the case is still under investigation, but that he believes that Collins acted alone.
“If (officers) can’t give you an answer fire them,“ said a speaker, adding that law enforcement works for the people.
Foster says if anyone including the New Black Panthers have information about the case they have not contacted them, and that the Sheriff’s Office welcomes any tips in the case.
“We want justice and now,“ said Shabazz. “We will spend all the taxpayers resources“ on marches, he said.
He also said he believes that Collins will be released from jail or given a deal where he will not serve but 10 years for the crime.
Shabazz also said that Collins should be afraid in jail because there is also justice behind bars.
The leader added that the death penalty would be mercy for Collins adding Collins should die by being dragged behind a truck.
“As you sow, you should also reap,“ quoted Shabazz from a Bible passage.
Shabazz also told the people local police were racial profilers and not here to protect and serve.
The leader also told the men in the crowd that if they had a gun they needed to “defend the community against white supremacy on the rampage.“
The group also told the crowd they were not just in Newberry for a day but to stay and they were willing to give their lives for the cause.
The New Black Panthers also said they wanted to teach the crowd how to stand up to all levels of government, to remove the Confederate flag from the state house, to raise money for the family of Hill and to get a list of demands from the community to present to officials at their planned march July 17.
The group says they will bring over 1,000 people to the July 17 march.
Foster promises the community law enforcement will have enough security to protect the marchers and any counter marchers that may show up.
At the end of the speeches, Shabazz announced that the crowd would march seven times around the community.
But as they headed to the gates of the park, they were met by Newberry Police Chief Jackie Swindler and a host of law enforcement officers.
Swindler would not allow to group to take to the streets as Shabazz wanted, but compromised allowing them to walk along the sidewalk from the park to Johnstone Street.
After the march filled with chants, the group gathered in a large circle holding hands and then again moving into a tight ball before dispersing.
Newberry Police Captain Chuck Counts says the Wise Street residents were well behaved during the gathering and the only harsh words came from the New Black Panthers.
He adds that community members were friendly and hugging officers.
“We owe it to the Wise Street citizens for not getting out of hand and behaving properly,“ said Counts.
Some locals like Mary Davenport said they were out to see what was happening and to support the family of Hill.
Counts adds that if there are any problems in the Wise Street area or anywhere in the city that people do not need to hesitate to call police.
No problems have been reported since the rally.