Stay the course, black officers

by YES! Staff

We were floored last week when Greensboro City Council member Mike Barber asked 39 African- American Greensboro police officers to drop their lawsuit against the city. Floored.

Barber argued at a press conference that if the officers were to drop their suit, which alleges discrimination in the police department, then the US Justice Department, which is investigating the GPD, might “close their books” on the city. We found this request odd for a number of reasons — first and foremost that Barber, as a sitting council member, has indirect authority over the police department, and we wonder if it is at all appropriate for him to ask these officers to drop their suit. Secondly, we see no significant changes to the department since the complaint was made, as Barber suggests. “Your efforts and interests in making impactful institutional changes have not been ignored,” Barber said last week. Well, let’s see: David Wray resigned as police chief in 2006, yet there are sitting council members who have publicly advocated for the man and his actions. An African American, Tim Bellamy, was hired as Wray’s replacement, which looks good on paper, but African Americans and Latinos are still underrepresented in the department. And contrary to Barber’s suggestions, the one man who listened to complaints by black officers and actually did something about it, former City Manager Mitch Johnson, has been relieved of his duties. And still there are numerous questions about what actually happened in the department in the days before Wray’s resignation, questions the city council has actively worked to keep unresolved by not releasing information that pertains to the case. Meanwhile, investigators from the Justice Department packed their bags and left Greensboro after complaining that the city was not cooperating with the investigation. And while Barber has gone on record as saying the city should cooperate with the DOJ, he made his position clear at his May 4 press conference. “I don’t want the feds coming in and evaluating Greensboro for anything,” he said. “I want our city to manage our city, I want our state to support our city, and I want the feds to stay in Washington, because in my opinion nothing good can come of that.” Between Barber’s comments and the city attorneys who seem to be attempting to stonewall the DOJ investigation, it certainly looks as if we have something to hide. Barber says he does not plan to run for city council again this year, nor does he harbor any aspirations for mayor. That’s probably a good thing. Barber likely wouldn’t survive a political opponent savvy enough to parse his statements about the GPD and make hay of the lack of transparency that has marked his tenure on council. And the last thing the city needs is two more years of “leadership” that actively pursues secrecy, consistently practices paternalism and rarely meets tough issues head on.

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