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N.C. A&T grad and Greensboro native Brian James sworn in as new police chief

GREENSBORO — To cheers from a large audience at the Carolina Theatre, Brian L. James was sworn in Friday morning as the 23rd chief of the Greensboro Police Department.

James faces challenges including a near-record homicide rate and some who say the police department is deeply racist.

But on Friday morning, people greeted the event as a milestone for the department and the city.

At least 500 people filled the main level of the theater as City Clerk Angela Lord administered the oath of office to James, a Greensboro native and career veteran of the police department.

James succeeds Wayne Scott, who has retired after serving for nearly five years.

In remarks to the audience, the new chief talked about crime, about what the city can do about it and asked for help from the community.

But he first talked about his childhood in Greensboro in the Phillips Avenue neighborhood “where all our neighbors looked out for each other and looked out for kids.”

His voice cracking with emotion, James paused as he talked about the sacrifices his mother made to create a better life for him, saving $25 from every paycheck to help him attend N.C. A&T after graduating from Page High School.

James thanked his family and the community partners he’s known, the nonprofits who have helped former inmates to build new lives and people struggling with addiction to overcome their problems.

But, he said, children in Greensboro are still struggling.

“Every child deserves what I had,” James said, “but I know that’s not always the case.”

It’s crucial for the police department to find out what those children and everyone in the city needs from officers so it can solve the issues of violent crime that plague Greensboro, he said.

Residents, faith partners and nonprofits must work together, he said, to solve those issues. But police, who are already balancing the roles of a difficult job, must find time to be compassionate, he said.

“They must be compassionate enough to bend down and give a child a hug who has experienced a traumatic event,” James said.

James, who promised when he was appointed in January to hold community meetings to listen to ideas from the public for what he can do to lead the police department, has already appeared at one public meeting.

And he has scheduled eight more community meetings beginning next week that will be held in locations around the city through March.

“I will consistently ask for your help, your input and your partnership,” he said.

He said the police department must think differently and create new strategies to fight crime as a large city like Greensboro evolves.

One of his top priorities is looking at what can be done to stem the number of homicides. Last year, there were 44 killings, tying the record set in 2017.

Another concern: He’ll have to restore public trust in a department that has come under widespread criticism for its recent treatment of African Americans and what many see as a history of malfeasance dating back 40 years to the Greensboro Massacre of 1979.

Many of Scott’s critics alleged a decades-long pattern of police corruption in Greensboro and say that fuels a lack of trust between police and residents, especially African Americans. During the selection process, some of the most vocal residents said a new chief should come from outside the city.

Healing that mistrust begins with better communication between the police department and the community, James said in his first interview after being appointed.

James, at his first public meeting on Jan. 22, asked audience members that if they’re treated unfairly, to let him know.

“I want to make sure that with each interaction, we treat people with dignity and respect,” he said.

The audience at that forum, the majority of whom were black, sought a commitment from James to implement change that will filter throughout the ranks of the department.

“For a long time, there’s been a culture of toxicity inside the police department with racial discrimination against officers, as you are aware, and discrimination against the public,” Jess St. Louis said at the meeting.

James said Friday that he wants to emphasize the positive aspects of Greensboro’s culture that helped make him successful.

He closed his remarks by saying, “the memories of walking these streets as a child remind me of how far I’ve come.”

'You don't need permission to stand up': Journalist Roland Martin speaks at N.C. A&T's Feb. 1 commemoration

GREENSBORO — Roland Martin, the journalist, has lots of opinions.

Here’s one he shared Friday at N.C. A&T: He abhors it when he hears young people asking when older folks will hand over the baton and get out of their way.

Here’s another opinion, offered on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the start of the downtown Greensboro sit-ins: “You don’t need permission to stand up.”

Martin was the keynote speaker Friday morning at the Sit-In Anniversary Breakfast Celebration. Several hundred people gathered at the Alumni-Foundation Event Center on campus to eat a buffet breakfast, hear A&T’s Fellowship Gospel Choir perform “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and listen to Martin’s talk.

Though it was a round-number anniversary — the first downtown Greensboro sit-in was 60 years ago on Feb. 1, 1960 — the A&T program stuck to its usual script. It was followed by the customary wreath-laying at the February One monument and a panel discussion.

Friday’s event commemorated the first sit-ins at Greensboro’s segregated Woolworth lunch counter and celebrated the efforts of four leaders, who were freshman in early 1960 at what was then called Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina. The two living members of the Greensboro A&T Four, Joseph McNeil and Jibreel Khazan (formerly Ezell Blair Jr.), were both on campus Friday. David Richmond Jr., who died in 1990, and Franklin McCain, who died in 2014, were represented by their families.

The keynote speaker was Martin, an author, former newspaper editor and publisher and TV and radio commentator on CNN and several other networks. In late 2018, he gave up those regular network roles and launched his own online show, #RolandMartinUnfiltered. The show runs for an hour or two each day on YouTube and covers lots of different issues — news, politics sports, culture, entertainment — from an African American perspective.

Martin is both host and managing editor of the web show. Those roles give him complete control over content, Martin said, something he lacked in his other TV roles.

“I don’t ask somebody else, ‘Can I?’ ” Martin said. “I ask myself. ... Were it not for black-owned media, we would not have had platforms that were covering (black) issues when daily newspapers would not even put us in the paper.”

Serious coverage of major social and political issues that affect black Americans is crucial these days, said Martin, a former newspaper reporter who later ran three different black newspapers.

“No group of people can survive if the only thing being covered is what some entertainer is saying or doing or wearing,” Martin said to applause.

Martin spoke for nearly an hour Friday and touched on politics, race, civil rights, voting, judicial appointments, the nation’s changing demographics and patriotism. He hardly sounded like someone ready to pass the baton to a younger generation of journalists.

In many places, Martin said, elders get great respect and reverence. “We play a dangerous game,” he said, when a new generation tries to push past older people who have valuable knowledge and experience and tenacity. But elders, he said, shouldn’t squash the energy and passion of a younger generation.

“The real deal is, if you want to do this thing properly, both forces must be operating at the exact same time going to the same destination,” Martin said.

Martin noted the Greensboro Four didn’t ask the school or their parents if they could sit down and demand to be served at a whites-only lunch counter. The next generation of black leaders shouldn’t seek permission either to make a difference, he said.

“Some folk understand that you have to do some things because it is right, and it is just and not about whether or not I’m able to get a job later,” Martin said.

No matter who’s leading, Martin said, the black struggle will continue.

“Every single thing that African Americans have gotten in this country has been because we’ve had to raise hell, protest, agitate, push, prod, let folks know that we’re not going to back down,” Martin said as the crowd clapped. “That is simply who we are.”

An interesting article in today's newspaper

Must-flee TV? In a likely first, presidential candidates will air ads during the Super Bowl. Page B12

U.S. bars foreigners coming from China for now over virus fear

WASHINGTON — The United States on Friday declared a public health emergency and took drastic steps to significantly restrict entry into the country because of a new virus that hit China and has spread to other nations.

President Donald Trump has signed an order that will temporarily bar foreign nationals, other than immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, who have traveled in China within the last 14 days. The new restrictions, which take effect at 5 p.m. Sunday, were announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who is coordinating the U.S. response.

“It is likely that we will continue to see more cases in the United States in the coming days and weeks, including some limited person-to-person transmissions,” Azar said. “The American public can be assured the full weight of the U.S. government is working to safeguard the health and safety of the American people.”

Americans returning from China will be allowed into the country, but will face screening at select ports of entry and required to undertake 14 days of self-screening to ensure they don’t pose a health risk. Those returning from Hubei province, the center of the outbreak, will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine.

Beginning Sunday, the U.S. will also begin funneling all flights to the U.S. from China to seven major airports where passengers can be screened for illness.

The virus has infected almost 10,000 people globally in just two months, a troublesome sign that prompted the World Health Organization to declare the outbreak a global emergency. The death toll stood at 213, including 43 new fatalities, all in China.

A public health emergency in the U.S. allows the government to tap additional resources to send to states, such as emergency funding and if necessary drugs or equipment from the national stockpile, and to suspend certain legal requirements.

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that while the risk in the U.S. is low, “I want to emphasize that this is a significant global situation and it continues to evolve.”

There are seven cases of this virus in the U.S. and all were travelers except for a Chicago man who caught it from his wife, who had been in China.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious diseases chief at the National Institutes of Health, said one reason the U.S. stepped up its quarantine measures was an alarming report from Germany that a traveler from China had spread the virus despite showing no symptoms. Fauci contrasted it with the response to recent outbreaks of Ebola, which can’t be spread unless someone is very ill.

At the same time, federal health authorities were recognizing that the test they’re using to detect the virus isn’t always dependable. Redfield said when it was used on some of the people currently in isolation, they’d test positive one day and negative another.

Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University expert on public health law, said putting a large number of people under quarantine “is virtually unprecedented in modern American history.”

Declaring a public health emergency “gives HHS added powers, and is warranted. Quarantine of those returning from Hubei is also reasonable given the high risk of exposure to coronavirus in that province,” he said.

He did note that travelers from other parts of China don’t pose as high a risk. “We need to use the least restrictive measure necessary to safeguard the population,” Gostin said.

Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun offered America’s “deepest compassion” to the Chinese, noting that the deadly outbreak came during the peak of their holiday season, when everyone would ordinarily be celebrating and not living in fear of contracting the virus.

Biegun said the U.S. is working hard to find donors of supplies and making arrangements for a “robust effort to help the Chinese people get their arms around this outbreak.”

The announcement came hours after the State Department issued a level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisory, the highest grade of warning, and told Americans in China to consider departing using commercial means. “Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice,” the advisory said.

Hours later, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines announced they were suspending all flights between the U.S. and China, joining several international carriers that have stopped flying to China as the virus outbreak continues to spread.

Meanwhile, U.S. health officials issued a two-week quarantine order for the 195 Americans evacuated earlier this week from the Chinese city of Wuhan, provincial capital of Hubei province. It was the first time a federal quarantine has been ordered since the 1960s, when one was enacted over concern about the potential spread of smallpox, the CDC said.

None of the Americans being housed at a Southern California military base has shown signs of illness, but infected people don’t show symptoms immediately and may be able to pass on the virus before they appear sick.

One of the evacuees, Matthew L. McCoy, a theme park designer who lives in China, said the group was very relieved by the quarantine order.

“All of us really want to stay here and make sure we’re all medically clear and the public safe,” he said from the military base.

China counted 9,692 confirmed cases Friday, the vast majority in Hubei province.

The National Health Commission reported 171 cases of people who have been “cured and discharged from hospital.” WHO has said most people who got the illness had milder cases, though 20% experienced severe symptoms.

Symptoms include fever and cough, and in severe cases, shortness of breath and pneumonia.

China has placed more than 50 million people in the region under virtual quarantine.