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December 1998
January 1999

Stories Columns

Racial Injustice Suspected in Greensboro

by Todd Warren

September 8, 1994, Daryl Howerton, a 19 year-old black male, was the subject of a call put in to 911. He had been seen cutting up meat and feeding it to guard dogs behind a tire store in Greensboro. Howerton was asked to leave and when he did not, a tire store employee called 911 and told the dispatcher that, "a man was eating with the dogs," that, "he needed help," and that, "someone should come and take him to the hospital."

An ambulance was not sent. Instead, the dispatcher notified the police of a "suspicious person" and a "possible trespass," and a squad car manned by Charles Fletcher and trainee Jose Blanco was sent out. Meanwhile Howerton had removed all of his clothing except for a toboggan and sunglasses. When the police arrived on the scene he was standing naked in front of a barbershop, holding a steak knife in his hand. Disregarding Greensboro Police Department procedure to try and defuse a potentially dangerous situation, the two officers immediately engaged the situation by yelling, "Stop!" and "Drop the knife!"

The next disregarded procedure cost Howerton his life and wounded two bystanders. The Greensboro Police Department requires officers to clear the area of bystanders before the use of deadly force. This was not done, and within 42 seconds of arriving on the scene, Howerton had been shot six times, once in the back. Officer Blanco, the trainee, fired the first shot. Eyewitnesses say that Howerton was face down on the ground when the last two shots entered his body. Howerton was dead within an hour.

Forums at NC A&T University and Guilford College have raised much discussion on the underlying racism that encourages and allows such brazen and violent behavior by law enforcement. As NC Racial Justice Network member Ervin Brisbon pointed out, the white gunman Wendell Williamson in Chapel Hill was captured unharmed.

These forums, led by the Justice for Daryl Howerton Committee, bring much discussion to the racism which is sorely apparent in Daryl Howerton's murder, and in the discrepancies betweem treatment of the black community and treatment of the white community by the police and military. Examining these relationships from a historical and present day perspective, A&T students discovered undercover police officers at a forum on their largely black campus on October 20,1998. When complaints were filed, they were told that the officers were sent because the forum was, "dangerous, explosive and a possible uprising might take place." There were no officers present at the predominantly white Guilford College when the same forum was held. There can be no other explanation for discrepancies such as these except that the decision to deploy these undercover officers was based on race.

A wrongful death suit against the two officers was filed by Daryl's mother, but on October 27, 1998 both officers were acquitted of using excessive force or violating Howerton's civil rights. Irregularities permeated the courtroom proceedings, but one of the most startling was that the autopsy report, which would have shown that Howerton had to be on the ground when the last shots were fired into his body, was not allowed.

Nine eyewitnesses, including Howerton's friend, Jamie Moore, testified that Howerton never tried to stab anyone. The police officers testified that they never felt threatened by Howerton, but began shooting because he tried to stab Jamie. The Justice for Daryl Howerton Committee is asking why nine members of the black community are not seen as credible eyewitnesses but the court accepted the testimony of the two white officers, who are themselves on trial.

This committee is organizing people to be in unity with one another against an ever-growing pattern of state violence against citizens of color and lower economic status. To be clearer: Black people and other people of color are feeling repression grow. There is no doubt as to the racist implications of the growing police and military activity. One handout written by the NC Racial Justice Network entitled, "Three Weeks in Greensboro," makes connections to the racial division apparent in police and military actions. Highlighting a few of the points on this handout shows there is much reason to be greatly concerned:

OCT 7- Greensboro Police Department gave permission for the US Marines to do a covert training operation at night at Mt. Zion School (one of six schools closed in black neighborhoods while six schools were built in white neighborhoods). On October 7, 1998, nine combat helicopters flew low over Greensboro, circling over black neighborhoods before commencing with the training exercise.

OCT 19- Daryl Howerton trial begins.

OCT 20- Undercover officers discovered at A&T University forum.

OCT 27- Officers acquitted in the Howerton trial.

A city that is still struggling to come to grips with the shootings of 1979 when the Klan murdered five unarmed organizers at an anti-Klan rally continues to fester with racist repression. When the Greensboro Police Department was found liable for failure to act in the '79 shootings (they had escorted the Klan to the protest) in 1985, it was only one year later when Kwame Cannon was sentenced to two life sentences for non-violent burglary. Let the record show that one of the major forces behind the police being brought to court was Kwame's mother.

It is patterns of institutional violence like these that the Justice for Daryl Howerton Committee is dedicated to exposing. Through organizing and court action, this committee is striving to establish a healthy working dynamic between black and white communities and uniting them against a reactionary system that is founded in racism and violence. This committee will bring to people's attention that it is self-fulfilling prophecy to respond to a 911 call for medical assistance with police force. Because the call was made from the black community, criminal overtones were assumed and the police were dispatched. There were criminal overtones, but only those the police brought upon themselves when they murdered Daryl Howerton.

One of the Committee's first goals is to establish a citizen review board of the Greensboro Police Department. On November 17, they brought 135 people to the city council meeting. Many of the issues addressed in this article were raised, but the 30 minute address to city council could be summarized with A&T professor, Dr. Wayne McLaughlin saying, "You all go on about the city's water shortage, but you got a justice shortage. You try to do something about the water shortage, but what are you going to do about the justice shortage?"

Support is needed on many levels. Funds need to be raised and activists committed to racial justice are needed. While the committee does have a lawyer for courtroom proceedings, volunteers with an ability to do law research are wanted. Anyone interested in learning more or offering his or her services may call the NC Racial Justice Network at 336-230-2061.

Justice for Daryl Howerton, who is already dead, means working to educate ourselves and others in order to obtain justice in the present — especially to end the police brutality which is crushing the people they are paid to protect.


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