A resolution to declare Winston-Salem a “welcoming city” took a step towards final approval today with a 3-1 vote by the general government committee of city council.
The meeting was moved from the committee meeting room to the council chamber to accommodate guests, who were roughly split between supporters and opponents. After the vote was taken and partisans filed out of the chamber while the committee continued its business, one elderly woman muttered, “I can’t believe this s***.”
Councilman Robert Clark, the lone Republican on city council and representative of the West Ward, cast the lone no vote. But Councilman Jeff MacIntosh, a Democrat who represents the Northwest Ward and is not a member of the general government committee, indicated that he will vote against the resolution when it comes before the full council. Clark and MacIntosh both largely framed their opposition in pragmatic terms as a move to avoid antagonizing the Republican-controlled General Assembly in Raleigh.
While the resolution was drafted and submitted by Councilman Dan Besse, who represents the Southwest Ward, his Democratic colleague Councilwoman Denise D. Adams in the North Ward made the most impassioned plea on its behalf.
“There are a lot of people in this country that make it what it is,” said Adams, who is black. “My ancestors made it what it is. If we want to go there, I can go there. Because if this country wasn’t built on all of our ancestors — the Irish, the English, the Germans, the Africans, the French, the Portuguese — this country was built with many quilt colors, many differences. But the differences isn’t what’s supposed to be dividing us. This country is a country that opens its arms. And I’m sorry that some of us feel feel like now is the time that we’re supposed to start creating walls and barriers to the people who perform services in our community every day that make our lives easier.”
Clark charged that the resolution “is a partisan document presented to enhance the political careers of certain people on this council.” Clark pointedly remarked for the benefit of opponents of the resolution that Adams is running for Congress; she has announced intentions to run for the 5th Congressional District seat currently occupied by Rep. Virginia Foxx.
Clark compared the “welcoming city” resolution to Charlotte’s ordinance protecting the rights of transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, which prompted the General Assembly to convene and rush through the hated HB 2 law one year ago.
“It’s purpose, I believe, is to create partisan division between this city and Raleigh and Washington,” Clark said of the “welcoming city” resolution. “I don’t think that’s the answer. To me, this is a Charlotte-type incident. Charlotte wanted to poke the bear. They did, and now we’ve got a mess in this state that nobody seems to know how to clean up.
“We depend on Raleigh for all sorts of things,” Clark added. “We exist at their pleasure. We depend on Washington for a lot of things. And if you think that it is to our advantage to pass a piece of paper — that doesn’t make us any better; we are who we are — to pass a piece of paper whose purpose is to create a partisan war that certain people want so that they can further their political careers — it’s not what I’m about…. The whole thing stinks, and I will have no part of it.”
Besse’s resolution was carefully crafted to avoid violating a state law passed in 2015 that prohibits North Carolina cities from enacting so-called “sanctuary” ordinances. The state law holds that no city may prohibit law enforcement agencies from gathering information about immigration status and sharing it with federal authorities.
Besse’s resolution states that the city “recognizes that our whole community is safer when victims and witnesses of domestic violence or criminal activity feel safe in contacting our police for assistance without fear, regardless of their immigration status.”
At Councilman Derwin Montgomery’s request, police Chief Barry Rountree reiterated a statement memorialized in a Jan. 30 memo: “Members of the WSPD do not ask immigration status, initiate immigration roundups, or gather immigration status information during the course of providing law enforcement services.”
City Attorney Angela Carmon said that the resolution “doesn’t appear to violate” state law.
Without directly referencing President Trump, who has issued executive orders that call for more aggressive immigration enforcement and limit travel to the United States from six Muslim-majority countries, the resolution states that “the current national environment of excessive fear and suspicion directed by some toward immigrants, refugees and other newcomers calls for cities like Winston-Salem to reaffirm our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive city for all.”
Besse said Trump’s polices have created widespread fear and confusion.
“Local elected officials are often unclear about what the law says about their responsibilities and what the administration may be asking them to do now,” he said. “Many of them and their constituents are concerned and afraid about what federal agents may be doing or attempt to do in their communities. A great many of their constituents are afraid of what the role of local government and law enforcement may be and whether they may be targeted on the basis of their race, their color and their national origin, even if they are citizens or otherwise legal residents. Local officials in other cities and towns are finding it important to reassure their communities on these points.”
The resolution concludes with two paragraphs:
“The city council and the city of Winston-Salem reaffirms that ours is a welcoming city for newcomers, immigrants and refugees who come to our nation and city for a peaceful new beginning, including those escaping war, disaster or persecution abroad; and
“The department of human relations and the human relations commission, in consultation with the police department and city attorney, are directed to study and provide the city council with recommendations regarding additional appropriate and lawful steps which the city may take to reinforce our commitment to providing a safe and welcoming environment for immigrants, refugees and other newcomers to our community, and thereby to enhance the health and safety of our entire community.”
After speaking out against the resolution, Clark clarified that he holds no objections to the first part of the resolution but opposes the second part.
MacIntosh indicated that while his heart is with the resolution, he does not intend to support it because he fears it could subject the city to financial penalties.
“We’re having this discussion because of several decades of inaction at the federal level about immigration policy,” he said. “We don’t have an immigration policy. And so the decisions get forced down on us at the local level where we’re faced with either speaking out for something that we believe in or suffering economic penalties from the state of North Carolina, which I do believe will happen if we pass this.”
Councilman John Larson, a Democrat who represents the South Ward, also attended the meeting although he is not a member of the general government committee. He said he’s not certain how he will vote when the resolution comes before the full council for final approval.
“If we begin to poke the beast, are we prepared to suffer any consequences from that?” he asked. “I’m not afraid of poking the beast. I grew up in a generation of card-burners from Vietnam where a whole country is based on revolution when we talk about injustices [that] occurred. And I’m not afraid to take a stand against laws that are not right. The question is, when do we decide to draw those lines in the sand?”