‘UNCP is not against them’: Pembroke protesters want healing, unity for town after violence by counterprotesters

Pee Dee

PEMBROKE, NC (WBTW) – A Robeson County town will be under a curfew this Fourth of July holiday weekend due to “civil unrest” days after counterprotesters threw objects and racial slurs at peaceful protesters.

For the last three nights, Pembroke has shut down at 8 p.m. due to the indefinite curfew. Mayor Gregory Cummings declared a state of emergency Wednesday due to “civil unrest.”

University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP) senior Jennifer Parker says she had to join her fellow students in last Friday’s protest with the global movement following George Floyd’s killing.

“Me being white, I believe I have the privilege of knowing that I can walk outside everyday and not fear every day for my life,” she said.

While the protesters were marching, counterprotesters threw bottles and shouted racial slurs at them, according to the town’s curfew declaration.

“Somebody looked at me and said, ‘You look white, but you’re acting like a,’ and then, the n-word,” Parker said.

Parker also says a man came up to her and a few others marching.

“He looked at me for just a split-second, pulled a pocket knife and tried to slash at my neck and hands,” she said.

Parker says she used her sign to back away from him.

“I didn’t want to cause anything because if I would have reacted, I know the whole situation would have been flipped,” she said. “It would have been like a protester attacking a local.”

Rev. Tyrone Watson, who’s president of the Unified Robeson County NAACP, marched alongside the demonstrators and spoke when they gathered at UNCP’s campus.

“Our whole mindset was to keep the students focused on the march and not respond back,” he says. “That’s what we did.”

Rev. Watson says many counterprotesters were Native American, but that Natives were also marching along with him and the students.

“We can begin to repair the broken relationship between African Americans and the Natives, but we have to get past the march to do that,” he said.

Harvey Godwin Jr., who’s the chair of the Lumbee Tribe, condemned the counterprotesters’ actions in his State of the Tribe Address on Friday. Godwin also spoke against what happened in a Facebook statement on the day after the protest, saying “Hatred has no part in the Lumbee way of life.”

Parker says she hopes everyone on- and off-campus can unite around the original message of racial justice.

“I don’t look at them as a bad group people at all,” she said. “In fact, in 1958, they ran off the KKK. I hope out of all of this, they can realize that UNCP is not against them.”

Rev. Watson says investigators are trying to find who pulled that knife. Parker says she has spoken to Pembroke police about the incident.

Rev. Watson also says he’s working with Mayor Cummings, the town’s police chief and UNCP chancellor Robin Cummings, so anything like what happened at the protest doesn’t happen again.

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