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Council votes down body camera resolution

By Yasmine Regester / July 21, 2016

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A Black Lives Matter supporter sits outside Greensboro City Council chambers. Charles Edgerton/Carolina Peacemaker

A Black Lives Matter supporter sits outside Greensboro City Council chambers. Charles Edgerton/Carolina Peacemaker

Greensboro community members packed council chambers on Tuesday night, July 18, to ask the council to support a resolution to repeal a state law making police worn body camera footage inaccessible to the public and press.

HB 972 was signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory on July 11. Under the new law, sponsored by State Sen. John Faircloth (R) of Guilford County, law enforcement body camera and dash camera footage are no longer public record. Law enforcement agencies have the discretion to release footage to people who are recorded, but if the agency denies a request to disclose the footage, the recorded individual must seek a court order to obtain it.

A motion made by Council member Yvonne Johnson to send a resolution to Raleigh, articulating the city’s opposition to HB 972 failed 5 to 3 with Council members Mike Barber (At-Large), Nancy Hoffmann (District 4), Justin Outling (District 3) Tony Wilkins (District 5) and Mayor Nancy Vaughan voting down the resolution. Council member Jamal Fox was not in attendance to cast a vote. Most council members said they oppose the new state law, however they are bound to uphold it.

Lewis Pitts, a retired Greensboro civil rights attorney, discusses the virtues of a resolution & the People's Ordinance.  Charles Edgerton/Carolina Peacemaker

Lewis Pitts, a retired Greensboro civil rights attorney, discusses the virtues of a resolution & the People’s Ordinance. Charles Edgerton/Carolina Peacemaker

Council member Justin Outling made a motion to hold discussions with State Sen. John Faircloth (R-Guilford) on the bill, and that motion passed unanimously, 8 to 0.
Community members, who spoke in favor of The People’s Ordinance pointed out that the ordinance provides more transparency than HB 972 or the city council’s policy on police camera footage.

The People’s Ordinance classifies police video as a public record that would be available to the public unless a compelling case is made for why secrecy or redaction of certain parts may be necessary.

The City of Greensboro passed a police camera footage policy on May 9, that leaves the release of body-worn camera video footage to the city manager’s discretion and gives him the authority to choose who gets to view it and what portions get to be viewed.

City Attorney Tom Carruthers told council to be cautious when opposing a state law, because certain actions taken by council could be considered not following the law and members could possibly be charged with a misdemeanor.

“We are a creature of the state legislature. We have no authority to overrule state policy,” said Carruthers, who noted that the city’s policy would violate HB 972 once it becomes law on October 1. He also added that council cannot deem personnel files as public record.

Council members Yvonne Johnson, Sharon Hightower and Marikay Abuzuaiter supported the resolution to repeal the state bill.

“It seems to me that we can frame the will of the people so we can avoid a misdemeanor,” said Johnson.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan said that although she was against HB 972, she did not want to send a resolution to the state legislature that may not be seen until the next session, if at all.

“I don’t support HB 972 but I don’t know how much good a resolution would do that is going to end up sitting on someone’s desk,” said Vaughan who proposed that council meet with Rep. Faircloth to discuss the community’s concerns with HB 972.

Toni Etheridge, a representative with American Friends Service Committee, spoke in favor of the resolution. She said it was disheartening to hear Vaughan’s reasoning for not wanting to send a resolution to Raleigh.

“I’d like to think that The People’s Ordinance really reflects the people’s voice,” said Etheridge.

Greensboro resident, Cherizar Crippen said she was feeling hopeful that council was going to vote to ask for a repeal of the law.

“We don’t have time to talk, people are dying. Council was elected by us. They need to speak for us. There is such a thing as civil disobedience,” said Crippen.




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