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City Council tackles police cameras and civil rights museum

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Maggie Young

Daniel Bayer
  News Editor

GREENSBORO – The Greensboro City Council approved a contract on August 16 to purchase police body cameras from TASER International Inc. despite objections from citizens who find the rules governing camera footage release too restrictive.

“We don’t want you to put $2 million into body cams whose footage can only be seen at the discretion of the sheriff and the chief of police,” said speaker Ezekiel Ben Israel. “We just don’t want it.”

Several floor speakers criticized House Bill 972, a state law that required those wishing to see body camera footage to obtain a court order. The law, called the “Faircloth Bill,” after its sponsor, State Representative John Faircloth of High Point, overturned an earlier city ordinance regarding police footage.

“Do not throw away our money on cameras whose footage we cannot access,” said speaker Alex Hilland. “Do not let our state legislature declare that black lives do not matter to them.”

The speakers were frequently interrupted with clapping and applause from those attending the meeting, leading to a warning from Mayor Nancy Vaughan and the removal of at least one attendee by police.

The five year contract will cover the maintenance and upgrading of the cameras and cost $2 million. Most of the funding will come from federal forfeiture funds seized from drug dealers.

Despite the objections, the contract was approved 7 to 2. Councilmembers Jamal Fox and Sharon Hightower voted against the contract.

The council also voted to extend the loan period for the International Civil Rights Museum to February 2018, giving the museum additional time to raise matching funds to offset a $1.5 million loan from the city.

In response to a speaker’s complaint that the council treated the museum differently from other city-supported institutions, Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter said, “I personally feel that this council has bent over backward to try and assist the museum,” then added, “I support the value of the museum to our community, we can’t let it go away. But there are certain times where we must say that we have an agreement… and sometimes those things need to be followed.”

“I’m going to support this because it is the right thing to do,” said Hightower of the loan period extension resolution. “We loaned $1.5 million to the museum, but we did not give it to them all at one time. We changed the plan. Why are you going to change it to allow the first $750,000 forgiven and not change it to allow the remaining $750,000 to be forgiven?”

Councilmember Mike Barber wanted assurances that the former Woolworth’s building housing the museum couldn’t be sold for a profit if the museum closes, and denied that the museum was being treated differently.

“Some of the folks involved with the museum are lightning rod folks because we’ve known them forever,” said Barber, referring to museum founders and former politicians Skip Alston and Earl Jones. “That’s okay, they’re not bad people. So it’s not about the people, at least not for me.”

“My endgame is to ensure that this will be a museum in perpetuity,” said Barber, “and that’s what we want it to be used for.”

The council voted 5 to 4 in favor of the resolution restructuring the loan, with councilmembers Abuzuaiter, Barber, Justin Outling and Tony Wilkins voting no.

The council also voted to annex and rezone an area along Youngs Mill Road, allowing the construction of a Sheetz convenience store, despite resident opposition from the nearby Trinity Lake neighborhood. The items had been continued from the previous meeting after the council failed to muster enough votes to approve the ordinances.

The next city council meeting will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 5:30 p.m., and is open to the general public.

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