A thaw seen in Greensboro leadership’s response to police concerns, as some censure pastors

by Jordan Green

The Rev. Cardes Brown told members of Greensboro City Council at their most recent meeting that he has copies of “a number of grievances that have been given to me by a number of persons of color who are a part of our police department.”

“Most of you,” he said, “are aware that our chief, who said, ‘There are no racial discrimination problems within the department,’ will recall that he was the leading proponent of the fact that there were discriminatory practices. That is, before he was made chief.”

As an example of the racial discrimination that is taking place currently in the police department, Brown raised the disciplinary treatment of Officer AJ Blake, a black officer of Honduran heritage.

“He had to go before the justice standards training division,” Brown said. “And when he went before them, he went because he acknowledged that he had been charged with a crime. He went before them. He is the only officer who has had to go. And I know that all of you are aware now that there are white officers who were not just charged but found guilty. And they have not had to go. So to say that there are no discriminatory practices, that’s just not true.”

Assistant City Manager Michael Speedling and City Manager Rashad Young have responded to this claim and others like it by saying that they’re not going to examine issues

that arose before they were appointed to their current positions. Speedling was promoted to assistant city manager in February, and Young took his job last October.

Mayor Bill Knight, who stated during his campaign that Tim Bellamy was appointed to his position because of race, now supports the black police chief.

“I’ve spoken to the chief earlier tonight to reiterate my support for the chief, for the department, for the job their doing and for our staff,” Knight said, adding, “there’s a lot of good, hard work going on.”

Pushback against Rev. Brown and others calling for reform of the police department has come, not just from council, but from within the pastor’s own congregation.

Marcus Brandon, who recently won the Democratic nomination for NC House District 60 and is likely to be its next representative, issued a call for racial unity during the speakers-from-the-floor segment.

“It’s time for our leaders, with microphones, TV cameras, congregations, newspapers, to create a culture of unity and not a culture of polarization,” said Brandon, who is one of Brown’s parishioners at New Light Missionary Baptist Church. “I echo the call for our com munity

leaders to come together for a spirit of unity and a culture of togetherness.”

After Brandon’s remarks, he and Rev. Brown exchanged a hug.

Brandon’s statement came on the heels of remarks given by Mickey Atkinson, his former teacher at Southern Guilford High School.

“We are tired of the racial and political polarizing, and of the 1 percent being the loudest voice in race matters,” Atkinson said. “Those who would hold press conferences to demand an investigation of an already over-investigated police department, those who would coach others to declare that the city council is not doing its job, you are self-serving in your perpetual rants. You are feeding off of fear, paranoia and bitterness that you create. It’s your MO.”

While expressing confidence in the manager and police chief, at-large Councilman Robbie Perkins said, “It is something that we need to continue a dialogue with, and I would encourage us all to try to talk this thing through as a community, as opposed to having sides, drawing up sides and having an us-against-them situation.”

Council members have maintained a solid front of support for city staff and police administration in public statements, but Perkins, if not the others, has demonstrated more nuance in less high profile communications with the pastors.

“The tension you describe within the Police Department is apparent to me,” Perkins wrote in an e-mail to the Rev. Brown, the Rev. Nelson Johnson, members of the council on May 31 that was shared with the press. “The Department has been in turmoil for several years, and unresolved issues have created an environment that leads to many questions from our citizens.”

Perkins’ message implicitly acknowledged that all is not right with the culture of the police department.

“The manager is in the process of changing the culture within the organization,” he wrote. “This change will not happen overnight, and it certainly will not be helped by council intervention in work that we are not trained to manage or perform. I know our city is moving in a positive direction. The police department will have new leadership by the end of summer, and that very fact will insure that changes will be made. At this point, I must trust the leadership of the manager and his staff, knowing that none of us are perfect, and this process will result in some level of conflict prior to a successful resolution.”