By: Mayor Andy Moore
Johnston County Report reached out to five local public figures and asked they share their personal thoughts about current social justice issues. This is the last in a series of 5 articles.
I have served as a Smithfield Councilmember or Mayor through hurricanes, floods, ice storms, snow storms, large fires, town electrical blackouts, economically depressed times, and I’ve been faced with coming very close to having to almost evacuate the entire town due to an accident on HWY 95 involving a truck carrying potentially toxic chemicals, but I have never dreamed of having to deal with situations like I have faced in the year of 2020. First, the COVID-19 pandemic unsystematically shocked our daily lives, and then the senseless murder of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement, which has resulted in the drastic increase of tension among people and groups all across America.
Recent events across our nation have reminded us that the pursuit of equity remains an overwhelming challenge in our community, in our state and in our nation. The events that have occurred over the last few weeks have shaken us deeply and bring to the forefront the ongoing issues of racism in the U.S. The events demonstrate how divisive racism is, and confirms that we must stand up against racism, injustice and prejudice. There is no gray area, racial inequality is wrong.
Historically, Smithfield and particularly parts of Johnston County, have struggled with being known for acts of racism. Maybe I am naive, but I don’t think racial tensions are as bad in Smithfield proper today, as they seem to be in other areas of the country, yet we know much more can and must be done to make the Town of Smithfield a more inclusive community in order to ensure it is a place where racism does not exist in any area or fashion. We must listen and learn from each other so we can identify where change can be made and how we can make it happen. I have heard several times recently that talk is cheap and that we must have action in order to have real change. On the surface I agree with this notion; however, I also understand that blacks and whites are different, and I value having candid discussions in order to better understand those differences. Although we have many similarities, we need to learn to communicate effectively across our differences. We need to appreciate diversity and we need to always be inclusive and respectful. It is the diversity of opinions that will greatly benefit our entire community.
We must start with honest dialogue. With this being said, we had our first community conversation meeting which was made up of a small group of community members that came together to discuss race relations, equality and equity in our town. We met on June 30th at the Sarah Yard Community Center in Smithfield and the meeting was very productive. Our plan is to start with a small group and hopefully expand to a larger diverse group in order to come up with action plans to implement.
On the subject of protests, let me tell you that when I received the call on May 30th from Smithfield Police Chief Keith Powell stating that there might be a protest in Smithfield, either Saturday night or Sunday, organized by a group from outside of Smithfield, I was a bit more than concerned. There were riots, looting and major property damage in several North Carolina cities the nights before. As the hours slowly passed on Saturday, Chief Powell sent me several texts throughout the night informing me that all was quiet throughout the town. Sunday came, and the Chief briefed me again, stating that there was a high risk that this outside group could make a stop, possibly at the Johnston County Courthouse and/or the Carolina Premium Outlet Center. I immediately became a little nervous. A group of about 75 protestors had gathered at the Johnston County Courthouse. However, when I arrived at the Smithfield Town Hall to meet Chief Powell for an update, and I saw all of the police presence, my anxiety level was reduced. Chief Powell and Sheriff Bizzell did an outstanding job of cooperating and planning. They acted swiftly and professionally. To all the Johnston County Deputies and Smithfield Police Officers that responded that Sunday afternoon, I again say thank you. After about one hour at the courthouse, the group began their peaceful march to Selma. No injuries to people or property occurred, and I can’t say enough how thankful I am of our officers, our community members and the protestors for a peaceful demonstration.
Since that Sunday, there have been many other gatherings in Smithfield, like the 100 Men in Suits event on June 27th planned by Councilman Marlon Lee, and they have all been peaceful and with a purpose. This is how it is supposed to be done. I support the rights of those who peacefully protest, but there is no room for property destruction, impeding the safe flow of vehicular traffic, or the harming of innocent people. Such actions do no good, and only counteract the strides forward and positive results of peaceful gatherings.
On the subject of police funding, simply put – we will NOT Defund the Smithfield Police Department. The men and women of our police department are top notch! The Smithfield Police Department is CALEA certified. CALEA, or the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. is the Gold Standard in Public Safety. According to their website, CALEA agencies, “benefit from the collective experience of thousands of law enforcement managers across the nation, and acts as a blueprint for better law enforcement institutions that are efficient, well-equipped, and responsive to the communities they serve.” There are countless hours of professional training each year in order to maintain this accreditation, and the Smithfield Police Department is one of only about 800 agencies accredited within the United States. However, just like any business or agency, there is room for change and improvement. We will be discussing and working on concrete plans to make our Smithfield Police Department an even better and diverse organization.
In conclusion, every individual should have equal access to rights and opportunities. God created us equal, and as we search for a more perfect union, there must be change, and the change starts within our hearts. We must be accountable for our actions or inactions, for without accountability, the change process breaks down. We need to become true advocates and allies for diversity. I’m asking all of our citizens to speak up against racial discrimination and injustice. I hope that you will join me in continuing to speak out against racial injustice, confront conscious and unconscious bias, lead challenging conversations, ask tough questions, and take action with those in our community so that we can make a meaningful impact to the ongoing diversity and inclusion issues that face our great town.
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Selma Mayor Addresses Social Justice Issues And Protests
Eric Jackson: Farther Along We’ll Know All About It
Police Chief: Black & Blue: The Truth Matters