Featured photo: The No Justice, No Peace March on High Point for Fred Cox was attended by over 100 supporters and featured civil rights attorney Ben Crump, Rev. Gred Drumwright and the families of Black men who have been killed by police. (photo by Carolyn de Berry)
The recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday is one of the only tangible changes that came from the 2020 uprisings.
Many cities promised to consider defunding and divesting from police-dominated budgeting, but none have actually followed through, including in the city of Minneapolis, where a precinct was burned to the ground in a direct action supported by the majority of Americans polled.
We got the proposed “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act,” which despite its name, provides more funding to police departments for recruitment, training and equipment. It has also only passed the House and has been deadlocked in the Senate for two years. In his 2022 State of the Union Address, President Biden said, “We should all agree: The answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police.” But how can we all agree when data shows that more policing does not correlate with less crime, and American police killed at least 1,238 people last year?
Where does Greensboro fit into this equation?
The city of Greensboro loves to take credit for its place in history during the Civil Rights Movement, but in an act of historical revisionism, it obscures the role that city officials and police have played in repressing any resistance to our unjust system. As the city promotes its Juneteenth celebration, which is all good and well, we should remember the ways they have failed and continue to fail the most marginalized members of our community.
The Greensboro Police Department is emblematic of many departments across the country. Like many other Southern law-enforcement agencies, it began as a compulsory slave patrol in 1830. Its history has been riddled with the suppression of the Civil Rights Movement and local labor struggles, even going as far as assisting the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan in carrying out an orchestrated attack of white supremacist violence in which five labor organizers were killed in the infamous 1979 Greensboro Massacre.
In the lesser-known 1969 Greensboro Uprising, police tear-gassed students at James B. Dudley High School and the National Guard invaded and pillaged the dorms at NC A&T State University.
In September of last year, students attending a football game at Dudley High were tear-gassed as police attempted to break up a fight.
One has to wonder why their practices have not changed.
Since the Civil Rights Movement, the culture of the department does not seem to have improved. In 2006, Chief David Ray and two high-ranking officers resigned following allegations that the department’s Special Intelligence Section was secretly surveilling and collecting information on its Black officers .
In 2013, three federal lawsuits brought forth by nearly 40 officers of color, including former Police Chief Brian James, claiming discrimination were settled for a total of $500,000. Current city council members Nancy Vaughan and Zack Matheny voted against the settlement. In 2015, a New York Times investigation revealed that Black motorists in Greensboro were disproportionately stopped by police. A public information request filed by activist Jason Hicks earlier this year revealed that Black Greensboro residents are still twice as likely to be stopped by police than their white counterparts. According to the city website, “The Greensboro Police Department does not contest the fact that the data shows racial disparities with respect to traffic stops and searches” but denies that interpersonal racism is a factor.
Most importantly, too many lives have been prematurely lost at the hands of our local law enforcement officers. In 2022, the city finally settled a lawsuit brought forth by the family of Marcus Smith who was fatally hogtied by eight GPD officers. The family, supported by community members, has been fighting for justice since his death in 2018. The settlement has been agreed upon but has yet to be paid out. Officer Lee Andrews and Officer Montalvo resigned in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Officers Jordan Bailey, Robert Duncan, Alfred Lewis, Justin Payne, and Corporal Christopher Bradshaw have all since received merit raises and remain on the force. Officer Douglas Strader was later fired in an unrelated incident where he fired into a fleeing vehicle, but found no issue with finding employment with the Graham Police Department in neighboring Alamance County. Luckily no one was killed by his act of recklessness, but the same behavior by a different officer in August 2022 ended with the death of 17-year-old Nasanto “Duke” Crenshaw.
The city of Greensboro is currently facing two wrongful death lawsuits, one from Chrenshaw’s family and the other from the family of Joseph Lopez, who was shot point blank by Officer Matthew Hamilton in 2021. Although the city fired Hamilton, it continues to fund his legal defense against the suit and has spent over $50,000 of taxpayer money as of December 2022. In a rare act of competence, Guilford County District Attorney Avery Crump filed manslaughter charges against that officer. One can’t help but wonder why none of the officers who killed Marcus Smith, nor Deputy Michael Shane Hill who shot Fred Cox in the back in a High Point church, nor Matthew Sletten who fired into a car full of teenagers killing Duke Crenshaw, have faced similar charges.
This Juneteenth we should celebrate the informal ending of chattel slavery and the accomplishments of Black social justice movements which have made such immense progress in ending legal discrimination. But we should also call on our city to do better, to hold themselves and the police accountable for the injustices they have committed. We need them to adequately address the racial disparities in their policing practices. To divest from policing as the main avenue to address public safety.
And to stop killing us!
And, at the bare minimum, provide transparency and accountability in instances of police misconduct, rather than continuing a pattern of obfuscation and straight-up fabrication of details as has been documented in their public statements following the deaths of Marcus Smith and Nasanto Crenshaw.
Brian Burch (he/him/his) is a working-class community organizer and visual artist living and working in Guilford County, North Carolina. Shortly after moving to Greensboro in 2020, he began organizing with the Greensboro Justice Coalition and has made an effort to be involved in community spaces ever since. In his free time, he enjoys reading, writing, playing music and practicing photography. He plans on attending the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in fall 2023 to pursue filmmaking.
Below is an incomprehensive list of victims of local police violence. They will not be forgotten. We must remember them and honor their names. They should all be alive today.
- Nasanto “Duke” Crenshaw, age 17, was shot and killed by Corporal Matthew Sletten on August 21st, 2022.
- Joseph Lopez, age 29, was shot and killed by Officer Matthew Hamilton on November 19th, 2021.
- Christopher Corey Moore, age 41, was shot and killed by officers A.L. Dellinger and R.T. Brooks on August 27th, 2021.
- Fred Cox Jr., age 18, was shot and killed by Deputy Michael Shane Hill on November 8th, 2020.
- Michael Brandon Potter, age 33, was shot and killed by High Point Police Officer Adam Burkholder on March 15th, 2020.
- Boyce Melvin Thayer, age 83, was shot and killed by Guilford County Sheriff’s Deputy Cpl Kyle Mikesell on February 23, 2020.
- Dennis Patrick, age 28, was shot and killed by Guilford County Sheriff’s Deputies and a High Point Police Officer on October 15, 2019.
- Victor Ervin Jarvis, age 61, was shot and killed by three Guilford County Sheriff’s Deputies on October 14, 2019.
- Aaron Michael Andrews, age 35, died in police custody on June 17th, 2019.
- Marcus Deon Smith, age 38, was fatally hogtied by Officers Robert Duncan, Justin Payne, Michael Montalvo, Alfred Lewis, Jordan Bailey, and Lee Andrews, along with Sergeant Christopher Bradshaw and Corporal Douglas Strader on September 8th, 2018.
- Tasharra Thomas, age 33, died in police custody at Guilford County Detention Center on May 2, 2018.
- Edward McCrae, age 60, was shot and killed by a Winston-Salem police officer on March 30, 2018.
- Carlos Keith Blackman, age 25, was shot and killed by GPD Officer JR LaBarre on February 10, 2017.
- Christopher Michael Tokazowski, age 43, was shot and killed by R.G. Ector, J.E. Chasten, C.B. Cline, A. Mendez, W.Z. White, Cpl. M.R. McPhatter, Cpl. A.M. Deal, and Cpl. M.P. Brown on March 12th, 2016.
- Bobby Troledge Norris, age 53, was shot and killed by High Point Police Officers Andrew Lanier, Zach Trotter, John Antignano, and Archdale Police Officer Tim Coats on August 23, 2015.
- Ray Junior Barber, age 45, was shot and killed by officers on June 22, 2014.
- Florence White, age 51, was struck and killed by a car driven by Guilford County Sheriff’s Deputy Philip Lowe on June 22nd, 2014. Lowe resigned in 2019.
- Chieu-di Thi Vo, age 47, was shot and killed by Greensboro Police Officer Tim J. Bloch on March 25th, 2014.
- Zenon San Martin Ramirez, age 52, died from medical neglect while in the custody of Greensboro Police Officers JL Beavers and TB Caldwell on December 7th, 2012.
- Danny David Ferguson, age 60, was shot and killed by High Point Police Officers on September 20th, 2012.
- Marques Ra’Shawn Burnett, age 28, was shot and killed by Greensboro Police Officer TN Gillis and Cpl. MW Chandler on October 22nd, 2010.
- Shawn Lee Gordon, age 24, was shot and killed by at least five Greensboro Police Officers on March 5th, 2010.
- Christian Welland Rook, age 17, was shot and killed by a Guilford County Sheriff’s Deputy on February 2, 2010.
Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.
We believe that reporting can save the world.
The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.
All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.