I talk regularly over the phone with a few friends I grew up with in Elizabeth City.
They’re scattered across the state and across the country. Like me, they all left their hometown in search of more.
More money. More opportunity. A bigger world — more world than what was to be had in Elizabeth City.
We always joked that if — and when — Elizabeth City makes national news, it will not be for a positive reason.
That theory was proved right in the worst way possible with the fatal shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. last month by sheriff’s deputies and the aftermath.
Like my homeboys who have moved to other places, I watched the events unfold on cable news and social media.
It was surreal on all fronts, seeing people and places so familiar, dealing with something that is all too familiar: Law enforcement officers killing a Black man.
A Black man I’ve known since we were children.
I first met Andrew Brown Jr. when we were classmates in second grade. Through the years, we were never close, but cordial to one another.
We were classmates again in eighth grade. Again, not close friends, but cool with each other.
I’d often see him when I was out on my bike visiting my grandmother’s neighborhood and some of my friends who lived near her. We’d usually speak for a minute or two. Then, he’d go his way and I’d go mine.
While I was vaguely aware of his run-ins with the law, I never felt threatened by him.
I saw him as part of the scenery in that part of town, and I’m guessing he viewed me in the same way.
Now everyone knows his name.
He was shot multiple times — including once in the back of the head — while in his car, according to an autopsy commissioned by Brown’s family.
Several officers were involved in the shooting, all presumably wearing body cameras that show the incident in its entirety from multiple viewpoints. But those videos have yet to be released.
The family was able to view a brief clip of body-camera footage that lasts less than a minute, but that was all.
That’s not enough.
The family has questions about the shooting. The public has questions about the shooting.
And the taxpayers pay for the body cameras.
Everybody deserves answers about what happened.
This shooting exposes the problem with the North Carolina state law that has prevented the family and the public from seeing the footage.
Brown’s killing also — at least, to me it does — raises questions about how policing is done in the United States.
With Andrew Brown Jr.’s extensive record in the criminal justice system, as has been reported by multiple media outlets, I have to believe he was well-known to area law enforcement.
And since he’d been arrested numerous times before, apparently without incident, I have to question why this arrest had to turn violent, to the point of him being killed.
Elizabeth City (population 18,683) is a small town in every sense of the term.
Everybody knows everybody. Sometimes, unintentionally. That’s part of life in a small town.
Everybody knows everybody’s business. Oftentimes, intentionally. That’s people being nosy as part of life in a small town.
It’s possible that Brown had a similar relationship with people who worked for the government agency that fired the bullets that killed him.
If those bullets were justified, the body-camera footage can help prove that.
If they weren’t, the footage can help prove that, too.
Without the video evidence, the family, the public and the taxpayers (at least those who care) are left with little closure, just questions about how it happened and why.
The shooting, the protests that followed and the absence of body-camera footage are still topics that I talk about with my friends. Most likely, we’ll continue to do so.