Local News

Sheriff: Respect rights of El Pueblo, NAACP to gather

Posted September 26, 2008 4:51 p.m. EDT
Updated September 26, 2008 7:45 p.m. EDT

— Sheriff Steve Bizzell said that safety and constitutional rights should be priorities this weekend as groups gather for a prayer vigil in Smithfield.

Advocacy group El Pueblo announced Friday that they would organize the vigil to challenge intolerance.

Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP chapter, was expected to speak at the vigil, set for 3 p.m. Sunday at the Smithfield courthouse.

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."

Twenty-six civil rights organizations responded to those remarks with a call for Bizzell’s resignation. Hispanic media group Que Pasa has also called for Bizzell 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, Bizzell 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."