Statement to the City on Police Accountability-FINAL April 9,2014
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Transcript of Statement to the City on Police Accountability-FINAL April 9,2014
Page 0 Police Accountability, Community Safety & Healing Initiative Presentation to Greensboro CRC Enhancement Committee, April 9, 2014
THE CITY OF GREENSBOROS
CRC ENHANCEMENT COMMITTEE
City Council Chambers
Melvin Municipal Building
Wednesday, April 09, 2014
An Official Statement Offered to the City of Greensboro from
A Project of the Beloved Community Center
417 Arlington Street Greensboro, NC 27406
336.230.0001 office ~ 336.230.2428 fax
Public Presentation Delivered by
Rev. Nelson N. Johnson, Executive Director of the Beloved Community Center of Greensboro
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I want to thank you, Mayor Vaughan, and the CRC Enhancement Committee for the opportunity to
present our perspective, a proposed process for moving forward, and a synopsis of the ongoing work of the
Police Accountability, Community Safety and Healing Initiative. I am particularly appreciative of you, Mayor
Vaughan, for your openness to listen afresh and to consider creative alternatives related to improving policing
in the City of Greensboro. As a citizen group, we feel that we have some important and constructive
contributions that will help the residents of our city, the police department, and the city as a whole.
Let me say from the outset that some of my comments will be quite critical of the Greensboro Police
Department (GPD) and its operations. These critical comments are not meant to express any lack of respect
and appreciation of or need for the police. We are fully aware of the demanding and stressful nature of their
work. We appreciate the good work done by many officers every day. There are, however, significant defects
within the Greensboro police culture that, if corrected, will not only benefit local citizens and members of the
Greensboro Police Department, but will begin to heal some of the historical wounds in our city and may well
set our city on a path toward significant improvements in human relations, a healthier and more inclusive
culture, and economic growth that can become the envy of our state and our nation.
Inherent in any undertaking are presumptions and assumptions, stated and often unstated. I would like
to set out some of the grounding presumptions and assumptions of the Beloved Community Center and the
Police Accountability, Community Safety and Healing Initiative, which the Beloved Community Center played a
significant role in creating.
1. That police are necessary and enormously helpful for a safe, orderly, and functioning society. For
many, this assumption seems obvious. However, because our critical remarks have often been
interpreted to mean that we do not like or that we feel that we do not need the police, we felt it
important to make this assumption explicit.
2. That every person or group should be treated equally, fairly, and respectfully, in accordance with the
3. That the police have been granted extraordinary powers by the citizens for whom they work. These
powers include arrest, restraint by force, testimony in court with the presumption of truthfulness,
search and investigation, the gathering evidence that can lead to conviction or imprisonment, as well
as the power to take a life in the course of carrying out their duties.
4. That because of the extraordinary powers granted to the police by citizens, citizens should require a
high degree of citizen oversight oversight that is not unduly under the influence of the police culture.
Not unduly under the influence of police culture, is the sense in which we use the term
Independent Citizens Police Review Board. This is also the basic meaning of the phrase the police
should not police themselves.
Page 2 Police Accountability, Community Safety & Healing Initiative Presentation to Greensboro CRC Enhancement Committee, April 9, 2014
5. That biases and prejudices, whether based on racial or ethnic background, gender and gender
preference, economic and social standing, or citizenship status including immigrant, undocumented,
illegal alien, or other such labels, that are all so prevalent in society, also necessarily exist within the
police culture and, in some cases, may be even stronger within the police culture.
6. That allegations and instances of police misconduct and abuse of power, which point to the need for
better citizen oversight, have been major unresolved issues that have plagued the City of Greensboro
for decades. Further, that the City has spent and continues to spend millions of hard-earned taxpayer
dollars on this unresolved situation changes in police chiefs, city managers, and mayors
7. That the enduring problem of unresolved police issues is not primarily a personality problem,
characterized by a bad officer here or there, but rather a cultural and structural problem that must be
solved primarily on the cultural and system level.
8. That a healthy, meaningful, viable, and trusted police oversight mechanism grows best out of a
democratic process where all sectors of the citys diverse population are involved in a meaningful way
and all views and voices are heard.
Those are our working assumptions. After working on the police accountability issues for many years, the
Board of Directors of the Beloved Community Center made a very considered and deliberate decision to
produce a well researched 47-page booklet, entitled Our Democratic Mission, outlining several cases of police
misconduct. The document was posted online and distributed in February and March of 2013. I will return to
the treatment of Our Democratic Mission booklet by the City a little later.
On April 4, 2013, a community meeting, convened by the Beloved Community Center that drew over
200 people, was held to discuss the issue of police misconduct and the need for a more effective oversight
mechanism. On April 16 and April 27 two different police abuse of power incidents occurred that involved
Bennett College and North Carolina A&T students, which intensified the discussion. In June Beloved began a
series of meetings with city officials, including the mayor, several council members, the city manager, city
attorney and the human relations commission director. Those meetings mainly resulted in an outlay of the
police and citys plans, elaboration of city sponsored surveys about police performance, and inadequate
responses to or discussion of public criticisms about police misconduct. On August 26, 2013, feeling that the
discussions were stalled, Beloved presented a one-page document to city officials, entitled A Proposal to
Grow a Respected Police Review Commission. That one page document is attached at the end of this
document and on Beloveds webpage.
Our one page proposal began by attempting to frame the problem as a structural (system), cultural
problem. It was not about personalities and name calling. The opening paragraph sets forth that:
Within the Greensboro Police Department there has been too much power concentrated in too few
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hands with too little independent oversight for far too long. This situation has impacted poor
communities and communities of color in disparate ways. It should not come as a surprise that those
parts of the community most negatively impacted have raised their voices the loudest.
Too much power concentrated in too few hands with too little independent oversight for a long time!
We believe this is a way of framing the problem that allows all of us to better understand the problem we are
trying to solve and to better work together towards enduring solutions. In that spirit we called for a kind of
Super Committee in our one-page proposal. Explicitly our proposal states:
We propose that a process be undertaken as soon as possible to bring together committed
representatives from the university/college sector, the religious/faith sector, the
neighborhood/community sector, and the City/Police/Human relations sectors.
This group of some 15 or 20 people would constitute what amounts to a Super Committee. We further
proposed that this Super Committee look back over the years of past practices to try to understand the culture
and the structure, what happened, including what worked and what did not work. This would also help come
to a collective understanding of what problem we are trying to solve. It would be enormously helpful in
answering the questions of:
Is the police issue merely about a few bad apples as some allege?
Is it a question of new leadership as in a new chief or city manager?
Or is there no real problem at all, as some suggest: just a few criminals trying to get favorable
treatment and a few aging activists who wont let the past go. Is that really the problem?
Maybe, just maybe it is a structural problem that concentrates too much power in too few hands with
too little oversight over a long period of time.