Some on council acknowledge police concerns as process to select new chief unfolds

by Jordan Green

As the city of Greensboro announced the identities of the two top candidates for the job of police chief, the local branch of the NAACP began a lobbying campaign to pressure the city council to vote to request a US Justice Department investigation of the police department.

(This story was filed before, but published after Tuesday’s city council meeting.)

At-large Councilman Robbie Perkins and District 2 Councilman Jim Kee appear to have entertained the possibility of supporting federal intervention, but retrenched to a position of advocating a “cultural audit” of the department after consulting with City Manager Rashad Young.

Kee said Monday morning that he and Perkins were considering asking for an outside investigation, adding that Perkins mentioned the Justice Department as the most likely agency for the task.

“There’s certain facets of the community that thinks there’s corruption in the police department,” Kee said. “If there isn’t, then this will put that to rest. If there is, then we’ll have to address it.”

Speaking at the Greensboro NAACP’s monthly meeting on Sunday, which was attended by three police officers who are plaintiffs in a federal discrimination lawsuit against the city, local president Cardes Brown urged members to “flood Robbie’s e-mail, and Jim Kee’s, and can they not argue with the others that they can likely get to get that five-four [majority] vote.”

Skip Alston and Carolyn Coleman, who are both Guilford County commissioners, backed Brown’s demand. Alston is a former state president of the NAACP, and Coleman is secretary of the national civil rights organization’s board of directors.

“They need to ask for an investigation,” Alston said. “And if there isn’t [corruption], then there’s no problem. As elected officials, we need to hold them accountable to find out whether it is or it ain’t.”

Reached for comment, Perkins said he had no interest in having the Justice Department come in and investigate the police department. Instead, he favors a cultural audit to “take a look at the interaction and action of the various employees, make sure people are communicating, being treated fairly. And if they’re not being treated fairly, find out why.”

During the NAACP meeting, the Rev. Cardes Brown patted Capt. Charles Cherry on the chest, and said, “In my opinion, this should be the chief of police.”

Brown said he is asking City Manager Rashad Young to delay the retirement of Chief Tim Bellamy until an investigation of alleged corruption and discrimination can be completed. It came as no surprise that on Monday the city announced the names of its two top candidates, ignoring the NAACP’s request. The candidates are Kenneth C. Miller, senior deputy chief for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, and Lisa G. Womack, the former chief of the Elgin Police Department in Illinois.

Cherry was placed on administrative duty in June pending a fitness for duty evaluation. The recommendation noted that he has filed numerous grievances on his own behalf and on behalf of other officers. Two other black officers who are plaintiffs in the federal discrimination lawsuit and who have received Cherry’s assistance with grievances, AJ Blake and JL Pryor, also attended the NAACP meeting.

Cherry went before both his personal psychologist and one chosen by the department.

Both, Brown said, concluded there is nothing wrong with Cherry and there is no reason he should not be able to serve on the force.

Dr. Nanette S. Funderburk, Cherry’s personal psychologist, characterized the police captain in a June 15 letter as a “well-functioning, non-disturbed individual.”

“I am aware that Captain Cherry has submitted several grievances to appropriate departmental personnel,” Funderburk wrote. “These submittals appear to be reasonable reactions to identifiable challenges in the work environment. It is my professional opinion that Captain Cherry is mentally fit for duty and is capable of exercising independent judgment, recognizing parameters of authority and functioning effectively within departmental policies.”

Earlier this month Cherry received a Level I performance rating on his 4 th quarter and annual evaluations from Assistant Chief Dwight Crotts, who has been appointed interim chief beginning on Aug. 1. Those followed three successive Level IV ratings over the previous three quarters.

These developments come amidst a halting mobilization of citizens called Greensboro Justice Summer that was conceived after five young activists identified as Spirit of the Sit-In Movement Initiative intentionally got arrested for taking over the dais during a city council meeting to call attention to problems in the police department. Wesley Morris, one of those arrested, announced during a vigil to remember Oscar Grant that Greensboro Justice Summer would begin on July 15. Oscar Grant, a black man, was shot and killed by a white transit police officer in Oakland, Calif. Protests erupted across the nation in the wake of a jury verdict finding Officer Johannes Mehserle not guilty of murder.

One of the speakers at the vigil in front of the Greensboro Police Department was revolutionary communist Tim Hopkins, who works closely with public housing residents at Smith Homes and JT Hairston Memorial Apartments. Hopkins said that public housing residents have been distributing fliers depicting Greensboro police Officer Jermeir Jackson-

Stroud in a “wanted poster” context. Jackson- Stroud, like Cherry, Blake and Pryor, is a plaintiff in the federal discrimination lawsuit.

“He’s terrorizing people in Smith Homes right now,” Hopkins said, adding, “This guy’s also on the lawsuit among the 39 black police officers. We got to take a hard look, and think about whether it’s a falling out among thieves.”

Hopkins’ remarks underscore a tension between the imperative of obtaining fair treatment for black officers and that of holding police accountable for their treatment of citizens.

The Rev. William Barber II, president of the NC NAACP, suggested in remarks made in Greensboro in May that fair administration and good community relations should be mutually reinforcing objectives.

“The situation has reached a volatile point,” Barber said at the time. “The lack of faith in the integrity of the system has deteriorated the social conditions that promote effective law enforcement and the partnerships that encourage public safety.”

A vigil in memory of Oscar Grant, a black man killed by an Oakland, Calif. transit officer in January 2009 took place in front of the Greensboro Police Department on July 14. (photo by Jordan Green)