Local News

In county divided, vigil seeks unity

Posted September 28, 2008
Updated September 29, 2008

— Several civil-rights groups seeking the dismissal of the Johnston County sheriff for comments deemed derogatory toward Latinos held a prayer vigil Sunday.

The vigil, at the Smithfield courthouse, drew about 200 people. It was organized by advocacy group El Pueblo. Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP chapter, also spoke at the vigil.

“We call on Sheriff Bizzell – as an act of love – for him to resign, because we believe he needs time to reflect and to grow beyond these feelings,” Barber told the crowd.

Sheriff Steve Bizzell has been under fire since his comments on the growing minority population in his county were published in The News & Observer newspaper in Raleigh. He called Mexicans "trashy" and said the growing Latino population in his county was "breeding like rabbits."

“I tell these people, "Have you ever said anything to your husband or wife that you wish you hadn't said?'” said John Book, a Bizzell supporter, who attended the vigil. "He's apologized, I don't know what else they want from him."

“Sheriff Bizzell may not have said the right thing, in the right way, but sometimes you have to say things in a way to get attention. And we are all here today, so it got our attention,” Heidi Rittenhouse said.

Police officers and sheriff's deputies kept a close eye on the vigil, on the ground and from a rooftop. Participants at the vigil lit candles and prayed for healing and reconciliation.

“We should give him another chance. I think that is the best thing we can do is give him another chance, and hopefully he will learn from what he said. It's not right,” Luli Ayala said.

The vigil ended without incident.

Twenty-six civil rights organizations have responded to Bizzell's remarks with a call for his resignation. Hispanic media group Que Pasa has also called for him to resign.

County commissioners have been unstinting in their support of the sheriff, indicating they have no intention of seeking his removal.

Cookie Pope, chairwoman of the Johnston County Board of Commissioners, issued a statement on behalf of the board, saying that commissioners supported Bizzell's "successful efforts to protect the citizens of Johnston County against crimes."

In a statement Friday, Bizzell had asked that the right for peaceable assembly be honored Sunday. He wrote:

"As citizens of our great country, one of our most cherished rights is the ability to peacefully assemble. El Pueblo and the NAACP have announced their intentions to assemble in Smithfield this Sunday afternoon. I ask that everyone respect their right to have this gathering. It is my desire for Johnston County to be a safe place to host groups from outside our county to gather with their local members within the rule of law. Any interference with this gathering would be contrary to our constitution and not acceptable."


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  • saywhaaaaat Sep 30, 2008


  • ncchrisncchris Sep 30, 2008

    OK - McDonald's does say they hire only legal immigrants - I will agree with that, but I work in an industry where we do have to verify immigration status and see paystubs fro people all day long (form McDonald's and other businesses) that use fake SSNs to obtain employment. Anyone can make up an SSN for 1 year before it comes back incorrect at tax time - also, Tax ID #'s are not the same as SSNs and confer no legal status at all - quite a few of those turn up on paystubs as well.

  • SME2 Sep 30, 2008

    I can not understand why ANYONE would defend people being in this country illegally? It does not make sense.

  • stupiditydeservesnosympathy Sep 30, 2008

    Bizzell should not step down. There is a little something called the 1st Amendment right called Freedom of Speech. Honorable Sheriff Bizzell has the right to say whatever he wants- whether it is true, rasist or otherwise. Clearly the man is doing what he was hired to do, so there is no REAL reason to fire him.

    Liberals in support of his removal need to get a civics lesson and stop trying to push for the removal of our rights. Let's not make America a Police State.

  • stupiditydeservesnosympathy Sep 30, 2008

    I guess the only solution is to take the more taxes out of the supports of illegal aliens like Con Amor and Bronzegoddess and use that money to benefit the illegals. Of course those people should also pay their other taxes due to the government.

    Bet a dollar to donuts that those same people who are FOR illegal immigration will cry that is unfair and will finally understand what the rest of us LEGAL Americans know.

  • news4u Sep 29, 2008

    "OVIOUSLY people LOVE the sheriff but he should step down and let somone else take over...just for a while until ALL this cools down."

    It will be CHILLY when the ILLEGALS GO HOME!

  • saywhaaaaat Sep 29, 2008

    I wonder if someone can go rob a bank, or if the KKK can go and talk bad things about the people that they don't like, could JUST apologize and everything will be ok..hummmmmmmmm DIDN'T THINK SOOO.I'm not all for the Sheriff to resiging, because OVIOUSLY people LOVE the sheriff but he should step down and let somone else take over...just for a while until ALL this cools down.

  • Hammerhead Sep 29, 2008

    Bronzegoddess, my post was in support of yours, and poorly worded. I learned very little about black or native American history in grade school in the 60s, and was fascinated by the "other stories" that were prevalent in our history. As a prolific reader as a kid, I read everything I could about life in America. The civil rights movement captivated me, and I was only a kid. I even memorized a lot of MLK's speech passages. I thought your post was humorous because I think the same way as you....white history is all a lot of us learned in school.

  • news4u Sep 29, 2008

    What County is Divided?

    A multiracial throng numbering more than 100 (no misprint - ONE HUNDRED) said Sheriff Bizzell should go...


    Majority rules in a Democracy!


  • news4u Sep 29, 2008

    Rev. Barber, I think you and the NAACP are on the wrong side on this issue.


    National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

    "40% of the decline in employment of black men is due to illegal immigration. And while Americans from all backgrounds are being harmed, lower to middle income African American workers are being disproportionately affected." stated Dr. Frank Morris, former Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation; February 2008.