Greensboro leaders react after protestsBy Yasmine Regester, Peacemaker Staff Writer / June 4, 2020
Hundreds of protestors took to the streets of Greensboro on May 2, and every day since, to protest vigilante and police brutality in the wake of the deaths of Breonna Taylor in Louisville Ky.; Ahmaud Arbery by vigilantes in Brunswick, Ga. and the latest, George Floyd, at the hands of Minneapolis, Minn. police.
Taylor, a Louisville emergency medical technician, was killed when Louisville police officers burst into her home and shot her to death. The police officers later realized she was not the person they were “looking” for. Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while jogging by a Brunswick, Ga. father and son duo who said Arbery looked like a person who had allegedly been breaking into area homes. George Floyd lost his life at the hands of Minneapolis police officers as he was forcibly held face down on the pavement by four police officers for allegedly passing a fake $20 bill. While three officers either held Floyd or did nothing to deescalate the incident, the fourth officer is seen on video pressing his knee firmly against Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as onlookers demanded to no avail that he stop. All four officers have been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department. The culmination of these incidents have led to protests around the globe against police brutality.
At least 19 downtown Greensboro businesses were damaged, including the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.
Reports from local law enforcement state that there were protestors from outside Greensboro and some community members and leaders don’t believe that the destruction at the civil rights museum was carried out by local protestors. The museum is looking at about $5,000 in damage to a large front glass window panel.
“When you have people coming inside our area for ulterior motives and reasons, we were aware that the museum could be a target for damage, unfortunately,” said Melvin “Skip” Alston, District 8 Guilford County Commissioner and the museum’s co-founder.
“But we built that center as a monument for peaceful demonstration. And 99.9 percent of people who assembled in front of the museum, that’s what they were doing. That’s what the museum symbolizes. We welcome them to have the museum as a symbolic backdrop to what they are doing. This is what it stands for — when those four young men sat down in peaceful protest.”
Alston said the county commissioners have not made any decisions on financial support to communities and businesses damaged following the protests but hopes that will be a discussion at the board’s next meeting.
The Greensboro City Council unanimously passed a motion 9 to 0 at its June 2 meeting to potentially provide financial support for downtown Greensboro businesses that were damaged following protests over the weekend. Greensboro is currently under a mandated curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. every day, until further notice from the city.
Nancy Hoffmann, District 4 City Councilwoman, made a motion to direct the city manager to estimate the cost of replacing doors, windows and glass on downtown businesses. City Manager Jim Westmoreland estimates a figure of around $250,000 as a starting number for a relief fund.
Tammi Thurm, District 5 council member, suggested establishing a task force to help bring the community, city and county leaders and police to the table for public dialogue.
“Certainly, the events of the past weekend have brought to bear issues that we have danced around on council. All of our poop stinks and we’re all in it together. None of us is without our biases and I think we need to come to this with an open mind and respect for each other,” said Thurm.
While the motion was unanimously supported by council, District 1 Councilwoman Sharon Hightower advised that the city be equitable in providing support for not just businesses, but also protestors.
“It’s not just a matter of having multiple meetings. We need strategy around that. The people in our community are hurting. People are mad. We have to listen to them. I don’t have all the answers, but I too am angry and I desire change just as they do,” said Hightower. “We have to be careful around the message we put out. While we support downtown, they ride around East Greensboro every day looking at boarded up windows.”
District 3 Councilman Justin Outling, who represents the downtown district, said he supports a measure to help those businesses damaged, but urged people not to forget the underlying issue behind the protest.
“There’s no question that downtown and the businesses will rebuild. I think we have to remember there are issues that underlie what happened. In addition to supporting our businesses, we have work to do in terms of filling the gaps between our community ideals of fair treatment of everyone and the reality as it stands now,” said Outling.
He also tied his remarks to his concern over an incident that took place on the Greensboro Greenway on May 23, just a few days before George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis on May 25. A 16-year-old, African American teenager and his uncle were stopped and questioned by Greensboro police officers during a five-mile jog along the local trail because the young man “fit the description” of someone police were seeking.
“This raises serious questions. Would we have a scenario based on a single description that you could stop my young son, me, my grandfather and any person who fits the racial description? It raises questions of would we stop everyone in our city or are we uniquely only stopping persons of color, Black children. We know that those interactions, even when everyone has the best of intentions, can be deadly. We need to make sure we do right by all of our community,” said Outling.
He went on to say he hopes council can act with a sense of urgency.
“What this means is we should be asking questions and looking to improve our processes to find out why this happened and make sure, ideally that it doesn’t happen again,” said Outling.
A motion made by Outling for council to meet with the police department to look at policies and procedures regarding 911 calls, passed unanimously.
District 2 Councilwoman Goldie Wells noted that she has spoken with residents and there needs to be a sense of urgency in planning these meetings.
“We really can’t wait until after COVID passes. I’ve heard from constituents, and they are saying we need to hear from the people in the street. We need to hear what the frustrations are. There will probably be some things said that we don’t like. But we’ve got to listen and hear and do something about it,” said Wells.
At-large councilmember Michelle Kennedy added to that, saying that a plan of action must be created.
“We’re still sitting here having the same conversations. We know what the problems are. White people have to understand they have to take a stance for structural change. This is a time for action,” she said.
In another vote, city council also passed a resolution to declare June 19, 2020 as Juneteenth in the City of Greensboro. Juneteenth is the American holiday that commemorates June 19, 1865, the emancipation of the last remaining slaves in Texas.