GREENSBORO — Broken promises and racial injustice.
Residents talked Monday about those common themes as the problems facing Greensboro Police Department and its chief.
Greensboro leaders on Monday launched the first of five public discussions about what Greensboro needs in its next police chief after the department’s leader, Wayne Scott, announced he will retire January 31.
The first meeting was held at noon Monday in the Vance H. Chavis Branch Library, in southeast Greensboro, followed hours later by another at the Central Library downtown.
The Chavis library meeting, though small with only eight residents attending, was lively and brought out the frustrations of Greensboro’s black community.
“It seems to me when African Americans or citizens of color have incidences, they are not treated the same as our Caucasian brothers and sisters,” said Tijuana Hayes. “That must stop.”
Community members said the next police chief needs to understand and respect the city’s history from the Greensboro Massacre to the death of Marcus Smith, a Greensboro man who died last September after police used a controversial RIPP-Hobble restraint on him.
“Here we are in 2019 and black men are still hogtied,” Hayes said. “And nothing is being done about it.”
Hayes said the police department has a history of responding quicker to white neighborhoods, and when they do respond to a black neighborhood, the residents are treated with less respect.
For a few moments there was a consensus that the next chief should come from Greensboro or the surrounding area. That opinion quickly faded as the residents discussed special favors, cover-ups and pressures on the police department for and by people they grew up around.
“He doesn’t have to be from Greensboro, but he needs to know the city’s history,” said Luther Falls Jr., a former city council candidate. (Information has been corrected to fix an error. See correction at the end of the story. 10:16 a.m., Sept. 24, 2019.)
Falls said the next police chief needs to show concern for the black community.
“We want to see works that give us some kind of indication or evidence that you’ve done something with us in the past that shows sympathy or the understanding you have on our plight,” Falls said. “Or ... someone who can get you up to speed with us as quickly as possible in the first of the year or so and get on board, because it’s just not fair.”
“Talk is cheap and we’ve heard it over and over and over again over the years,” Falls said.
Guilford County school board member Byron Gladden said officers need to come into the community, communicate better and show vulnerability.
“A mother shouldn’t have to bury her son and then call every week and risk her life to do investigative journalism because the only response they get is, ‘Well, the streets won’t talk,’” Gladden said. “Well, you do not have the relationship.”
As Greensboro’s homicide rate grew throughout Scott’s tenure, a consistent message from the department was that the community feared retribution if they told police what they knew about the shootings.
Gladden said police won’t be able to get the relationships they want when they’re coming into communities with a gun on their hip.
“I cannot know you and grow you when you have a gun holstered on your hip,” Gladden said. “You have to come transparent into the community and come vulnerable, because we are vulnerable when there is a gun in the room.”
Brenda Artist Barksdale said many people in the community don’t even know who the police chief is.
“The police chief needs to be a community person where you come out into the neighborhoods and meet people,” she said.
She cited that as a broken promise Scott made when he became chief.
All of the residents at the meeting agreed the chief should care about all residents regardless of culture, religion or identity.
But the residents also needed assurances that Monday’s meeting wasn’t a waste of their time.
“As a community we’re tired of meeting to set the date of the next meeting to not see results,” said Hayes. “What is the true purpose of this? Is it just to appease us as a community?”
Patricia Bazemore, a senior consultant at Developmental Associates who is leading the police chief search, told Hayes that she was taking their discussion seriously.
Bazemore said she was gathering the information they collect from meetings and an online survey to create a job description that matches the community’s needs. She said applicants will go through an assessment process to ensure they match the criteria.
Each candidate’s background will be scoured, Bazemore said, including their employment histories, social media posts and information on the dark web, which utilizes encrypted online content.
Bazemore said when applicants are narrowed down to three candidates, the community will be included again in the selection process.
Assistant City Manager Trey Davis said he was happy with the first meeting.
“I’m very encouraged by the professionalism and the openness of the consultants to not only drive the conversation but also push the conversation further in what they’re looking for,” Davis said. “I thought they did a good job of making sure that the people understood they were really engaged.”
Correction: The story initially stated that Luther Falls Jr. was a former city councilman.