Kudos to the hometown, questions for Charlotte

Editor's Note

Winston-Salem steps up

History has been made. Well, folks think so, anyway. For possibly the first time, a North Carolina jurisdiction has said “No” to the state’s anti-LGBT constitutional amendment — recognizing all legally married couples. (Read more online at goqnotes.com/31079/)

On Aug. 28, the City of Winston-Salem announced it would recognize all legal marriage licenses from any U.S. state or jurisdiction for the purposes of city employee benefits. Unlike other domestic partner benefit plans — which Winston-Salem doesn’t have and other cities have offered for some time — Winston-Salem’s recognition falls under their pre-existing definition for “spouse.” Employees have until Oct. 31 to enroll their spouses, regardless of gender, and their children into city health and other benefit programs.

In making their decision, city leaders cited the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to overturn Virginia’s anti-LGBT constitutional amendment and North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper’s decision to no longer defend our state’s similar ban, passed by 61 percent of voters in May 2012.

LGBT advocates believe it might be the first time a North Carolina municipality has made such a decision, and neither I nor others are aware of similar actions by others.

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My heart and soul is swelling with pride. My humble hometown is the first to stand up with courage and, at least in some small way, defy the institutionalized discrimination put into place by North Carolina’s amendment.

This latest development from Winston-Salem doesn’t surprise me. The city has a long history of progressive thought and politics. With eyes geared toward the future on everything from civil rights to arts and education, the city’s had its bumps, scrapes and embarrassing moments of racism and hate, but it’s always pulled through with the right decisions.

Winston-Salem’s benefits decision is just the latest in a series of actions that shows clearly Amendment One is on its way out. The tide of history is on our side. We wait now only on the process. The Supreme Court likely will rule such bans unconstitutional, bringing equal marriage to all corners of the nation.

As a proud Winston-Salem native, I’ll be happy knowing my hometown leaders voluntarily jumped onto the right side of history.

Questions for Charlotte

In the days after Labor Day, I witnessed with astonishment and confusion the events which unfolded after the arrest of community leader Ty Turner. You can read a bit on that story on page 14 and a more in-depth article online at goqnotes.com/31059/.

On one hand, a black, LGBT leader claimed he was wrongly arrested and aggressively treated by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD). Local leaders rallied to his cause — the NAACP, local clergy, elected officials and community activists. A former City Council candidate and Occupy organizer shared past experiences — claiming similar aggression and misbehavior — with the officer who arrested Turner.

On the other hand, officials with CMPD claimed their officers acted appropriately, did not violate policies, were following the law and, in particular, that the officer in question had no history of troubling behavior.

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I sat through both press conferences, taking notes and asking questions. And, at the end of the day, I came to only one conclusion: Charlotte has a major communication problem.

The same incident viewed through two different lenses resulted in two entirely contradictory stories. How is this possible?

It’s clear we’re living in a time of high anxiety after Trayvon Martin, a CMPD officer’s shooting of Jonathon Ferrell and the more recent Michael Brown shooting and the resulting turmoil in Ferguson, Mo. Both sides — Turner and his allies and officials with CMPD — agree on at least this much.

Ultimately, CMPD did the right thing. Turner was “un-arrested,” and officials were unafraid to communicate openly, take questions and bend toward full transparency. But, they’ll have to do more. As a government agency — fully entrenched in a power structure that often targets and profiles people of color — CMPD will have to undertake further communication with Turner, the NAACP and others. A cliché maybe, but it’s true: With great power, comes great responsibility, and the responsibility of solving questions, concerns and doubts over CMPD officers’ behaviors and the fears over police misconduct rests solely at CMPD’s feet.

Charlotte’s police officials have done wonders in working with local communities. Chief Rodney Monroe’s community-based policing model has brought police and the neighborhoods they serve closer together. It’s simply not possible for anyone to argue that CMPD has engaged in the kind of widespread, systemic misconduct and racism that’s clearly plagued police in places like St. Louis.

Yet, there’s always room for improvement — and both sides should take time to improve relations and move toward a better future for police relations in Charlotte.

And, one final thought: Charlotte City Council and their staff should review their handbills ordinance. In the days since Turner’s arrest I’ve spoken to numerous people. Each say they’ve never been stopped, cited or arrested for violating the same ordinance officers used to question Turner. Others have told me they never knew the law prevented distribution of printed materials on car windshields. And, any of us who have ever parked Uptown or near an event venue knows this kind of advetising is so commonly used that the ordinance is likely to never really be enforced fairly or equitably. What’s more, the ordinance might very well be too broad. Why, leaders should ask, does it apply to political or religious speech? Can an exception be made? The ordinance re-written? More tightly and equitably enforced? On these questions and more, Council members would do well to explore. : :

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.