Amicus brief filed in Greensboro police body-camera gag order appeal

The Chambers Center coordinated the filing of an amicus brief on behalf of 14 community-based organizations, the City of Durham, and the ACLU-NC Legal Foundation filed an amicus brief this week in support of an appeal by the City of Greensboro challenging a court order prohibiting council members from discussing police body-camera video with the public. These community organizations are all deeply committed to the promotion of racial equity, social justice, and civic engagement, and are also dedicated to meaningful public participation, transparency, and honest communications with local government.  They argued that the gag order violates the North Carolina Constitutional guarantees that “All political power is vested in and derived from the people; all government of right originates from the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole,” and “The people of this State have the inherent, sole, and exclusive right of regulating the internal government and police thereof.” If public officials are prohibited from freely communicating with the public, there can be no accountability for those officials, thereby depriving the public of their fundamental right to ensure that they are meaningfully represented.

On September 10, 2017, a Greensboro Police Department (GPD) officer tased Aaron Garrett, a young black man. The interaction was captured on a police body camera. Because the issue of racialized police practices and discriminatory police misconduct has been a priority for community advocates in Greensboro for decades, and in response to pressure from the public, the City Council petitioned the Guilford County Superior Court to release the police body camera footage of the incident.  The court granted the request prohibited council members from discussing the body camera footage with their constituents or any member of the public.

After all criminal matters related to the incident were resolved, the City Council asked the court to lift the gag order. The court refused, continuing to prevent the Council members from discussing the details of this critical public issue with the very people who empowered them to serve as their representatives. The City appealed, and the  amicus brief was filed in support of the City.

The organizations filing the brief are: Beloved Community Center Of Greensboro, the League Of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad, Reclaiming Democracy, Roch Smith Jr., the Guilford Anti-Racism Alliance, The Homeless Union Of Greensboro, Triad City Beat, the Carolina Peacemaker, the Pulpit Forum of Greensboro and Vicinity, Democracy Greensboro, The UNC-G Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Community Play!/All Stars Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation, NC Warn, and the City of Durham.

This brief was a collaborative effort among the Chambers Center, Chris Brook and Sneha Shah from the NC-ACLU and Cheyenne Chambers and Luke Largess from the Tin Fulton law firm in Charlotte; as well as extraordinary community organizing by our longtime colleague, the indefatigable Lewis Pitts.

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