Salisbury residents again ask City Council to suspend use of no-knock warrants
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 8, 2017
By Amanda Raymond
SALISBURY — “I am concerned for the state of my community. We should be working to reweave the fabric of our community. Instead, we are divided and losing the opportunities to create real change. Join me and help us create real change in Salisbury. Let’s be the catalyst for change together. As a community member deeply affected by the death of Ferguson Claude Laurent Jr., please suspend the use of no-knock warrants. This is city business.”
About 20 people spoke during the public comment section of Tuesday’s Salisbury City Council meeting and repeated the statement above. They paused after saying, “This is,” and the public sitting in the audience and waiting in line to speak would say in unison, “city business.”
The speakers were addressing the death of Laurent, 22, who was shot by a member of a Police Department’s Special Response Team during the execution of a no-knock warrant on Lafayette Street in November.
The case is still under investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation.
Since the shooting, residents have been asking the City Council to suspend the use of no-knock warrants by the Salisbury Police Department.
The city recently released a statement saying the city attorney will seek an opinion from the North Carolina attorney general on the council’s authority to “direct or suspend” tactics used by the Police Department.
City Manager Lane Bailey said a letter was sent to the attorney general about a week ago.
The statement said the council would not make a decision on no-knock warrants until the attorney general issues an opinion.
Most of the people who spoke Tuesday night said the community’s concerns are not being addressed. Some talked about the increasing militarization of the police and negative police interactions around the country.
Dora Mbuwayesango said there are people in Salisbury who were traumatized by the circumstances of Laurent’s death. Those people need to feel that the council cares about them, she said.
“Imagine how these traumatized people of Salisbury would feel if the Salisbury City Council would stop hiding behind the SBI and the attorney general and demonstrate that they are concerned for the safety of all citizens, whether black, brown, rich or poor,” she said.
Regina Dancy told the story of a time last year when a police officer came to her residence. She opened a door and she and the officer could see each other, but she kept a storm door closed between them. Dancy said the officer told her to open the storm door but she said she was not comfortable doing so.
“I was then told to open the door or he would kick it in,” she said. “I knew my rights, but at that moment all I felt was terror.”
She said the officer eventually said the person he was looking for did not live at her residence and left.
“Long after the officer left my house, I sat paralyzed, fearing he would return,” she said.
Kim Porter said as a white male, it can be hard for him to actively engage with the whole community, but he makes an effort.
“If we are a community, we must find things in common. And we can’t find them in common sitting behind a desk, we can’t find them in common unless we’re involved in the community — all of the community, no matter what color it is,” he said.
Michael Martelly asked the council to look at what is moral and instead of just what is legal.
“If the city attorney concludes that legal precedent does not allow the suspension of the no-knock, well, then challenge that precedent,” he said.
Joel David said he thinks no-knock warrants set up everyone involved for failure. He urged the city to designate funds to different neighborhoods to give young people something to do.
The Rev. Bradley Taylor said no matter what the attorney general says and what comes out of the SBI investigation, there will still be issues that the council needs to address.
“I just want you to hear from the community. Hear the heart of the community. Hear the cry of the community. Hear what the community wants and needs and let’s work together to make it better,” he said.
Others repeatedly said that they are worried about their families and the state of mistrust among the council, police and residents.
After public comment was closed, Councilman Kenny Hardin said he thinks there is a lack of understanding and empathy from the council and other parts of the community.
“…I do not feel that this council nor a large segment of this community takes seriously the concerns, the fears, the apprehension, the reticence of the black community,” he said.
Hardin said there is a historical context behind those fears that people may not understand. He said residents, particularly African-Americans, are tired of having their opinions and feelings dismissed as unimportant, and the council either must take the concerns seriously or stop patronizing the citizens.
Later in the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell said it is not hard to understand why the community is so mistrustful of the police. She said the council has heard numerous cases of people being mistreated by the police and they were all people of color.
“I don’t have any white friends who have been mistreated by the police, and just in this month we’ve heard case after case after case. And who could not understand it?” she said.
Councilman David Post suggested that the council suspend the use of no-knock warrants until it gets an opinion from the attorney general.
“If we’re waiting for a decision to say, ‘OK, you can amend your … local ordinance,’ I would almost rather them come back and say, … ‘No, you can’t do that,’ because I think we have to listen (to the public),” he said.
Post later said that in his opinion, suspending no-knock warrants would be wrong because it would take a tool away from the Police Department, but he still said the council has to take action on behalf of the community.
Blackwell said she has asked the city manager to find an impartial expert to talk to the council about why no-knock warrants are useful. Bailey said he and city staff are working to find someone.
Mayor Karen Alexander said the city should wait to take action until hearing from the attorney general.
“We’re not talking about more than a couple of weeks or maybe a month, but I really think that we need to make sure that we’re within the authority to do it,” she said. “…I don’t think it’s too much to ask of the community. We have heard you loud and clear, loud and clear, but I feel that we need to wait and get the information.”
In other business, the council:
- Issued a side arm and badge to retiring police Officer Rita Rule.
- Approved an amendment to an existing conditional district overlay at 128 N. Fulton St. for The Abbey, a wedding venue. After two committee meetings led by Councilmen Brian Miller and David Post, the property owners agreed to remove studio and retail uses from the support services building. The business will still be able to hold professional services related to weddings. The hours of operation were extended to 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Alcohol will not be allowed to be served after 10 p.m. The Refuge, a church operating on the property, agreed to end its Wednesday night activities by 9. Religious institutions operating in the sanctuary will not be subject to the hours of operation.
- Appointed Andrea Anders to the Housing Advocacy Commission. There are still vacancies on the Tree Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment.
- Heard Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes’ goals for this year.
- Tabled the second-quarter financial report to the next meeting.
Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.