Gang leader and candidate gets political education

by Jordan Green

Jorge Cornell would be the first latino to serve on greensboro City Council 

Jorge Cornell, the 32-year-old leader of the North Carolina Latin Kings, was seated at a small table in Center City Park on a recent Tuesday afternoon bathed in dazzling sunlight while conferring with associates on a cell phone. He wrapped up his call, and eagerly launched into a report on his campaign to win a seat on the Greensboro City Council. He’s had a fair amount of derision heaped on him, particularly on the comment rolls of local blogs, but he’s also received his share of encouragement. The most surprising encounter might be from a security officer employed by Lankford Protective Services, a company contracted by the city of Greensboro. Cornell’s brother, Russell Kilfoil, was assaulted by a Lankford officer at the Depot last July. After an investigation by the city’s human relations department corroborated Kilfoil’s claim, former City Manager Mitchell Johnson banned Byron Meadows from working on city property and the officer was eventually convicted of simple assault. “I had a Lankford security officer, knowing the situation with my brother, who said he’s excited about my run, knowing that I’m an everyday person who knows what it’s like to be on the street,” Cornell said. “He said his whole family is going to vote for me.” Cornell recalled that the security officer implored him to not demonize everybody in the company. “That’s fair,” he concluded, “because we have individuals who commit crimes, and want to paint us with the same brush.”

Over the past 12 months, Cornell and his group have found themselves locked in a bitter dispute with the Greensboro Police Department’s gang unit. The Latin Kings have accused the gang unit of harassment. Last June, Cornell announced an organization to seek peace among street organizations and build unity between the Latino and African-American communities. At the time, a warrant had been issued for his arrest on a misdemeanor charge, which was later dismissed. In the intervening 12 months, the Latin Kings leader has been shot by an unknown assailant and acquitted of assaulting a police officer and child abduction. Members of the Latin Kings have a half-dozen complaints against the gang unit under investigation by the city’s human relations department, and Cornell has called for the section to be disbanded. Police accountability is only one of the agenda items on the Cornell campaign’s “three-point program.” The other two are “extending opportunities for our youth” and “community standards for the economy.” On the issue of youth, he raised the specter of looming cuts in the state budget to programs for children with disabilities and mental illnesses, discussed his own positive experience as a child in a group home in New York state, noted his service on the Guilford County Schools’ Safe Schools Committee, expressed a desire to bring neighborhood parks up to the aesthetic standards of Center City Park and called for expanding the city Parks and Recreation Department’s recreational programming for youth. Cornell said he thinks funding for the city’s gang prevention efforts should redirected. “You’re wasting your money,” he said. “A lot of that gang prevention money could go to more recreational programs and to more parks.” The candidate’s “community standards for the economy” platform is largely focused on the Urban Loop for the moment, and he joins almost every other incumbent and challenger in expressing the sense that homebuyers should have received more notification about roadway plans. He said he believes the state funding for the loop could have been better used to improve public transportation and add bicycle lanes. “We could have expanded our bus routes, have more times on the schedule,” Cornell said. “I’ve talked to Guilford College students. They want to see more bike lanes. That’s a way of saving money on gas. Nobody should have to fear for their lives the minute they get on a bike that they’re going to get hit by a car.” On the matter of police accountability, Cornell has plenty to say. He supports a proposal to grant subpoena power to the complaint review committee, a citizen board that investigates complaints about police misconduct. Cornell said the city is wasting scarce funding “on the gang unit to sit and wait for someone to get in a car instead of going to investigate a shooting across town. You could look at their arrest ratio, but you should look at how many times they obtain a conviction. Those numbers aren’t pretty. I would like to see either that we dismantle them or fund a new group that’s going to sit out there and properly investigate and not just target people because of the color of their skin. He admitted to having little familiarity with land-use and rezoning decisions, which often take up more than half of the council’s meeting times. “I can’t speak on that because I haven’t done the research,” Cornell said. “But I will next time I see you.” A native of Brooklyn, NY, Cornell moved to Greensboro in 2002 with his wife. Work and family preoccupations took precedence during his first three years in Greensboro, Cornell said, but the dissolution of his marriage brought about a greater awareness of the city and led to his decision to found the North Carolina Latin Kings. In essence, dating led Cornell to a sense of civic engagement. “When I was being home with the kids, I wasn’t really seeing the city; I wasn’t seeing the nightlife,” Cornell said. “I had to find — how to you say it? — my better half, the woman I’m going to spend the rest of my life with. I kept not liking what I saw with the police department. I was in a bar back in the day in 2005 over there next to the coliseum.

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