The Greensboro City Council held a work session on Thursday, June 18, narrowly focused on one aspect of Greensboro Police Department stops.
Councilmember Justin Outling had not only requested the work session, he made a motion at the June 2 meeting to hold the work session within two weeks, which passed unanimously
The City Council missed the deadline by a couple of days, but Outling frequently requests work sessions on topics but they are never held.
Outling requested the work session in response to an incident on the Bicentennial Greenway in May where a teenaged African-American male was stopped, detained and searched by Greensboro police officers when the young man in fact only met the description of the person the police were looking for in one category – his skin color.
Assistant City Manager Trey Davis made a few introductory remarks about how Guilford Metro 911 was working on a request to ask for more complete descriptions from callers and then tried to turn the meeting over to Police Chief Brian James to talk about other changes in police policy.
Outling was not going to have the meeting he requested on this one specific topic turned into a general discussion of police policies and stopped that attempt in its tracks. Throughout the meeting Outling kept bringing the discussion back to the topic that by unanimous vote the City Council had agreed to discuss.
This in itself was a major accomplishment.
Outling had one issue and worked throughout the hour-and-a-half meeting to stay on topic. As Outling said, it doesn’t matter how complete a description the 911 dispatcher receives, if the policy for police officers is such that they can ignore the description except for one factor – race. Outling also repeatedly said that based on the description being used by the police officers on the scene, they were well within their rights to stop any black male on the Greenway, whether they were 10 years old or 80 years old.
Outling said, “Five or six descriptors were provided, but the child that was stopped only fit one of those descriptors.”
Outling asked, “What is the policy about what is acceptable and what is unacceptable.”
Police Chief Brian James said, “What we have to make sure of is that the contact is professional and respectful.”
Outling said that his concern was not how contact that was made, but the fact that a contact was made based only on the race of the person. He said, “What is the standard? This stop may have been lawful but it was erroneous and shouldn’t have been made.”
He added, “The city did not recognize that an error was made.”
Councilmember Sharon Hightower asked, “What policy are you expecting to be put in place.”
Outling said that maybe 20 percent of the descriptors had to match. He said, “The color arguably matched, but there is no reason we should be elevating color above and beyond everything else.”
Councilmember Tammi Thurm offered the idea of “race plus one,” meaning a policy that the race and one other descriptor had to match.
James said, “We don’t want to make contact with people who had absolutely nothing to do with the call. But I’ve done it myself.”
James also said, “I’m fully willing to make an admission that we made an error.”