High Point goes dark

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There’s a national conversation going on about race, law enforcement, equal protection and unequal access, particularly as it pertains to minorities and people of color.

It’s a dialogue that began in earnest after an unarmed 18-year-old named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. following on the heels of another black man’s death at the hands of police in New York City. It grew more nuanced and focused after #BlackLivesMatter emerged from the bloodshed, sustained through the hot summer of 2015 by more racially tinged police shootings and attacks on law enforcement, topped off with a divisive controversy about the Confederate flag.

As modern cities nationwide are looking for ways to soften their relationships with the inordinately poor and black communities that bear the brunt of institutional racism, in High Point they’re taking a different tack.

In the cities of the Triad, human relations commissions often act as liaisons between cities and citizens with beef. Imperfect though they may be — no subpoena power, no enforcement mechanisms, no real teeth — human relations commissions have a specific mission.

In Winston-Salem it works “for the elimination of discrimination in any and all fields of human relationships.”

Greensboro’s human relations commission aims to “improve the quality of life for Greensboro residents by encouraging fair treatment and promoting mutual understanding and respect….”

High Point’s human relations commission has dealt more this year with internal issues than its stated mission to investigate complaints of discrimination. Director Al Heggins, who is black, went on leave after an email she authored outlining racism in city government caused her to fear for her life.

And last week, council unanimously voted on a complete overhaul of the commission, redefining its focus, removing its limited powers and dismissing the board.

“There was a flier that went out referencing ‘white supremacy’ and a lot of other things that were very troubling to many in the community,” he said.

The impetus, according to Councilman Latimer Alexander, was a program entitled “Black & Blue” created by the commission specifically to address issues of race and law enforcement that has been plaguing the country.

“There was a flier that went out referencing ‘white supremacy’ and a lot of other things that were very troubling to many in the community,” he said. “It was the language that folks did not appreciate.”

It’s the same tactic we saw a different council use when disbanding City Project and relocating then-executive director Wendy Fuscoe in 2014. That one had consequences in the next election. This new council showed its willingness to bury its collective head in the sand when Heggins’ complaints resulted in nothing but her paid leave in June.

High Point is a divided city on many fronts.

Remember, this is a city that has yet to hold an African-American mayor for a full term, where efforts to make a proper Martin Luther King Jr. Drive met with strong resistance until earlier this year, where income inequality, food insecurity and general injustice disproportionately affect the 35 percent of the city that happens to be black.

Alexander and those he speaks for have one thing right: These truths are uncomfortable. Until they’re addressed, they always will be.

  • Observer

    What this story leaves out is the fact that the Human Relations controversy stems directly from a dispute over the proper use of tax monies under that department’s control by the then manager who had the obligation to do so.
    Never saw the answer, and the dept head spender got paid for “stress” while the manager was “allowed” to retire, previously not in the plan.
    It also leaves out the fact that High Cost Point has no full term black mayor of record because of the felony conviction in office of our only one to date.
    Family members and friends have sued and city utility bills went unpaid and questions went unanswered to the general public, again, on the use of public funds for Coltrane Fest, a personal “investment”.
    Also absent here is the debate not on whether there was to be an MLK designation, but where it would actually be located based on visibility and importance and public accountability of cost,, and local big money politics money won and made the lower income voters drink the political Kool Aid, sold out by their own “leaders” who supposedly got paid.
    “Do something if it’s wrong” indeed.
    This piece also fails to mention that the highest combined tax/fee/utility cost city of the states larger cities weighs most heavily on the very ones who can least afford it, and they keep feeding them the line of how it is all so good for them to benefit the big players who get the tax paid breaks that they themselves do not.
    That is the reality of the “dark side” of High Cost Politics, reported objectively, or not, and it speaks ill of a “news” publication to not tell all sides, unless of course, they are more about agendas and connections and less about news.

    • Brian Clarey

      You keep insisting that High Point is an expensive place to live, and it is not.

  • Frank Swanson

    Michael Brown robbed a store and then assaulted a police officer. Why are these videotaped facts left out of any conversation regarding him? He is not in any way a proper poster child for the modern civil rights movement. Quite the contrary.

    The High Point Human Relations Department has done more to stir up trouble than to quell it. It seems to exist only to perpetuate a personal vendetta on the part of the department head. The proof is in the pudding. Ms. Heggins carries a permanent chip on her shoulder and proudly shows it, at the city’s expense, at each and every opportunity.

  • Observer

    As a whole city we all seem to get along splendidly, until somebody who makes a buck of of not getting along gets involved.

  • “…where income inequality, food insecurity and general injustice disproportionately affect the 35 percent of the city that happens to be black.” I can’t agree more. But, this seems more of a personnel issue than anything. It was used to justify the dismantling of the entire department, but there are two different issues here. Could a different director have better run the department under its old charter? I guess we’ll never know. There just don’t seem to be any good guys in this story.