crashing the gate

by Brian Clarey

Flying colors on the corner

It all started out innocently enough, I guess: a free outdoor concert in downtown Greensboro, a gathering of friends and family, a summer afternoon with the implied promise of lazy fun and fellowship. But then, according to police, members of Jorge Cornell’s Latin Kings began flashing gang signs at the corner of Elm and McGee streets — the kind the suburban kids do for fun in party pics all over Facebook and weekly newspaper advertisements. The cops say there were Bloods on the scene. Cornell and his friends deny this, naturally. This could have been just another instance of the kind of raucous summer fun that goes down between young urbanites all over the country in our streets, our shopping malls and our downtown districts. But this was something more. It became something more when the Greensboro Police Department’s gang unit intervened, approaching Cornell’s group in that way cops do when they’re looking to shut something down. It became something more when Cornell, who is the inca for the North Carolina Chapter of the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, stepped in front of police to… to what, exactly? It became something more because, of course, Cornell is running for an at-large seat on Greensboro City Council, something of which he reminded the gathering crowd as he was being led away in handcuffs, his children crying in the street. This is the same gang unit that Cornell has accused of profiling the members of his organization — an accusation echoed by former police Officer AJ Blake, once a member of the unit, who was acquitted on assault charges last week. And this is the same Cornell who makes no pretense of denying his felony conviction during his campaign, who says he is working to change the reputation of his group from that of criminal street gang to community organization, who has cast his lot with another polarizing figure, Rev. Nelson Johnson, in his bid for legitimacy. It’s a perfect opportunity for both his haters and fans to weigh in: the criminal upstart vs. the misunderstood activist. And, of course, the slings and arrrows are already flying. But I caution you not to judge until you get a look at the video. This may be the first instance in history where a man running for city council has posted video of his own arrest on his campaign website. The scene opens with shaky footage of the gang unit approaching some of Cornell’s compatriots on the corner, and Cornell quickly inserts himself between the officers and his guys. The cops want to question some of the younger members of the Latin Kings, but Cornell says, “You don’t gotta talk to them. They’re fine… we just having a good time.” That’s when officer Roman Watkins pulls the cuffs out, inciting one of Cornell’s children to ask, “Why are you always harassing my father?” and the other one to break down in a wail of tears. Cornell takes the opportunity to remind the viewing public that he is running for city council and that he has been arrested 21 times in the last 18 months. “Put through the system,” he says, “and every time, every time found not guilty.” In the end Cornell was charged with resisting, obstruction and delaying, and was set free on $500 bail. Some thoughts: I do have reason to believe the gang unit is riding Cornell and his boys, as has been ably reported in the pages of this newspaper. And I know for sure that Cornell hangs with some hard cases, many of whom have police records. Cornell absolutely impeded the work of those police officers, if the video footage can be believed, but what their business was could not be determined by watching the video. And it is fact that the only one who was arrested on that streetcorner was Cornell. Cornell should understand that he is simply running for city council and is not a sitting council member; as such he has absolutely no juice with the GPD — though it sure would be interesting to see what that dynamic would look like. It is possible that Cornell staged this whole thing as a publicity stunt — he certainly looked at ease in his bracelets — but it would have to be the stupidest publicity stunt pulled since political advisor Bill Burckley showed up drunk at a city council meeting this spring. Though it has a bit of an absurdist ring to it, we are taking Cornell’s campaign seriously. He has proven leadership qualities — if he can keep the Latin Kings in line, he should be able to handle the flacks and flunkies of city government — and has shown a good bit of charisma and transparency in his campaign thus far. And for those who say they want him deported: Jorge Cornell moved to North Carolina from from New York, and is of Puerto Rican descent. I’m sure he’d love it if the taxpayers ponied up for a plane ticket to send him back to San Juan… but, of course, he’d be able to come back any time he wanted. Puerto Rico is a US territory.