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Graduation 2020: Different look, same pride

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Mom: Teens re-enacted police brutality that killed George Floyd while my son and I watched

MOCKSVILLE — Shekeite Robinson has followed the news closely over the past few weeks, same as the rest of us.

As an African American and a mother, she was angered by the death of George Floyd and saddened by the conversations she would need to have with her children about negotiating a world stained by racism.

Robinson had to talk to them earlier this month after a video emerged showing Davie County students re-enacting the violence that caused Floyd’s death. It was natural to have questions.

But never in a million years did she imagine that she’d have to do it again less than 10 days later after she and her son watched another group of young men doing the same thing. In a public parking lot.

“Two were laying down and two had their knees on their back,” she said, her voice thick with anger and frustration. “I started yelling at them … they just laughed at me and stuck their middle fingers up.”

Unbelievable.

Two calls, one day

Taken in totality, Robinson had quite a day Saturday. And after hearing about it — and seeing some smartphone video she shot — it’s easy to understand why she was still upset Monday morning.

She has every right.

The first incident amounts to an appalling episode of road rage on Interstate 40. While driving with three children in her car, she said, she was harassed, cut off and then swerved at by young white drivers.

“They boxed me in, yelling, raising their middle fingers,” she said. “It was terrifying.”

Robinson did what a lot of us might. She followed, dialed 911 and relayed a license-plate number. “They (the authorities) said they were going to his house to talk to him,” she said.

No charges were filed over the weekend, and that irritated Robinson. She believes investigators didn’t take her seriously. “I don’t have any information. At all,” she said.

Feeling blown off by law enforcement hurt, but she wasn’t terribly shocked.

Police brutality, in the death of George Floyd and others like him, is but one part of the equation in ongoing protests. Not feeling equally protected, fairly treated or even listened to when accessing the legal system is another important component.

Truth be told, Robinson might have, before this moment of widespread attention to injustice, just resigned herself to it.

Until she made a run later that night to an ATM near a truck stop in Mocksville.

A group of young people, male and white mostly, had gathered in a parking lot to stage some sort of ill-advised counter-protest to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations taking place daily across the nation.

Perhaps in response to seeing a black woman and her son, Robinson said, they decided during the course of the gathering that mocking Floyd’s death was the thing to do. Or maybe they were just doing it for their own amusement in a public place when she pulled up.

Either way, it was an incredibly stupid thing to do.

She yelled. Her son was in the car, so who could blame her? And for the second time that day, she called 911.

An officer with the Mocksville Police Department was already there. They’d heard about the moronic counter-protest and were and checking things out when Robinson approached.

“He rolled his eyes at me,” she said. Her 911 call had been dispatched over the radio, and she said the officer’s demeanor appear to change as if “he saw a ghost” — and realized the depth of her pain.

What price?

About 10 days ago, a group of students at Davie County High posted, for all the world to see, a video re-enacting the last minutes of George Floyd’s life. Robinson, with a daughter at Davie High, was well aware.

The school system naturally issued a statement of condemnation but noted that since the little darlings weren’t on campus, there wasn’t much they could do other than wag the finger of indignation.

“The parents were very upset, apologized and agreed to have the video removed,” the statement said in part. “They were very appreciative of the call. Unfortunately, the video has been copied and shared and may still be viewable in places.”

Or worse yet, parroted and re-enacted by other miscreants in public places. Here we are.

Chief Pat Reagan of the Mocksville Police Department said Monday that he’d talked to Robinson on Sunday afternoon at an anti-racism rally and extended an invitation to further discuss her experience.

“I don’t want to minimize her feelings at all,” Reagan said. “I understand. She was met with one challenge that appeared to be racially motivated and then met with something else offensive to her that same day. If we can do something better, I’m all for it.”

The counter-Black Lives Matter protest, or whatever you want to call it, may have been organized — we use the word very loosely — in response to coverage of a police shooting death of another black man in Atlanta on Friday night.

“There was a group of young adults interested in making a statement,” Reagan said. “We came into contact with them. It was dark, they weren’t visible, and from a safety standpoint, it was not a good idea.”

Without commenting on content or intent, Reagan made it clear that his department’s interest is in public safety and not having someone further inflame existing tensions.

“It’s not the way to go about trying to make a statement, but we respect the rights of free speech and public assembly,” he said.

True thing. And within those precious words in the First Amendment, there are no prohibitions against stupid, hurtful and/or racist speech.

Americans have the right to say all kinds of dumb or inflammatory things short of yelling “Fire” in a crowded movie theater.

The price for such things is paid in other ways — loss of employment or social ostracism, say. Just this past week, the acceptances of two incoming N.C. State students were rescinded for the fall semester following a string of racist social media posts.

Still, in the raw aftermath of a tough and emotionally draining weekend, such victories might feel small. Robinson was — is — upset. And she has every right to be.

“My 12-year-old, he’s in the back of the car crying,” she said. “He’s scared. He has to go to school with some of those kids. What punishment is there? What’s going to make it stop? …

“It has to stop.”


Local
Police spending in focus as City of Winston-Salem passes $471 million budget

The Winston-Salem City Council approved a 2020-21 city budget Monday after extensive comments from members of the public about police spending in the wake of anti-discrimination protests.

By a unanimous vote, the council approved the budget as prepared by City Manager Lee Garrity. But in a last-minute twist, the council backed off an earlier plan to shift $1 million from the police department to pay for social spending efforts intended to attack root causes of crime.

More than a dozen speakers appealed for the city to spend less money on policing.

“We see resources given massively to the police department,” said Daniel Rose, in remarks similar to those made by many. “I want this city to defund the police. It will be a transition toward a better society. ... Our money is being squandered on things that don’t relate to the well-being of our people.”

But Sheri Randazzo told the city council that the city needs to spend more money on police, not less.

“We already don’t have enough officers to enforce law and order,” she said. “Those that need it the most are going to be severely impacted.”

Although the city’s Public Safety Committee had last week recommended spending $1 million dollars toward various antipoverty efforts from the city’s $78 million police budget, it turned out to be not so simple on Monday night: As Council Member Robert Clark pointed out, the money was not there to take.

After quite a bit of discussion, the result was that the council unanimously voted to set up a panel including citizens to recommend up to $1 million this fall to spend on antipoverty efforts, if the money becomes available and the council decides to spend it.

Council Member Jeff MacIntosh said he is skeptical the city can come up with the money, because he thinks the council’s revenue projections may be over-optimistic.

The idea behind the $1 million police transfer had been that the city would be able to spend money elsewhere that was budgeted for police positions that would never be filled during the year, thanks to a shortage of officer recruits.

But in practice, Garrity said, police overtime pay often eats into the money budgeted for the vacant jobs. Council Member James Taylor, who had proposed the $1 million transfer last week, introduced a substitute motion Monday that sets up the review procedures that are to take place this fall.

A final bit of drama on the budget came when Council Member D.D. Adams proposed that the city go ahead with increasing the city’s minimum wage for city workers to $14 per hour, without specifying where the money would come from.

Since the minimum wage is one of the items that would be discussed in this fall’s spending review, Adams’ motion failed 3-5, with Adams joined by council members Taylor and John Larson in favor, and council members Dan Besse, Clark, MacIntosh, new council member Morticia “Tee-Tee” Parmon and Annette Scippio voting against.

The 2020-21 budget approved by the council keeps the tax rate the same at 63.74 cents for every $100 of taxable property. What that means is that the owner of a $150,000 house will continue to pay $956.10 in city property tax.

Passed in the face of declining sales tax revenues caused by the business fallout from COVID-19, the budget is an austerity budget that comes with a freeze on non-essential hiring, a deferral of maintenance spending and the elimination of merit pay increases for employees.

As well, the budget relies on drawing $5.4 million from the city’s reserve funds to get in balance. That’s a $3.4 million increase the draw from reserves over the $2 million the city usually pulls from reserves.

The 2020-21 budget eliminates a net 20 positions, including 10 school resource officer positions that are going away as the city shifts those duties to the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.

The new city budget totals $470.6 million, which is 3% less than the 2019-20 budget. The total budget is somewhat deceptive, though, because it includes the operations of the self-supported City-County Utilities Division. The 3% drop in the total city budget mainly derives from less capital spending in water and sewer.

The general fund, which pays for most typical city operations and services, will see a 1.1% increase to $214.1 million.

Driving the increase, according to Garrity, are higher costs associated with information systems equipment, improvements in cybersecurity, a higher subsidy to Benton Convention Center because of reduced coronavirus-era convention business, and security improvements to city-owned facilities.

City administrators said that when they began work on the budget they faced a potential shortfall of $13.4 million in the general fund.

Although employee salaries are frozen, city officials said, there are no service level cutbacks planned, no delay in moving forward on expenses authorized by the voters through general obligation bonds, and no changes in support to community agencies.


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Widow of Julius Randolph Sampson Jr. speaks at downtown protest

About 180 people demonstrated Monday in downtown Winston-Salem, demanding justice for victims of police violence and the defunding of the city’s police department.

During their rally in front of the Benton Convention Center, the demonstrators also heard appeals for voting in the Nov. 3 elections and monitoring the actions of the Winston-Salem City Council. A coalition of local community groups staged the protest.

They also heard from LaKeyia Ingram-Sampson, the widow of Julius Randolph Sampson Jr., who described the pain she has suffered after her husband died in a racially-charged shooting outside a restaurant at Hanes Mall in August 2019.

Several protesters stood along West Fifth Street holding signs and banners that had messages such as “Justice for George Floyd,” “George Floyd 8:46,” “Breonna Taylor Say Her Name,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Kids Before Cops,” “Incarceration=New Jim Crow,” “Defund The Police,” “Justice 4 Julius” and “Repeal Stand Your Ground.”

Many drivers on West Fifth Street honked their horns as they traveled by the protesters. The demonstrators stood for nearly 90 minutes in cloudy weather amid a steady drizzle with temperatures in the high 50s. The protesters wore masks and maintained some social distancing amid the pandemic.

Molly Grace, a protest organizer, said that many demonstrators were unable to call into an online public hearing Monday evening about the proposed city budget. “They are putting obstacles in front of us,” Grace said.

City officials acknowledged there were some technical issues that made it hard for some callers to connect. Monday’s meeting was punctuated by frequent silences as Mayor Allen Joines tried to determine whether there was anybody on the phone ready to make a comment.

The council approved a $471 million budget plan that includes $78 million for the city’s police department.

At the protest, Ingram-Sampson asked the demonstrators to close their eyes and imagine they had arrived home from a vacation and were sitting with their child before getting a phone call, informing them that their spouse had been shot.

“Imagine the anguish you felt when doctors give you the round-around and police give you the run-around,” Ingram-Sampson said. “Then a detective walks in and tells you that your husband didn’t make it.

“For some of you, it’s a stretch of your imagination,” Ingram-Sampson said. “But for me, it’s a daily reality.”

Julius Sampson, 32, was shot and killed on Aug. 6, 2019 outside BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse at Hanes Mall.

Robert Anthony Granato, 23, is charged with first-degree murder and misdemeanor carrying a concealed gun while or after consuming alcohol in connection with Sampson’s death. Granato was being Monday night in the Forsyth County Jail with his bond set at $503,000, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office said.

At Granato’s bond hearing in January, Paul James, Granato’s attorney, said that his client acted in self-defense when he shot Sampson as the two men were fighting. Prosecutors have argued that Granato’s actions were not self-defense.

Granato is trying to use the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law as his defense, Ingram-Sampson told the demonstrators.

“I will not and cannot let that happen,” Ingram-Sampson said. “We need changes in our justice system.”

North Carolina’s Stand Your Ground law allows someone to use deadly force if that person believes that his or her life or others’ lives are being threatened.

Other speakers called for justice for Floyd, Taylor and Rayshard Brooks who died Friday night in Atlanta after an officer-involved shooting.

Floyd, 46, died on May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer put his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. The now-fired officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with second-degree murder, among other offenses, and three other police officers at the scene, who also were fired, have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Taylor, 26, and her boyfriend were in bed in Louisville, Ky., when three armed police detectives knocked down their front door three months ago. Gunfire erupted, killing Taylor, a black woman.

Brooks, 27, died after he was shot in the back by Officer Garrett Rolfe after they struggled in a parking lot at a Wendy’s restaurant in Atlanta. Rolfe has been fired, and another officer, Devin Brosnan, had been placed on administrative duty.