Victims of police brutality speak at Oct. 22 event

by Keith Barber

Bill Hartsfeld read from a letter he wrote to his son, Dylan, during the October 22 Coalition protest of police brutality in front of the High Point Police Department. First, Hartsfeld gave the approximately 35 people in attendance a little background on Dylan. An Iraqi veteran, Dylan Hartsfeld, was shot and killed by Guilford County Sheriff’s deputy VS Maynard on Sept. 29. Dylan fell down a set of stairs, injuring his shoulder and collarbone. After Maynard arrived, there was an exchange of words before the sheriff’s deputy shot Dylan three times, killing him, Bill Hartsfeld said.

“My son was an Iraqi veteran — he served his country,” he said. “He went to Iraq from Day One when they came in and took the airport to defend all you people here and the rest of this nation. He went to Afghanistan and he got his ass shot down in his own yard.”

After the verbal exchange, Bill Hartsfeld said, he positioned himself between Maynard and his son. Hartsfeld said Maynard pushed him aside and shot Dylan three times. Dylan Hartsfeld was then taken to Moses Cone hospital and pronounced dead on arrival. Bill Hartsfeld, a Vietnam veteran, wrote a letter to Dylan upon his son’s return from a second tour in Iraq. The letter is entitled, “Soldier to Soldier: Father to Son.”

“I’ve been there, too, son,” Hartsfeld recited. “Maybe not what where you’ve been; maybe you’ve not been where I’ve been. One thing’s for sure: We’ve both walked down the Valley of Death. We’ve walked down the streets and we’ve seen how life is inhumane. We both made it back alive so from this day on, all we can do is go forward, hope for the best because this world isn’t thinking right, it’s thinking square.”

Since Dylan’s death, Hartsfeld has added a verse to the letter in which he pledges to continue to fight police brutality, not just for his son’s sake but for the countless victims of police violence. Hartsfeld found himself united with a number of area families whose lives have been irrevocably altered by the loss of a loved one due to police brutality at the Oct. 22 event. Calvin “Butch” Stewart attended the event in honor of his son, Gilbert Barber, who was fatally shot by a Guilford County Sheriff’s deputy seven years ago. Stewart said he’s still coming to terms with the loss of his son, and his fight to get to the bottom of the circumstances surrounding Gilbert’s death ultimately inspired him to help those in a similar predicament.

Stewart told the group of protestors that he’s setting up a non-profit organization that will offer support to families in his situation. Stewart said the organization, which will offer free counseling, should be up and running next month.

“Cops get [counseling] right after they kill people,” Stewart said. “Family members, if you don’t have insurance or money, you’re left on your own. It took me four years before I sought help, and I know it’s hard.”

Gilbert Barber’s mother, Jessie Barber, spoke to the protesters and touched on the need for solidarity.

“I hate we have to meet under these circumstances, but I’m glad we got a chance to meet,” she said. “Hopefully, we can organize and prevent this from happening to someone in the future.”

Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Justice, attended the Oct. 22 protest. Earls, an attorney who has made defending the rights of victims of police brutality her life’s work, represented Stewart and his ex-wife, Jessie Barber, in a case related to the wrongful death suit they filed against the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office. An agreement was reached in mediation, Earls said, but it included a provision that Stewart and Barber not speak publicly about Gilbert’s death. Ultimately, Earls helped ensure the two could attend rallies and demonstrations against police brutality without fear of legal reprisals. Earls told the assembled crowd of victims’ families there are no easy answers to the dilemma they face.

“I’ve been trying to work on this issue for twenty years and every year, more people get killed,” Earls said. “So it’s very, very difficult to come here and say I’m a lawyer and I have any answers to offer you. But what I do believe, and the reason why I started a new organization in Durham, is the answer lies in you; you have the power coming together to organize to make a difference.”

Knowledge is power, Earls said, and law enforcement’s ability to restrict access to information makes it extremely difficult for victims’ families to get answers. Ultimately, the only solution is increased oversight of law enforcement agencies by elected officials. In the oversight and review process, city and county elected officials should take a hard look at how police and sheriff’s officers are trained to deal with volatile situations, Earls said.

“I believe if the Constitution were enforced, it would be clear that the police should not have the authority to use excessive force in these situations,” Earls said.

Stewart wholeheartedly agreed.

“When we were doing the research after my son was killed, I learned a lot because I went through their training manual,” Stewart said. “[The police] are not trained to protect the citizens. They are trained to protect themselves.”

In the case of Dylan Hartsfeld, Col. Randy Powers of the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office said the State Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the incident should be nearing completion. Guilford County Sheriff’s Office protocol dictates that the SBI be called into investigate any incident that involves an officer using lethal force that results in death. SBI investigators arrived at the scene of the shooting within an hour of the incident being called in, Power said.

Michael King, a friend of Dylan Hartsfeld’s, characterized his friend’s death as a senseless waste.

“I loved him,” King said. “I loved him just like he was family. He was always good to me — he had children, he had a wife. He had a promising career in the Army. He served two tours in Iraq and made it through hell to come home and get killed by someone he’s supposed to trust.”

As the sun began to drop below the horizon, Scott Trent spoke to the crowd of protesters. He told them he was inspired by Stewart and Barber’s story, and “I’m very proud to stand out here with every family member today.”

Trent said one way to fight injustice is to unite in a common cause, and asked the crowd to recite the “Stolen Lives Pledge” with him.

“I pledge that the life and humanity of these stolen lives will not be forgotten,” Trent said. “I pledge that their highest hopes and aspirations live on in us and that I will seek justice for these and all the stolen lives. In this way, I pledge that their memory will stay alive in us, and will inspire us to fight for justice and a better world.”

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