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‘Stop the violence’ gathering takes place (sort of) despite city ban

by Jordan Green

Greensboro police Lt. James Hinson arrived on Sussman Street, a narrow lane separating the Hampton Homes housing projects from a community park, around the same time as the ice cream truck. Soon after, Eric Hicks, the Dudley High School basketball star who went on to play college ball for the Cincinnati Bearcats, jumped out of a white Humvee with his entourage. It was difficult to tell who attracted the most attention: the black police officer investigated for corruption and then reinstated almost as quickly as his former chief resigned, or the hometown athlete who is reviewing contracts to play professional basketball abroad. “I’m just coming down to kick it with my people,” said Hicks, who grew up in Hampton Homes. “If you forget where you come from, you never gonna make it where you’re going.” The draw on Sunday was a “stop the violence/truth in recruitment” free community cookout. Organizers, including the left-wing World Can’t Wait: Drive Out the Bush Regime, Parents and Citizens for Truth in Military Recruitment and Hampton Homes resident Timothy X, had received a letter from City Manager Mitchell Johnson only two days earlier citing eight different ordinances of which the event ran afoul and warning that a gathering would be considered “unlawful.” The organizers struck a compromise. After holding an angry press conference on July 27, they convened in Sussman Street Park at the appointed hour on Sunday and handed out fliers to residents and passersby publicizing a postponed cookout on Labor Day weekend. The radical drum corps Cakalak Thunder arrived and struck up a samba beat, and the white musicians soon handed off their instruments to neighborhood girls. Some coolers and drinks stacked under a pavilion hinted at the possibility of an illicit cookout, but the supplies were carried into a nearby residence after the police lieutenant arrived on the scene. Hinson and one of the organizers, Portia Shipman, conferred for the better part of an hour. “He was just saying he had supported things like this in the past, and if we needed anything, to let him know,” Shipman would say later. “He did give me a tip – to keep the traffic moving.” Mayoral candidate Yvonne Johnson, one of several city council representatives contacted by the organizers, made a brief appearance, shook some hands, and returned to her vehicle under Shipman’s escort. “Everything was peaceful and orderly,” Assistant Chief HE Scott said. “We didn’t see any violations. We told them how to get back in touch with us if they wanted to apply for a rain date.” Two days earlier, it had not been clear that the day’s events would unfold so smoothly. Brandishing Mitchell Johnson’s letter, the organizers had vowed defiance of the city ban. “This thing has to go on,” Shipman had said. “If there’s a riot in this city, it’s not our fault; it’s the city of Greensboro’s.” The city’s denial of a special events permit took place under heightened fears of mounting gang violence in the city, with a handful of young men having been killed in recent months. Organizers also believe they were singled out because of their radical politics. “It was determined that the potential size of the event and the involvement of persons who have violent offenses on record and the involvement of persons who have been associated with gangs leads us to conclude that the special event would require the diversion of a great number of officers from their normal duties, thereby preventing reasonable police protection of the remainder of the city,” the city manager wrote, adding that the event would create “the possibility of violent disorderly conduct likely to endanger public safety or result in significant property damage.” Citing eight different ordinances, Johnson outlined other concerns, including that the organizers had failed to apply for a permit 60 days in advance of the event, that they had not taken out a $1 million insurance policy, that they had not provided adequate bathroom facilities, that the event would disrupt access to emergency vehicles and that it would interfere with other residents who wished to use the park. April Harris, the city’s special events manager, said the ordinance requiring groups to apply 60 days in advance of their event went into effect in May 2005, and was not written to single out any particular group. She added that the cookout organizers were treated no differently than other applicants. Timothy X, who has held the cookout almost every year since 1997, was quick to acknowledge that he was a convicted felon, even if Johnson’s letter did not single him out. Police blocked off the streets to discourage people from attending the cookout in 2005. At that time, Timothy X was facing felony charges for involuntary manslaughter. Since that time, he said, he has completed a 13-month prison term. “They said they did not want to have a ‘stop the violence’ event with someone with a violent offense,” he said on. “Someone who has a violent offense needs to be here if they’ve been rehabilitated. In the projects you ain’t going to find too many young black men that don’t have a record of some kind.” Timothy X added that he had spoken with gang members in various housing projects throughout the city’s south and east sides, and received assurance that they would maintain a truce to allow the cookout to go forward without violence. The interracial organizing group, which drew in activists who oppose military recruitment in schools along with nightclub owner Javier Meza, denounced the city’s ban as racist. “If a rich white guy had gone to prison for bilking colleagues and lived in northwest Greensboro and was going to have a cookout to stop the violence, he would have been praised, whereas Timothy X is being demonized,” said Richard Koritz, a retired postal employee. “They don’t want poor people taking their lives into their own hands.” He added, “Linking up the anti-war movement with the black community is something the power structure doesn’t want because they’re already having trouble getting recruits in the black community.” In fact, the city manager expressed some sympathy for the organizers’ aims. “Your intention of bringing awareness to community and world violence is commendable,” Johnson wrote. “However, your application for a special event permit is hereby denied.” Organizers cited the timing of the response to their application as evidence of the city’s bad faith. Tim Hopkins, an avowed revolutionary associated with the World Can’t Wait, said he was told in April by April Harris, the city’s special events manager, that he should anticipate no problems with the application. As Johnson’s letter indicates, Hopkins’ application was filed on July 5. Johnson’s response is dated July 12, but the letter to Hopkins is postmarked July 25. He said he received the letter only three days before the planned cookout, which had already been publicized on 102 JAMZ, a popular area hip-hop station. City officials did not return phone calls on Monday requesting comment on the time lapse between Johnson’s response and when it was received by Hopkins. Organizers have vowed to attend a city council meeting on Aug. 21 to protest the city’s handling of the application request and to see that hurdles for the rescheduled Sept. 2 cookout are removed.

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.

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