As homicides mount in High Point, the NAACP tries to pull the community and police together to address the problem. But the police didn’t show.
While two city council members and the city’s director of communications showed up for a Friday-evening community meeting of the High Point NAACP, several members noted two conspicuous absences: police Chief Kenneth Shultz and City Manager Greg Demko.
The police chief had notified the organizers that he would be out of town for a training, but no one from the department attended the meeting at Gethsemane Baptist Church in which the NAACP called “upon our police department and city officials to meet us there and help us forge a concerted effort to stop the violence now.”
Patricia Johnson voiced frustration about the police’s absence, contending that the chief should be replaced “when the one we got right now don’t respect us enough to be here or have somebody here.”
Johnson’s son was recently shot seven times in the living room of his Southside home as assailants attempted to batter down his front door. The city of 104,371 has experienced eight homicides since the beginning of 2017 — more than occurred during the entire year of 2016. In two of eight homicides this year, police have yet to make an arrest.
“You can’t keep brushing us off,” Johnson said. “You can’t keep telling us that our sons aren’t cooperating, the victims aren’t cooperating. You [are] hired to do a job. You trained to do a job. Do it without our help. Let us know you’re protecting us, not what you’re finding wrong in what we don’t do.”
While Johnson directed her frustration at city officials, she also called on parents to exercise greater personal responsibility, to recognize that they can’t be their children’s friends and they have no business partying with them. She shared that she quit a high-paying banking job while her son was in high school so she could attend his football games. She said her son wasn’t perfect, but he worked hard. He worked at a company in Greensboro until it closed and then started his own business cleaning cars.
“I told my son, ‘If you were out here selling drugs, I’m gonna tell,’” Johnson said. “I’d rather see you in a cell than see you in a grave. I can visit you in a cell.”
Bruce Davis, a former Guilford County commissioner who made an unsuccessful bid for Congress last year, said the issue of violence is personal for him.
“I’m hurting,” he said. “I’ve got two nephews that should be here, but they’re in the grave, killed in the streets of High Point. And one in prison. One in the grave because he was gonna tell what happened, what went down. I’m not just talking to be talking. I’m talking from what I know bothers me, hurts my family, hurts you, hurts your family.
“I’m not talking about little boys that didn’t have a father or mother,” Davis added. “I’m talking about little nephews that I have lifted up, that we put in a van and took to Carowinds. Uncles, fathers, black men took those boys to places, and showed them, and talked to them, and mentored them. What happened is our culture, what has been perpetrated, it’s what High Point has become, it’s nurtured that kind of a behavior, and we’ve got to do something about it.”
Bruce Davis asked at-large Councilwoman Cynthia Davis (no relation) and Ward 2 Councilman Chris Williams to stop making excuses for the police chief and city manager after Cynthia Davis suggested residents request a meeting with the city manager if they are dissatisfied with the police response to the homicides.
“Stop giving the manager, stop giving the chief a pass,” Bruce Davis said. “Stop giving these folks who work for us [a pass]. And you are our representatives. Don’t put it back on us. The people voted for you to go and speak and say, ‘If you can’t be there, chief’ — yeah, he’s got to be in Fayetteville, but he’s got an assistant, and he’s got an assistant. And we pay all of them. And somebody should have been here.”
Participants focused on a wide range of factors that cause community violence, from material challenges like underemployment and poor housing to culture and personal responsibility.
“We’ve got a lot of drugs in this area,” said Orveter McLean, the president of the High Point NAACP. “We’ve got a lot of boarded-up housing that allows people to do what they do. We need to make sure we get all these homeowners that have boarded-up houses and [get people] jobs.”
McLean said there’s a popular perception that jobs are not available, but argued that’s not correct, citing agencies like NCWorks Career Center, High Point Community Against Violence and Welfare Reform Liaison that train and place ex-offenders in jobs.
Avis Robinson, a former facilitator and trainer at Welfare Reform Liaison, said it’s vital to teach children at a young age that just because someone scuffs their shoes doesn’t mean they need to wait after school to fight the other child who disrespected them.
“We’ve got to get to the heart of the value system of the individuals that we’re teaching because we know what the issue is,” Robinson said. “It’s manifested in violence, drug sales and so many other things that we find distasteful. But they happen because of value system…. A lot of our community is so destitute and so disappointed by life as a whole, it’s very, very difficult for them to progress to the level that we would like to see them progress to.”
In response to the spate of shootings, the High Point NAACP has begun holding meetings every fourth Friday of the month at different churches around the city with the intention that community members and the police can work together to solve the problem of violence. Pastor Brad Lilley, the community coordinator for the NAACP, said at the last meeting in March a young man in Asheboro texted a girl attending the meeting about one of the homicides. He added that when the girl’s mother saw the text she persuaded her daughter to share the information with the police.
“We want to make it be known that our lives matter,” Lilley said. “Our community matters. Our concerns matter…. We need them to be with us, especially if the police chief is saying, ‘Help us solve these crimes,’ and we’re telling the community: ‘Let’s work with them to make the community safe.’ I would expect that somebody would be here.”