Clergy and Residents to City: Address Police Brutality and Socioeconomic InequitiesBy Yasmine Regester, Peacemaker Staff Writer / June 18, 2020
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The Pulpit Forum of Greensboro and Vicinity held a press conference outside City Hall on June 12, calling for change in policing, minority contracting and in the county’s public schools.
“I found myself in the midst of protests over the last two weeks. But at my heart, I am a pastor and I know it is high time for what is known in our hearts, be known to this community,” said Wesley Morris, senior pastor at Faith Community Church.
The group came with a list of recommendations for city and county leaders which focused on three main topics: to address police brutality and the lack of transparency, the equal access of minority owned businesses to resources offered to others, and to address the disparities in the educational system faced by depressed communities.
In the recommendations for education reform, the Pulpit Forum suggests that the county consider increased funding for public school repairs, to assist with technology connectivity, to address food insecurity and implement developmental activities that will address the loss of learning students are experiencing during COVID-19. They also want more mental health services made available to students particularly to address ongoing trauma from witnessing widespread accounts of recorded police violence against Brown and Black people.
In order to address inequities in minority contracting, the group’s recommendations are that the City of Greensboro immediately adopt the full implementation of the recommendations of the disparity study conducted in 2016 by Griffin & Strong, P.C. The study revealed that Black business firms received 4.94 percent of city awarded contracts through the city’s Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise from fiscal years 2011-2016, but White firms received 95 percent of all contracts awarded by the city. According to Data USA, African Americans comprise 40.4 percent of the Greensboro population.
“We have been going to City Hall, going to county commissioners for the last several years. For some reason they want to continue business as usual. The only way we can be the one society that America says it wants to be is if Greensboro takes the opportunity to lead the nation,” said Rev. Steve Allen, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church.
He went on to say, “Anger is the voice of people who are tired of being ignored. We saw what happens when you continue to ignore unlawfulness with a code of silence.”
Rev. Nelson Johnson of Beloved Community Center spoke on the group’s recommendations to address policing, including an apology from the City of Greensboro on the police department’s role in the 1979 Greensboro Massacre. The group also wants the city to implement recommendations from the Greensboro’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the community led initiative to foster healing over the 1979 Greensboro Massacre, where members of the Communist Workers Party were gunned down by members of Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi Party. The pastors say transparency in the police department can be achieved through a citizen’s police review board with subpoena powers.
“This overture by the City of Greensboro will show that Greensboro is willing to own its past and pave the way for a just future,” said Johnson.
The group is also recommending that the city immediately settle the case of Marcus Deon Smith, the 38-year old African American man who died in police custody after he was hogtied by Greensboro Police officers in September 2018.
Morris added that there will not be a generational divide between protestors.
“We’ve been in this moment before, but the unity is strong. We need this moment. We need this change so the healing will be authentic,” said Morris.
Johnson and Beloved Community Center later joined with grassroots organizations Greensboro Rising and Guilford For All in Governmental Plaza on Tuesday, June 16, to continue to demand that Greensboro City Council members work to swiftly enact justice for the Smith family.
The family of Smith has asked the City of Greensboro for an apology, financial restitution and for the officers and the EMT medics involved to be fired.
On June 12, attorneys representing the City of Greensboro filed a motion for a stay of the trial, which would also halt the discovery of evidence process by the Smith’s legal team if granted by a judge. Public records provided to the Peacemaker show that the city has spent $213,038.50 with the law firm Mullins, Duncan Harrell & Russell of Greensboro to defend the city from the Smith family’s lawsuit.
“For Nancy Vaughan and the city of Greensboro to condemn the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and yet to delay justice for the Smith family in their own backyard is the height of hypocrisy,” said Tyler Walker, a Guilford For All member. “What does this say, when you continue to fight the Smith family? It says that you will say anything to get protestors to go back home, it says that you will do anything to avoid addressing the systemic issues in your own backyard, and it says you do not value Black lives. But Black lives matter.”
The Greensboro City Council approved an independent investigation into Smith’s death in April 2019. Councilmembers tabled that investigation saying that the independent investigation could not go forward until the Smith family lawsuit against the city, the county, eight Greensboro police officers and two Guilford County paramedics was concluded.
Rev. Sadie Lansdale, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greensboro noted that it is not just Black communities hurting.
“I am honored and enraged to be here this morning. I have never seen so many White people enraged by racist policing. I have never seen so many of my colleagues and friends, and majority White congregations hurting and furious and clear about who is responsible. You have heard it said that justice delayed is justice denied,” said Lansdale.
The Democratic Party of Guilford County also shared a resolution that supports the city accepting the demands of the Smith family. In addition, the resolution calls for the city to set up a memorial to honor the life of Smith and all other victims of police brutality in Greensboro.
Currently, 5,600 Greensboro community members signed on in support of the petition, according to organizers.
“I have been on the battlefield in this city for a long time. I couldn’t be prouder of the determination not to let this case go unchallenged, and not to let the city council go unchallenged,” said Rev. Johnson.
Editors note: This story has been updated since the print copy was published.