Council considers limiting speakers, speech after Cherry remarks

by Eric Ginsburg



The Greensboro City Council’s Aug. 6 meeting was bookended by former police captain Charles Cherry and discussion over his choice of words, with which numerous council members said they were uncomfortable because of sexual explicitness. Cherry’s statements about a lack of accountability in the police department have become a fixture during the public comment section at meetings, but when he referred to an officer having “his penis sucked,” council members said he crossed a line.

Cherry referred to the alleged act twice in his comments calling for a citizens’ review board of the department, saying there needed to be an impartial investigation to determine “if the officer forced the young lady to suck his penis.”

At-large councilwoman Nancy Vaughan objected to his language as soon as he was done speaking and brought the issue up again at the end of the council meeting.

“Mr. Cherry, I have an 11-year old daughter who is watching this right now,” she said while Cherry was still at the speaker’s podium. Gesturing to audience members, she continued, “We have Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts who are watching this right now and I would ask you to exercise some decency. I wonder what sort of discussion [my daughter] will be having with my husband [NC Sen. Don Vaughan] later on. I don’t think we should have to hear about the things you mentioned.”

Cherry promptly defended himself saying, “And I don’t think we should have officers on the street that commit these offenses and the public do not know.”

Mayor Robbie Perkins echoed Vaughan’s request that he refrain from such language in the future, but it wasn’t until the end of the meeting that council actually addressed censoring Cherry or other speakers. When council began discussing the possibility of bleeping out specific words on the rebroadcast of the meeting, new City Attorney Mujeeb Shah-Khan said the city should avoid any form of censorship and referred to a recent debate at the Guilford County Commissioners meeting where the commission chose to limit speech of public speakers.

“Mr. Cherry has First Amendment rights even though he chooses to use it in a way that is regrettable,” Shah-Khan said.

Vaughan, Perkins, District 5 councilwoman Trudy Wade and District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny expressed an interest in limiting Cherry’s comments in some fashion, weighing different options but ultimately instructing Shah-Khan to look into FCC regulations for broadcasting indecent material on the airwaves.

“Mujeeb, I’m with you,” Matheny said.

“I know the First Amendment rights, but one word… bleep it out.”

Wade struck a similar chord. “I don’t want us to have to put a disclaimer on our broadcast that this content may have sexually explicit material,” Wade said.

Perkins said council is only required to allow for 30 minutes of public comment once a month and provides twice that amount, suggesting speakers be limited to only addressing council at one of the two meetings in a month. He said Cherry was abusing the privilege of addressing council. Mayor Pro-Tem Yvonne Johnson shook her head while Perkins was talking.

“I hear where you’re coming from, I just have a problem with setting something like that [based] on one or two people,” she said. “Yes we get tired of it and many of us disagree, but I’m not comfortable with that.”

District 1 councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small and at-large councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter quickly weighed in behind Johnson, with Bellamy-Small comparing it to pervious debates on the White Street landfill and suggesting council just request Cherry refrain from obscene or explicit language in the future.

Council didn’t take any action on the issue other than requesting Shah-Khan to look at FCC limits, but he said he believed the rules had changed recently and were likely different for government bodies than private companies using the airwaves.