|Fired police officers Charles Cherry, Joseph Pryor and A.J. Blake|
Amidst prayers and passionate speeches, a plan of action came to the forefront of the Beloved Community Center meeting on police misconduct.
Beloved Community Center board chair Pat Priest and community organizer Joseph Frierson asked for participation the entire night of April 4, and they got more than they might have expected when Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson said she believed the Greensboro City Council could muster five votes to create a police citizens review board.
After an audience member asked how to go about getting a review board, Johnson replied, “All you have to do is bring a request to city council, and we’ll vote on it…. I think you probably have five people who will vote for it.”
The night centered on Our Democratic Mission, a Beloved report released in January detailing 14 separate cases of alleged police misconduct. The document was referenced throughout the night as a way to mobilize the community to address concerns raised in the report. The first speaker of the night, the Rt. Rev. Alfred C. Marble, assisting bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina and board member at Beloved, commented on the necessity of community involvement.
“Greensboro is predominately a black and white community, but it is an international community,” Marble said. “We need everyone to get involved.”
After speeches from Marble, and the Rev. Nelson Johnson, executive director of the Beloved Community Center, and case reviews from Bennett College student Imani Wilburg-Folds and Brian C. Sims of NC A&T University, Beloved conveners opened the floor to questions. The first inquiry stirred the crowd as A&T student Alicia Funderburke asked how she could get involved. A series of answers led to the greater idea, brought forward by lawyer and civil rights activist Lewis Pitts.
“The most patriotic thing we can do is stand up and fight,” Pitts said.
Later, Pitts hit at the heart of the issue: “Who do we allow to wear guns and lock up citizens?” he asked. “We must be able to hold them accountable.”
Guilford College associate professor Sherry Giles agreed. She stated more than once a need for a citizens review board to hold the police accountable. Working with her students, she said they most often came to a recurring question: “How do we give power back to the citizens?”
The question rang true throughout the meeting. Before a video showing some of the more harrowing cases in Greensboro’s troubled past with police brutality, Vice-Chairperson Dale Tonkins introduced three former Greensboro police officers, Joseph Pryor, Charles Cherry and A.J. Blake, who are characterized in the report as having been wrongfully terminated.
While those cases dominated the night, the meeting’s framework built around a cry for citizen involvement. Marble called for Greensboro leadership to sit with Beloved staff and board members to discuss the past and the future.
“List every error in our publication so we can talk about this,” Marble said. “The council wants to blame it all on Nov. 3, 1979 and though no justice was found for that day, the problem continues.”
Marble referred to a case detailed in Our Democratic Mission involving Greensboro police. According to the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report on the incident, “the majority of commissioners find the single most important element that contributed to the violent outcome of the confrontation was the absence of the police.”
Rev. Johnson echoed Marble’s sentiments during the question-and-answer period. He called for a meeting about Our Democratic Mission before saying, “I know there is corruption because I have seen it. The internal police mechanism is flawed.”
He called for organization at every level, “every campus, every neighborhood and every church,” to bring forth the change Beloved eagerly desires.