Civil rights activist Barnett visits Albemarle to address alleged injustices

Civil rights activist John Barnett was in downtown Albemarle Wednesday morning for a press conference on the steps of the Stanly County Courthouse. He spoke about alleged law enforcement misconduct involving the family members of several concerned citizens, many of them mothers.

Barnett is the founder of True Healing Under God (T.H.U.G.) Civil Rights Group, which advocates for people facing injustice across the country, but specifically in the South. He estimated 12 people in Stanly County have reached out to him about a variety of injustices, including Tina Turner.

Turner, who lives in Salisbury but spent close to 30 years in Albemarle, called Barnett earlier this year after she alleged that the Sheriff’s Office discriminated against her son, Jatwane Cole, when he was arrested in March for several drug charges, which she claimed were false.

Turner said her son had no drugs on him when he was arrested, but the sheriff’s deputies, according to the news report, found four grams of fentanyl, 35.7 grams of methamphetamine, 125 oxycodone pills and 56 ecstasy pills. A firearm was also seized during the incident.

Turner told the Stanly News & Press that the sheriff’s deputies began following her son to where he felt harassed and sped to get away. This started a high-speed chase that ended with his vehicle getting involved in an accident in New London.

Cole, who Turner said suffered several injuries including a fracture of his skull, is living at Foothills Correctional Institute in Morganton, she said.

According to the Sheriff’s Office account in the SNAP story, “Stanly County Sheriff’s Office detectives observed a vehicle that had been involved in a previously committed felony offense.”

When asked for comment about the incident, Sheriff Jeff Crisco said he stands by the report in the SNAP. He also said he had heard about the press conference through social media, though Barnett never contacted him or his office.

“I have issues because of the brutality that went on with my son,” Turner said, noting she also had a problem with Cole’s bond, which she said was $2 million.

“I’m not standing here for just Black people,” Turner said. “I’m standing here for anybody that had problems with law enforcement or has been discriminated against in Albemarle.”

Turner said she is considering filing a complaint against the Sheriff’s Office. If complaints are filed, either by Turner or others, Barnett said he would speak with those organizations.

Cole was previously arrested in 2015 after a police standoff in Asheboro. According to the WSOC-TV news report, Cole was “behind 18 home break-ins in Albemarle” and “had least 40 charges prior” to the arrest.

He has a lengthy criminal record, dating back to 2012, consisting almost entirely of felony charges related to breaking and entering and larceny.

Of the people who had reached out to Barnett, Turner was the only one to speak during the press conference.

Barnett’s purpose for coming to Albemarle was also to give Turner and others information about how to contact lawyers to pursue legal recourse.

“The one thing I’ve learned about our people in the last 15 years of fighting for civil rights is that they don’t have access to a lawyer,” Barnett said.

He also passed out his personal contact information, noting by doing so he was setting up a satellite office in Albemarle.

Barnett noted that too often, small cities, such as Ferguson, Missouri, where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police, “have the biggest problems.”

Barnett has worked with Rev. Al Sharpton for many years and Benjamin Crump, a lawyer specializing in civil rights cases who has represented the families of Trayvon Martin, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Barnett has recently been demanding justice for Shanquella Robinson, the Charlotte woman killed last year in Mexico, and he plans to travel to Mississippi in early June to seek justice for Michael Johnson, who was shot in the mouth by a sheriff’s deputy.

Barnett noted that besides police violence, Black people must also address violence occurring among themselves.

“At the end of the day, we’re our own killers,” Barnett said, “whether we want to admit it or not.”

Barnett said he plans to make several more trips to Albemarle soon as he works to make sure Turner and others are being properly represented and having their voices heard.

“It’s great to have this man here today,” Turner said of Barnett, noting that the press conference is “just the beginning.”

Barnett plans to work with people in the community to organize justice rallies to be held Saturdays at noon. A location for these events has not been determined.