‘Why am I still out here doing this?’ asks seller of Ts protesting police violence against Blacks

James Quattlebaum was an enterprising young man in his mid-20s when he got the idea to travel to Los Angeles and sell T-shirts to people rioting in the streets after three white police officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King.

He never dreamed he could -- or would need to -- make a career out of printing T-shirts commemorating police violence against Black people.

But there he was almost three decades later, on the side of Ehringhaus Street in Elizabeth City Saturday and Sunday with two folding tables and 25 dozen fresh T’s. One showed a raised fist and the words, “I am Andrew Brown.” Another bore the slain man’s face.

“This is 2021,” Quattlebaum said. “Why am I still out here doing this? Why is this still happening?”

Brown, of Elizabeth City, was shot and killed by Pasquotank County deputies on April 21 when at least seven officers came to his house to serve a warrant on drug charges. A pathologist who examined the body for the family said Brown, who was in his car, was struck by at least five bullets, including one that entered his head from behind.

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Protesters have marched around town every night since the shooting, demanding police release video of the incdent. A natural entrepreneur, Quattlebaum tossed out a free shirt to a marcher during a Saturday afternoon protest that passed his roadside stand, hoping she’d slip it on later and generate some business.

Quattlebaum unfolded a shirt with a collage of photos on the back of dozens of Black people who had been shot by police over the years. He pointed to one face after another that had launched one protest after another: I was there, he said, pointing to Breonna Taylor in Kentucky; Trayvon Martin in Florida, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.

Quattlebaum, who grew up in South Carolina and lives now in Charlotte, used to print his own shirts and had 200 employees helping sell them, but said, “It got to be too much.” So now it’s just him, and he pays someone to print the shirts, which he can have in his hand three days after ordering them.

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“Bad news comes to you quick,” Quattlebaum said, explaining how he heard about Brown’s shooting. He’s a news junkie, and is especially interested in political news, which he checks every night before he sleeps.

Quattlebaum also has sold shirts at big boxing matches and other sporting events, he said.

“I lived on the road,” Quattlebaum said. Now, 55, he’s weary of travel and of hotel rooms. He’s especially tired of chasing around the country after stories about Black people getting killed by police.

“I’m tired,” he said. “I’ve been tired, a long time ago. But it’s always the same.”

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