Police-community relations at the forefront of candidate forumBy Yasmine Regester / October 30, 2015
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Sitting Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughn was the lone mayoral candidate at a Monday night forum hosted by the Greensboro Neighborhood Congress The forun was held at the Central Library.
Incumbent At-Large City Council candidates Marikay Abuzuaiter, Mike Barber, Yvonne Johnson, and challengers Sylvine Hill and Marc Ridgill were also present at the forum. At-large candidate Brian Hoss and mayoral candidate Devin King were not present.
Forum attendees were asked to submit questions for the candidates beforehand, and right from the beginning candidates were asked to address a New York Times article that reported on traffic data from the Greensboro Police Department which shows that African Americans in Greensboro are more than twice as likely than their White counterparts to be stopped and searched during a traffic stop eventhough officers find contraband on Whites more often than Blacks.
Yvonne Johnson said she was not shocked by the story, but by the statistics reported in the article. “I think Chief Scott has a wonderful opportunity to correct this and make this right,” said Johnson.
The article cited data from tens of thousands of traffic stops since 2010.
Johnson added that the city has an opportunity to prevent events between the police and community, like what happened in Ferguson, MO.
“We can do things that can help prevent those types of things by increasing minorities in the Greensboro Police Department and Fire Department. Race relations training has to be done better,” said Johnson.
At-large challenger Marc Ridgill, a retired Greensboro police officer, noted that there are a lot of things that go into how traffic stops are performed. Other factors come into play such as speeding or if the officer had information that warranted a traffic stop.
“I’m not going to tell you there’s not a disproportionate number stopped, but I think we need to train our officers that are in the older generation in people skills,” said Ridgill, who also said he supported the police department’s efforts to recruit more minority officers.
Incumbent Mike Barber pointed out that Greensboro Police Chief Scott has implemented Neighborhood Oriented Policing and bias based training for the department.
Barber also addressed the issue by blaming the massager. “The New York Times paper didn’t have to leave their backyard to find issues with police,” said Barber. “Chief Scott has placed a point of emphasis in finding the appropriate recruits. It’s not just about hiring a great recruit, it’s also about being able to compete in salary.”
A hot topic on the municipal campaign trail has been economic development and parity for East Greensboro. Mayor Nancy Vaughan pointed out some of the investments the city has made in East Greensboro over the last two years. She listed the Renaissance Co-op and shopping center, the Hayes- Taylor YMCA, the Joint Nanotechnology and Nanoscience Center, sidewalks and streetscaping, as a few of the major accomplishments in the east.
“We’ve looked at different ways for the 880 plan, to provide better tax incentives to businesses. To say it’s only the co-op really shows that people don’t realize how much has been invested in East Greensboro,” said Vaughan.
Johnson touted a need for more shovel ready sites, especially in areas where there is lack of employment, as a way to grow East Greensboro. “There is plenty of room in North and South Greensboro. Council needs to make that a priority,” said Johnson. “I would like to work on establishing job training centers in our city in those high unemployment areas.”
Abuzuaiter said many people have a misconception that residents of East Greensboro do not spend money, but they really do.
“The truth is they have to travel outside their district to get the goods they need. They have to take transportation all over Greensboro to get what they want,” said Abuzuaiter.
At-large challenger Sylvine Hill noted that the city should promote more small businesses outside of downtown.
“I think the city should focus on Greensboro as a whole and find balance between downtown and other areas,” said Hill, who also wants the city to increase technology jobs and set up local workshops and seminars to talk to youth about ways the city can make their neighborhoods better.
Ridgill said he wants to make sure business owners feel that their businesses are safe in East Greensboro. He believes this is key to improving economic development in the east.
“There certainly seems to be a perception of East Greensboro. We have to change that stigma. One way is to partner with the police department,” said Ridgill.
There will also be a referendum on the ballot for voters to decide whether the terms of office for the mayor and city council members be changed from two year terms to four year terms, beginning with the 2017 election.
Vaughan said she would support longer terms, even if there are term limits.
Early voting ends October 31. The General Election is November 3.