Call for mayor to apologize goes unheeded

by Jordan Green

The speakers from the floor period dur- conversations, because I’ve had one with you ing the most recent Greensboro City myself. We’ve been asking you to make a pub- Council meeting was largely taken lic apology for this statement that you made to up by a group of citizens calling on our chief.”

Mayor Bill Knight to apologize for a remark The mayor mostly avoided eye contact during his election campaign last year that the with those asking for his apology and did not African-American police chief was selected respond during the meeting. He also did not because of race. return calls for this story requesting comment.

Others took the opportunity to laud Chief The Rev. Cardes Brown, who is president Tim Bellamy for his accomplishments, while of the Greensboro NAACP, read aloud from a still others highlighted a range of justice issues, letter sent by the organization to the mayor in including troubles within the police department. late February. The letter states that the then-can- Bellamy has announced that he will retire this didate’s “ramblings may have been dismissed summer. as one who is out of touch with the reality of “I’m here this evening because I want to race relations in the city of Greensboro. But express my dissatisfaction, the dissatisfaction time after time we have heard you publicly that I have and many of the citizens have about state those comments — comments that we find the statement that the mayor made regard- offensive to every person of color in this city. It ing hiring of our chief, Tim Bellamy,” said is comments such as these that you made that Goldie Wells, who retired from last year from cause others to think that it’s alright for others the council.

“The statement that the chief was to belittle or berate the significant contributions hired because of race is a putdown to him, and of African Americans made to the city. Your it is an insult to many of the citizens. There’ve comments and others like them serve as a stark been comments made, letters written… private reminder that race relations in Greensboro are still fractured.”

Brown has in the past taken a critical stance on the chief’s handling of personnel discipline and supervision of the gang enforcement unit. An 11-page letter from Brown and three other African-American pastors in the Pulpit Forum included a series of sharply-worded questions geared to determine whether black officers continue to receive disparate treatment and questioned the fairness of the department’s investigation of the Latin Kings, a street organization considered to be a gang by law enforcement groups. In the letter, the pastors say they lodged a complaint with then-Mayor Yvonne Johnson and then-Interim City Manager Bob Morgan against the chief because he allegedly refused to meet with Brown and the Rev. Nelson Johnson. The pastors report that subsequently a meeting was held between Bellamy and several members of the Pulpit Forum, including Cardes Brown and Nelson Johnson.

The comments made during the speakers from the floor period reflected a range of view points on police conduct and performance during Bellamy’s tenure.

“Crime is down in the city,” Wells said.

“Community-police relations are better in the city. Now, some council members ran and made their campaign making promises to ‘clean up the police department.’ In order to evaluate the police department we spent many dollars to hire a consulting firm to come here and tell us about our police department. What did they do? They praised our chief and our department for their accomplishments.” Jordan Auleb, a Guilford College student who identified herself as a member of the Spirit of the Sit-In Initiative, said she is concerned with the state of the police department.

“During my three years in Greensboro, it’s become increasingly clear to me that there exist major problems within the police department — problems this council has yet not fully acknowledged,” she said. “We can see evidence of this in the citizen complaints against the police. Last year, the number of complaints doubled, and studies indicate that it’s on pace to double again this year.”

Human Relations Director Anthony Wade said about 42 new complaints were filed with the complaint review committee in 2009, which was the highest number in recent years. So far this year, Wade said, 12 complaints have been filed. That number suggests that the year-end numbers for 2010 could exceed last year’s count, but are unlikely to double again.

“I’m concerned with a trend that can be described as a subculture within our police department,” she said. “This destructive subculture breeds corruption and encourages the targeting of specific marginalized groups such as the Latin Kings, and has created a two-tiered policing system. This destructive subculture has also allowed for the mistreatment of police officers within the police department and a misuse of power in the community. It’s also allowed politics to become mixed with police work, at the expense of the community.”

One resident, Jean Smith, spoke in support of the mayor.

“The citizens of Greensboro spoke out last fall by electing a new mayor and three new council members,” she said. “The citizens were not pleased with the way city business was being conducted, and wanted a change.”

Half a dozen people either spoke in support of Bellamy or called on the mayor to apologize. Four others, younger in age and associated with the Spirit of the Sit-In Movement Initiative, spoke about a range of justice issues, including alleged discrimination against black police officers, the gang unit and proposals to reopen the White Street Landfill.

“I think, sir, that in your heart because of the goodness that I know you have for the many citizens of Greensboro regardless of race, color or creed,” Raymond Craver told the mayor, “I believe it’s something that’s easy for you to do — to retract those words, bring us together, let us be a community of oneness, and erase this sadness and this blemish that’s trying to grow among us.”