He has been among the most candid high-profile local figures when it comes to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the protests across the country that followed. He is Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough.
At a news conference four days after Floyd died, Kimbrough didn’t hold back criticizing the actions of the Minneapolis officers, expressing why the peaceful protests are important and explaining how the people in power need to be held accountable.
His comments during that news conference were some of the most passionate I’ve heard publicly from a local sheriff in my 35+ years working in this area. And I wanted to talk to him about it.
Here is a text version of our conversation (edited for brevity):
“We got video of you last night walking with protesters. I was wondering if you could tell my why you did that and why you thought it was important?”
Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough/Forsyth County
“It’s important for me to be a part of the community. I’ve always been part of this community. Before I was sheriff, before I was a special agent and a police officer, I was a black man. And before all of that, I’m a human being. And I have compassion about what’s happening around the country. And so how could I not be a part of something that’s affecting everything.”
“You also told us last night that you sense a change was taking place. I was wondering if you could describe that change. What exactly are you seeing?”
“Oh, my goodness. It’s obvious. You know, you can tell change is taking place when the protests has consumed COVID-19. You have people protesting, not just one group of people. You have blacks, whites, you have Latinos, you have gay, you have straight, you know, everything living, breathing the support of the human race. That’s out there now protesting. And that’s when you know the people are listening. I’m even affected by, you know, everybody that I’ve talked to across the country. And I have friends all over this country in law enforcement who are looking at their policies and procedures. How do we respond to this? (They’re) talking about cultural diversity, diversifying the particular agencies that we lead.”
“It’s obvious George Floyd’s death affected you emotionally.”
“I’ve been crying. Like a lot of people, I’ve been angry. My mindset has been highs, lows. We have problems and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when we don’t address them. And I think now we are addressing and realizing problems that we have. And we’re starting to have conversations about them and realizing hey, we can do something.”
“In most of North Carolina’s large cities, law enforcement officers and protesters have some violent encounters which have resulted in curfews — except Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. Why is that? What has been the key?”
“We have been a part of the community before this happened. So now we have built up community credibility, the police chief and myself. One of the first things when we came in, I said I want to partner with you. So when there’s a crisis, they come, they say, you know what, they have shown that they have community credibility.”
“Sheriff we have to talk about the looting and the violence. While it hasn’t been that big a problem in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, it has been in surrounding communities and across the country. You have said that it wrong. But you have also said you understand what the protesters are thinking.”
“You have a population that has felt oppressed, that they never had a voice. And so what you’re seeing is the anger. And sometimes they can’t control it. And I don’t agree with it. I don’t. But I understand it. But it’s not the way. It’s not the way. The way is bringing your resources and your energy to the same table and focusing on what is our next step. So what do we do now, that has the attention of the world. I’m hoping that people take cooler heads, cooler minds as we go forward. And I just hope that when we make mistakes that we can say, I made a mistake and let’s talk about it.”