GREENSBORO — The tensions that boiled over on downtown streets this past weekend in the wake of the George Floyd tragedy erupted during a City Council meeting on Tuesday as members wrangled over what to do after peaceful protests turned into destructive disturbances.
Between well-meaning plans to compensate downtown businesses for broken windows and those wanting justice for African Americans, council members agreed that the community needs to talk — and they need to listen.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan opened the meeting with remarks about this past weekend's destruction and looting and her decision to impose an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. The curfew, she said, will likely extend through next Monday in anticipation of another protest that may occur on Sunday.
"It was an effort not to preserve property but really to preserve life," Vaughan said. "The property damage was horrific, but buildings can be rebuilt. The possibility that someone could be gravely injured or killed was weighing on my heart."
The City Council had a full agenda to tackle Tuesday night. But most of the meeting centered on what the city should do after the weekend's violence.
City Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann suggested the city create a fund to help downtown businesses repair doors and windows that were broken when peaceful protests morphed into chaos and destruction. Ultimately, council asked City Manager David Parrish to draw up a plan for a program, possibly costing around $250,000, to help many businesses whose property was damaged.
But the decision was made only after Councilwoman Sharon Hightower attacked the idea and the signal it may send that property is more important than people.
"Don't let us mix up the message in the mess that is going on," she said. "The message is loud and clear: We got to be willing to bare our souls."
She said that black people and their grievances are far more central to the problem than broken windows.
"We need to make sure we're sending the right message. When you put this curfew in place, you only put it into place because of your precious downtown," Hightower said to Vaughan.
Vaughan was unapologetic.
"These are people who have invested their life savings," she said. "These are people who put our residents to work. These are not chain stores.
"If people want to make the equivalency that the curfew is about property, I'm gonna call B.S. on that."
Hightower and other council members agreed that they need to find some way to meet with and listen clearly to protesters. Whether that's through a task force or a series of community meetings, council members said the need for action is urgent.
"We know what the problems are," Councilwoman Michelle Kennedy said. "It's us. The things that we have done have not worked or we wouldn't be sitting here at this moment. This is a time for white people to get off their asses and get off their couches.
"It's time to act."