A mostly Black city. A mostly white county. Some say Andrew Brown Jr.'s shooting deepened a racial divide

Tuesday, May 4, 2021
Some say Andrew Brown shooting deepened the racial divide in Elizabeth City
Fifty percent of the residents who live in Elizabeth City are Black but the county it sits in, Pasquotank County, is predominately white.

Some residents of Elizabeth City say Andrew Brown Jr.'s death by deputies is more about accountability than it is about race.

But others believe some people are taking sides based on race.

WATCH: ABC11's special coverage of the deadly shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City, North Carolina

ABC11's special coverage of the shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

"A lot of my family is racist. A lot of white people here are racist," said Melissa Matthews.

The 22-year-old from Elizabeth City made that bold claim about the small town of 18,000 people where she grew up.

According to the Census Bureau, 50 percent of the city is Black and 43 percent are white. However, Pasquotank County is predominately white at 58 percent, with 36 percent of the county being Black.

'We're going to get justice': Andrew Brown Jr.'s family speaks exclusively with ABC11 on deadly Elizabeth City shooting

Monday night, police charged Matthews for impeding traffic during a protest.

It was her seventh day actively protesting with her community, some of whom are Black.

"There are literally white people from this town commenting saying, 'just run them down. It's fine.' Or, 'if Andrew was running you know he deserved it,'" said Matthews.

Her friend, Dan Mulcrone, who is also white, echoed that sentiment.

But, he added: "There are a lot of people who do look like me who are in 100 percent support of the protestors and 100 percent support of civil rights."

The growing scrutiny shadowed around Brown's killing by law enforcement, prompting the FBI to investigate if federal civil rights laws were violated.

The issue also put a spotlight on a racial divide existing before the death of 42-year-old father of seven.

In an exclusive interview, Brown's cousin, grandmother, and aunt said there are symbols of racism right outside their front door.

"The closest neighbor to this house -- a huge confederate flag, a huge trump sign, and I believe a noose on a tree -- across the street," said Jadine Hampton, Brown's first cousin.

"We aren't comfortable," said Lillie Brown Clark, Brown's aunt. "It was reported but we're told by the same sheriffs department that it is private property."

"We can't runaway from racism," said Elizabeth City's new city manager Montre Freeman. "We can't run away from race relations. The reality is those people that you talked to are identifying some real challenges and those are the people I want to talk to."

WATCH: City manager talks race relations in Elizabeth City

"We can't runaway from racism," said Montre Freeman. "We can't run away from race relations.

He says City Council, which is predominately Black, approved a measure Monday night to meet with the nearly all-white County Commission Board.

They will discuss the Brown case: what went wrong and how do they move forward together.

He says Brown's death has shifted his priorities. He's working on a plan to close the racial divide, starting with having community conversations.

When asked if he can take the race relation issues and have meaningful conversations with county leaders, he said he thinks he can.

"I was trained for this," he said. "I was born for this. And I can talk to anybody. And I can respect your opinion even if it's adverse from mine."

So far, there's no timetable on when the city and county will meet regarding the Andrew Brown case and tackle race relations.

ABC11 reached out to the sheriff, county manager and county board chair for comment but never heard back.