If you live in a Greensboro neighborhood or have frequented the downtown area near the entertainment district during peak business hours I will wager you have encountered a situation similar to this. You are driving in your personal vehicle and you pull up behind a younger person or group of younger people walking in the middle of the street. You don't want to get too close to them and you patiently wait for them to acknowledge your presence and move aside allowing you to drive past them. They look over their shoulder at you and smirk, walk even slower and begin to gesture and speak in loud tones of voice so you as the driver can hear them. They speak loudly to their friends obviously refusing to move out of the roadway and hurling profanity and threats in your direction. They speak in defiant terms as if they have no reason or desire to move and even in certain cases proclaim their "right" to walk wherever they want and at the speed they desire. You become frustrated and even consider blowing your horn at them but fear a confrontation or even being accused of somehow being in the wrong because you wish to proceed to your destination without being detained. Though your anger builds your fear is that this person or persons that is bold enough to block a street in deference to a 2 ton vehicle is also crazy or intoxicated enough to attack you. You feel intimidated and ashamed that you have to seemingly sit back and take this kind of abuse. Even when you eventually make your way past you become the target for more verbal assaults and threats; all because you want to drive your car down your neighborhood or city street as the law allows and provides for you to do. Where is a police officer when you need one? You think to yourself, there ought to be a law against this.
There is; North Carolina General Statute 20-174.
"Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right of way to motor vehicles upon the roadway".
Pretty simple isn't it. Pedestrian crossings at intersections or legally marked crossings are the only places where pedestrians have the right of way. Not the center of the intersection, not the center of the roadway, not even simply crossing the road. This problem has been so common place that cities and towns such as Charlotte have had to conduct "jay walking" enforcement operations as recently as 2014 due to traffic obstruction and pedestrians being struck by vehicles occurring at such high rates. The law is in place for safety purposes for both vehicular and pedestrian traffic. It is a law of compliance which most every "law abiding" citizen has no problem understanding and conforming to.
A police officer is patrolling a neighborhood. He drives up behind two pedestrians walking in the middle of the street in a neighborhood that is older and is home to many elderly residents who may not be able to react in time should they happen upon two pedestrians in the middle of the street while driving. The pedestrians refuse to move aside as the law maintains. The officer asks the pedestrians to move. They start gesturing and talking loud and walk even slower. The officer advises them of the law. They finally move aside and begin cursing and gesturing at the officer as he drives by. The officer decides to enforce NORTH CAROLINA STATE LAW which is perfectly within his discretion. He has offered a warning and the pedestrians make a decision to be disorderly. The officer discovers that one has been drinking which probably affected his decision making process. The officer, sworn to uphold the ordinances and laws of the city and state, arrests one pedestrian for being intoxicated and disruptive and impeding traffic and the other is cited and released for the traffic charge. He secures the arrestee by using proper handcuffing technique but uses a grassy area to lie the arrestee down as placing him in the street or across the hood or trunk of his vehicle would likely cause burns or discomfort due to the hot August weather. The other pedestrian is handcuffed for detention purposes and pertaining to officer safety guidelines as allowed by the United States Supreme Court then releases him after the citation is written. There is no abusive language from the officer, no use of force, no injury incurred by the arrestee.
Does this sound unreasonable? The cited pedestrian even records the handcuffing of the arrestee on his cell phone, depicting the officer stating his reason for arrest; "you can't stand in the middle of the street cussing". Is this an unreasonable statement by the officer? Did he correctly enforce a state law; a law determined to be necessary by the North Carolina State Legislature? Is there a codicil in the law that provides this enforcement is unreasonable if certain people think it is too "minor" of an offense to charge for? Was the law written and passed to only be applied to some people but not others?
Apparently the Reverend Nelson Johnson and News and Record editorial editor Allen Johnson think so as this very scenario played out here in Greensboro. Reverend Johnson encouraged the two pedestrians to complain citing racial prejudice as the officer's motivation and portraying the incident as another example of police officers targeting black people. Allen Johnson has included this incident in at least three of his editorial columns since April 30th, opining that the officer "finally has been punished" and questioning the charging of this offense at all. He even goes on to mention Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Maryland and even North Charleston, South Carolina in these articles insinuating that they are somehow similar to the event described above. He even closes one article regarding the arrest with the question "Really"?
Right back at you Mr. Johnson! No one questions the case in North Charleston
and while the video certainly expedited the arrest and firing of that officer, investigation and forensics with regard to the location of the bullet wounds and angle of entry into the victim's body would have yielded the same conclusion. That officer's actions were despicable and he deserves to go to prison if not worse. No one involved in the incident in Greensboro was shot and killed.
The Baltimore incident is also dissimilar as no one in Greensboro died. The events and evidence in that case are still in dispute and the investigation in that case will probably take even longer as the politicians have "muddied the waters" with their actions and statements based on an incomplete investigation.
Ferguson has one similarity; a police officer was demonized and his integrity, reputation and character has been assaulted by the press and political activists though he has not done anything in violation of his training, in violation of the law or in violation of the arrestee's civil rights. He made a lawful arrest and followed arrest and officer safety procedures based on his training. He also went a step further to ensure fairness. At the jail, he discovered a bag of narcotics on or at the bench the arrestee was handcuffed to after he processed him and entered him into the jail's custody. He checked the security cameras and discovered the contraband was not there before they entered the holding area but appeared after the arrestee was removed from the area. Though probable cause existed for a "felony" narcotics arrest he decided not to charge the arrestee, instead giving him the benefit of the doubt because he could not clearly see him drop the contraband from his person. Circumstantially he could have easily gotten probable cause for the additional "felony" charge but chose to simply turn in the narcotics to evidence for destruction. Is this the actions of an officer wanting to charge a black man just because he's black?
Reverend Johnson insisted on disciplinary action against the officer. The department investigated the case thoroughly and contrary to apparent editorial opinion the officer is allowed the same due process as any other citizen no matter how long it takes. They correctly decided to administer counseling, which is a procedure to further educate the officer in other forms of handling the case. It does not mean the officer was wrong but is meant to share ideas on approaches that could assist the officer in decision making should this type of incident happen in the future. Reverend Johnson wasn't satisfied insisting on a narrative that the officer acted in a prejudicial manner. He continued to complain to City Manager Jim Westmoreland insisting on more severe punishment for the officer. An attempt at mediation was made between the police, the two pedestrians and Reverend Johnson to no avail as Reverend Johnson would not accept the department's findings and threatened further public statements if the matter was not handled to his satisfaction.
So Jim Westmoreland caved in. Fearing Reverend Johnson he directed the police department to punish the officer more severely resulting in him receiving two days off without pay in an effort to appease Reverend Johnson. Two days off without pay for making a lawful arrest, following proper procedures and even cutting the arrestee a huge break.
I do not blame Nelson Johnson. He is consistent in his actions and has been for decades; you know what you are getting when Reverend Johnson is involved and though I don't necessarily see eye to eye with his views I appreciate his consistency. However, he has been somewhat of a bully when dealing with city government and this is no exception. Reverend Johnson kicked sand in Jim Westmoreland's face and he tucked his tail between his legs, cowered in a corner and sacrificed a young officer to appease a man that has been at the very least a polarizing figure in Greensboro history. I blame Jim Westmoreland for taking a cowardly approach even formally apologizing to two citizens that violated state law. What's next Jim; "sir, we are sorry that our police officers arrested you for only stealing a hundred dollars from that little old lady as she's going to die soon and will really never miss it'. What great leadership.
The officer is being made to attend classes to teach him how to better deal with citizens of color. Mr. Westmoreland should attend classes to teach him how to deal with Reverend Johnson. Appeasing bullies never works as they feel empowered to keep challenging your resolve until you stand up to them. This city has been in appeasement mode far too long with the effects being a more divisive community. Rather than reaching effective solutions, political antagonists are dedicated to continued appeasement and pushing to simply "get their way". Their is no success on our horizon in healing race relations in our city by constantly cowering in the face of threats or being called names. This city needs leadership, a quality Jim Westmoreland has yet to display. We made the mistake of not doing everything in our power to retain Rashad Young; let's not compound that mistake by retaining Jim Westmoreland. The officer's pay should be restored immediately and his name cleared; anything short of this is pure poppycock!