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Editorial: City reacted appropriately to unrest tips

The city of Salisbury made the right call when opting to host meetings with community leaders and clergy before the release of a state investigation into the killing of Ferguson Laurent.

Salisbury city staff held a number of small meetings last week with community leaders. The staff members included Police Chief Jerry Stokes, Deputy Chief Shon Barnes, City Manager Lane Bailey and Communications Director Linda McElroy. Community leaders invited to those meetings included people such as Alisha Byrd, who serves on the Rowan-Salisbury school board and runs a mentorship program for youth with Alex Clark. Some chose not to attend for various reasons. On Wednesday, Salisbury officials invited pastors and ministers to a meeting about Laurent’s death.

The specific reason for meetings: Salisbury officials received tips that protests, even violence, could come after District Attorney Brandy Cook announces her decision about police conduct in Laurent’s death.

A group named Justice in Salisbury sprung up. It includes many of the people who have tirelessly advocated against no-knock warrants and for other causes. The group questioned why the city would create such a narrative — that unrest would follow Cook’s decision. The group appeared to be the first to publicize the city’s efforts to hold private meetings.

Justice in Salisbury is also familiar with at least two people who raised the specter of unrest or provided specific evidence. Both attended the group’s Tuesday meeting. Councilman Kenny Hardin lambasted the city’s decision-making process.

A few months earlier, however, Hardin emailed Alexander and City Manager Lane Bailey to describe phone calls and an email in which locals residents told Hardin about planned “acts of civil disobenience.” Hardin said the groups intended to be arrested to draw attention.

In an April email to Councilman David Post, community activist Carolyn Logan also raised the specter of unrest.

In separate emails, two Salisbury police officers told Stokes about tips they’d received related to future unrest. In one case, the officer said the tip did not appear to be credible. In the other, the officer expressed uncertainty about the credibility.

Another tip came from a Salisbury resident who provided police with a Facebook message he received recently.

There may be questions about the validity of the tips, but the information contained in and number of tips were enough to warrant some level of caution.

It’s important to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism about government, but Salisbury’s preparation and meetings held recently were an example of prudent city management.

The Salisbury Post obtained copies of the reported threats but made a decision not to publish specific details. As a community newspaper, it’s our job to pull back the opaque curtain shrouding local government and provide transparency. At the same time, it’s our duty to responsibly report the news.

In advance of the release of the state’s investigation into Laurent’s death, Salisbury should continue engaging in conversation with community leaders and residents without important titles to prepare for the release of the state’s investigation and District Attorney Cook’s decision.

It’s better to prepare for a potentially difficult situation than to react without a plan.

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