The string of unanimous votes by the Greensboro Human Relations Commission on Monday night was all the more remarkable for the wrenching internal division that had preceded them.
The unanimous votes revealed a tacit acknowledgement among the members of the volunteer board, who are appointed by city council and represent all five districts, that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way police treat black men and boys in Greensboro, and that the process of citizen oversight of the police is essentially broken.
In no particular order of significance:
• On a motion from Black Lives Matter activist and Commissioner Irving Allen, the board voted to issue a public apology to Jose Charles, his mother Tamara Figueroa, and the entire community “for the inadequacies of the process” undertaken by the commission and its police complaint review subcommittee to provide citizen oversight in response to the family’s complaint about police mistreatment of Charles during a July 4, 2016 incident at Center City Park;
• On a motion from Commissioner Samuel Hawkins, the board voted to recommend that the video be released to the public;
• On a motion from Commissioner Chantale Wesley-Lamin, the board voted to request that city council review the police body worn camera video of the incident with Figueroa, and with Ed Cobbler, the chair of the police complaint review committee, to ensure that everyone saw the same footage; and
• On a motion from Commissioner David Sevier, the board voted to create a study subcommittee to review and improve the police complaint review committee, and to not take additional cases until the review is complete.
On another night, a separate unanimous vote unrelated to the Jose Charles case would have likely made more waves. Commissioners passed a resolution expressing support for Nestor Marchi, a native of Brazil who has lived in Greensboro for two decades and is facing a deportation order. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a three-month stay on Monday to allow Marchi to make arrangements for him to receive healthcare in Brazil.
All that took place after the commission voted 7-6 to recommend reinstatement of Commissioner Lindy Garnette to the police complaint review committee. Garnette had been unceremoniously removed from the committee by Human Relations Commission Chair Zac Engle, with the consultation of City Attorney Tom Carruthers, after she spoke out about the police treatment of Charles. The vote was determined to be non-binding because Carruthers provided an opinion at the meeting on Monday that Engle had sole discretion as chair to remove Garnette from the committee, and Engle announced that he had no intention of reinstating her.
Next, Commissioner Wesley-Lamin made a motion to remove Engle as chair of the commission, but the motion did not go forward because Carruthers provided an opinion there was not a legal cause for the action.
Garnette said at the meeting that she appreciated her colleagues’ support, but the more she witnesses the more she’s persuaded that she wasn’t the right person to serve on the police complaint review committee in the first place.
“Who’s gonna sit on this board who’s got a conscience and is willing to watch police misconduct and sit quietly while that occurs and know that there’s no way to go public with that without being kicked off or being threatened?” she asked. Garnette said she has come to the conclusion that the city is either incompetent or hiding something from the citizens.
“I apologize to city staff, but since all my contact with the PCRB has been cut off, I guess I have to do this publicly instead of addressing it with the PCRB,” Garnette explained. “There have been a number of times when there have been disconnects in terms of the instructions that are given to the PCRB and what we were told we could and couldn’t do. Ms. Figueroa told us in a public meeting that was an open meeting that she had asked the city staff about providing witnesses and witness statements to her complaint, [and] that she was told by the city staff that that wasn’t possible. And yet the city staff sat in our meeting and told us it was possible. So both of those things can’t be true. Either we have to assume that Ms. Figueroa is being dishonest with us — and I don’t know what her motivation would be for that — or the city staff is dishonest with us in terms of saying that that wasn’t what was reported. And that’s one concrete example, but there are others.”