Greensboro unites against violenceBy Yasmine Regester / July 14, 2016
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After the shooting deaths of two African American men by law enforcement in Minnesota and Louisiana respectively and the tragic killings of five police officers in Dallas during a peaceful demonstration, Greensboro residents united in the aftermath with a stream of unity events.
Those events were spurred by the July 5 killing of Baton Rouge resident Alton Sterling, who was shot to death by two law enforcement officers outside a convenience store. One day later, Philando Castile was shot to death inside his car during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minn. with Castille’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her 4-year old daughter in the car. Reynolds was able to videotape the aftermath of the shooting and stream it live to Facebook.
To cope with the three such tragedies, Greensboro residents held marches, rallies, community forums and created healing spaces for people to come and share ways to foster better policing practices and bring the community at-large together.
Black Lives Matter Gate City held a rally on Saturday, July 9 in downtown Greensboro that brought out nearly 500 people. The group also gathered at Center City Park on Sunday and fed more than 200 homeless people when the original group feeding them failed to show up citing fear of possible violence because of the Black Lives Matter gathering, which have historically been peaceful protests.
In discussing the events between July 5 and July 7, David Allen, a BLM representative, said, “We understand that what is going on is systematic. Black Lives Matter is bringing attention to what is going [on] in and to our communities of color.”
The Beloved Community Center of Greensboro, along with other local grassroots organizations, convened a community forum on Monday, July 11, at Bethel AME Church to hear the community’s concerns regarding the state of race relations and community policing.
“We’re not here to denounce a particular person. The purpose is to uproot this terroristic and dysfunctional culture,” said Rev. Nelson Johnson, executive director of Beloved Community Center.
A push to transform the Greensboro Police Department isn’t a new initiative for community leaders. Over the last few years, there has been an increased effort to build those bridges between the community and local law enforcement, as well as making sure citizens know their rights when interacting with police.
Officers with the Greensboro Police Department have been active participants in community groups which have discussed ways to improve community policing and foster mutual respect between law enforcement and residents of color. Capt. Nathaniel Davis with the GPD Office of Community Engagement and executive to the Chief of Police (Wayne Scott), noted that he believes having those conversations with the community has been paying off.
“We want people to feel comfortable expressing their concerns to the police. The community meetings the police department has held was just the beginning of building bridges,” said Davis, who added it is important that residents see officers participate in community events. “We’re trying to make sure we are in those spaces where we are invited.”
While local residents have increasingly been using cell phone cameras to capture police interactions, it is the police worn body camera footage that has taken center stage at the state legislature.
Drafted and sponsored by N.C. House Rep. John Faircloth (District 61, R-Guilford), House Bill 972 was signed into law on Monday, July 11 by North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory. HB 972 allows N.C. law enforcement agencies to keep officer worn body camera footage from the public unless ordered to be released by a court of law.
“We have been trying to evaluate how we can deal with technology. How can it help us, and how can we work with it so it doesn’t also work against our police officers and public safety officials,” said McCrory in a released statement.
Under the new law, 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, members of the press and the public must obtain a court order for release of footage which can cost time and money.
The Greensboro community has joined together and will present a People’s Ordinance on Police Body Camera Footage to the Greensboro City Council on Tuesday, July 19. Community organizers and supporters of a transparent society want council to support a resolution opposing the new state law and address Gov. McCrory on the matter.
“Our unity is why there is no power like the power of the people,” said retired civil rights attorney and Greensboro resident, Lewis Pitts, who helped draft the People’s Ordinance, along with community members.
The People’s Ordinance begins by classifying police video as a public record that must be available to the public unless a compelling case is made as to why secrecy or redaction of certain parts may be necessary.
The City of Greensboro passed a police camera footage policy on May 9. That ordinance leaves the decision to release body-worn camera video footage to the city manager’s discretion and gives him the authority to choose who views it and what portions get to be viewed and redacted.
District 1 council member Sharon Hightower noted she was disappointed in the governor’s decision to sign the bill because it ties the hands of local municipalities.
“I think the ordinance we [council] put in place a few months back was a fairly good ordinance. While it doesn’t give everybody everything they want, we certainly are not opposed to having body worn camera footage viewed by those parties involved,” said Hightower.
Since state law automatically trumps local laws and policies, the Greensboro City Council will be required to follow state law.
Khem Irby, a District 6 Guilford County School Board candidate noted that combating racism starts with educating the youth.
“[Ending] racism starts with our children,” said Irby. “We all need to work on solutions because what is going to work for my Black experience is going to be different for someone else. We need real solutions in our communities. We can’t all come together, if we can’t first unite amongst ourselves,” she said.
Going forward, community members asked what actions could be taken to make their voices heard. At a community meeting held at The Rehab Christian Center on July 8, Greensboro residents presented ideas on ways to mobilize the community.
To show that the community stands together against police brutality, residents suggested a boycott of businesses and companies that don’t support the Black community and encourage people to make it a priority to spend within their own communities.
“Marching is good to inspire people,” said Adriana Jones, a sophomore at N.C. A&T State University, “but marching isn’t hitting their pockets. At this moment in time, we need to create something sustainable.”
While some believe that marching can make a difference, there are others who believe more strategic steps need to be put in place.
Pastor Zeb Talley III of The Rehab Christian Center said, “If this is going to have a lasting impact, one day isn’t going to be enough.”