Ferguson outrage hits home

Ferguson outrage hits home
December 04
00:00 2014

Local leaders dismayed and encouraged to fight for change

( Rev. Willard Bass speaks as S. Wayne Patterson stands at his side.)
Michael Brown

Michael Brown

Local leaders have joined the chorus of voices condemning a grand jury’s decision not to indict white former Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager.

The Winston-Salem branch of the NAACP invited city officials, members of the Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity and others to Shiloh Baptist Church on Wednesday, Nov. 26 – two days after the grand jury’s decision was rendered – to address the contentious case, which has sparked protests and uprisings in the St. Louis suburb and throughout the nation.

Dr. John Mendez and Walter Marshall speak.

Dr. John Mendez and Walter Marshall speak.

Dr. John Mendez, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church and a noted social justice advocate, said the grand jury process in the case, which he called “a circus and a farce,”  angered and disappointed him. He accused Robert McCulloch, the prosecuting attorney in St. Louis County, of acting as Wilson’s defense attorney for employing the unusual tactic of presenting a mountain of evidence – some of it contradictory – and witnesses to the grand jury, even when it did not support his case. Normally, prosecutors only present grand juries with evidence that supports probable cause for their case going to trial.

Brown was killed on Aug. 9 after Wilson confronted him and a friend about walking in the street. (Shortly before the confrontation, Brown had allegedly strong-armed a store owner and taken cigars, but it is unclear if Wilson knew about that incident when he stopped Brown.) There were several nights of protests, some of which escalated into violent rioting and looting, after the shooting as incensed black residents reacted to the death of the unarmed 18-year-old who many say had his hands up when Wilson fired some of his shots.

While he doesn’t agree with rioting, Mendez said the uprisings helped to draw attention to a case that may have otherwise drawn no national attention.

“If it had not been for the riots, this thing would have been swept under the rug,” he said.
Mendez also took issue with Wilson’s description of Brown in his grand jury testimony. According to transcripts released last week, the former officer said the teen looked like a demon and that he felt like a “5-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan” when he was trying to subdue Brown.

Mendez said Wilson’s descriptions showed he considered Brown less than human and deserving of death. Mendez said Wilson’s words show some officers’ tendencies to racially profile and the racist attitudes they carry.

“One of the things that concerns me is that police who fear black men do not belong in the black community,” Mendez said.

Dr. Carlton Eversley, a Ministers Conference member who pastors Dellabrook Presbyterian, said that despite Wilson’s claims that Brown was the aggressor, the teenager did not deserve to die.

“It should be pointed out that the death penalty does not apply to shoplifting,” he said.
Ministers Conference member Dr. Serenus Churn, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, responded to conservative critics who have complained that the widespread black-on-black crime problem does not incite the same level of passion from the black community.

“It seems to me like black-on-black crime is certainly a problem, but there is no comparison,” he said. “When you’re talking about a police department, you’re talking about those persons who are trained, hired and dedicated to protecting the public. When you’re talking about incidents between individuals, it’s an entirely different matter.”

The national NAACP is pushing for federal racial profiling legislation that it hopes will prevent similar incidents down the road. Winston-Salem Branch President S. Wayne Patterson said the organization is more determined than ever now to push for changes and justice.

“Just because the grand jury failed to indict in this incident does not move us. We are here to serve the people,” he said.

The national NAACP began a 120 mile week-long March for Justice on Saturday from Ferguson to the governor’s mansion in Jefferson City, Mo. in protest. Patterson said no other Ferguson-related local events were in the works.



Mayor Pro Temp Vivian Burke and County Commissioner Walter Marshall recalled a time when Winston-Salem had its own riot on Liberty Street in 1967 after police killed a black man during an arrest for drunkenness. They both said much has changed since then, as African-Americans now hold half the seats on the city council and many high ranking city positions, including police chief. It is a far cry from Ferguson, where the majority black population has an overwhelmingly white city council and police force.



“I don’t think the things that happened in Ferguson could happen here simply because the politics are so different,” said Marshall.

Burke, who spoke with City Manager Lee Garrity and Assistant Police Chief Wilson Weaver at her side, said that she’s worked long and hard to make the police force more diverse and improve its

Assistant Police Chief Wilson Weaver speaks. To his right is Pam Peoples-Joyner, the police department’s community relations specialist, and to his left is City Manager Lee Garrity.

Assistant Police Chief Wilson Weaver speaks. To his right is Pam Peoples-Joyner, the police department’s community relations specialist, and to his left is City Manager Lee Garrity.

relationship with African-Americans. Officers go through diversity training and a Citizens Police Review Board was established in the 1990s to address complaints from residents. (Eversley pointed out, however, that the board lacks the subpoena power to call and question officers accused of misdeeds.)

Garrity said the city will use money from the recently-approved bonds to build three police district offices in a move to put officers closer to those they serve. He said more than a million dollars has been invested to equip all officers with body cameras that will record all of their stops and arrests. Such technology could have answered many contentious questions in the Brown case. This week, President Obama announced that he is requesting that Congress approve $263 million for body cameras and training for the nation’s police forces.

“It is very important to this (city) council and the mayor that our officers be part of the community, trusted by the community and that they treat everyone with respect,” Garrity said.

Ministers Conference President Willard Bass said the city is not immune to contention between minorities and cops. He said his group works with many who are too afraid to file complaints on their own. Last month, the Minsters Conference held a town hall to let residents air their police-related grievances. A follow-up discussion in January on the federal Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday will explore solutions to the issues raised during the original discussion.

“We’re hoping by continuing to have these town hall meetings we will get to the crux of the matter and do some things that will help change our police department and shape what appears to be a police department that’s OK from their perspective, but the citizens still have a lot of problems with,” Bass said.

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