Mayors across Orange County and North Carolina are responding with statements examining systemic racism in their own communities in light of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers and the resulting nationwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality.
A group of North Carolina mayors released a statement condemning the murder of George Floyd last week. The statement was organized by Mayor of Durham Steve Schewel and signed by mayors across North Carolina, including Mayor Lydia Lavelle of Carrboro, Mayor Pam Hemminger of Chapel Hill and Mayor Jenn Weaver of Hillsborough.
Mayor Jenn Weaver said that she felt it was important for her to sign the statement in order to take a public stand against racism.
“It just feels and felt important to me to take a clear and public stand that was not only what happened to George Floyd horrific and wrong, but that it's indicative of larger entrenched systemic racism that plays into all of our institutions including government at every level, and it is incumbent upon those of us in power to do what we can to dismantle that in our institutes,” Weaver said.
Mayors Lavelle, Hemminger and Weaver all said they were glad protests in Orange County have been peaceful so far.
‘All the protests have been peaceful protests,” Hemminger said. “We really respect people’s right to protest, we think it brings attention to important issues and it gives people a focus to come together and show that they care about an issue.”
Lavelle said she knows racism is always present even when incidents like the murder of George Floyd do not cause it to be at the front of the community's attention.
“Any time systemic racism is highlighted — let me be clear, it's always there — but what something like this does is it just brings it to the attention of everyone again, and then it kind of goes back to just being there,” Lavelle said. “So I think what it does is it further educates folks who aren’t aware — or who are aware.”
All three Orange County mayors said that there is always more that can be done in their own towns and in North Carolina to fight against systemic racism and for racial equity.
Hemminger said she has received many emails from Chapel Hill and Orange County residents and people all around the country asking Chapel Hill to reconsider its policing policies.
However, she said many of the policing policies Chapel Hill has had in place in recent years have not been updated in the policy manual, so the Town will be making updates to ensure the practices are now available information to the community.
“I will say that we have an incredible police department, and they go through racial equity training, they go through sensitivity training, they have to swear an oath to uphold our values that are listed as respect and respect is all detailed out,” Hemminger said.
Weaver said that one of the places she sees racial inequity in Hillsborough is in the lack of diversity on the town’s advisory boards, because it does not accurately represent the people who live in Hillsborough.
“We just need those to be more representative of all the people who live here because a lot of different kinds of people live in Hillsborough,” Weaver said. "We have African Americans, we have a Latino population, we have an indigenous population of descendants of the Occaneechi-Saponi, and we just need a broader representation. We have been working at that, chipping away, we’ve made some improvements, but it's not where it should be by any stretch.”
Lavelle said that Carrboro will be taking extra careful attention to examining its policies and how they play into racial equity.
“We look at our housing policies, we look at our policies related to our businesses and our loan funds, we look at policies related to how we hire and we try to look at everything we have through an equity lens of some sort,” Lavelle said. “Just as we should at the state level, just as we should at the national level because an incident that happens like George Floyd basically highlights the systemic racism that just exists all across the state and the country.”
Hemminger said that a way for lasting change to be made is for people to get out and vote for politicians who will fight for racial equity and to dismantle racist systems.
“Voting for people into the state and national levels who care about things that people are protesting about is really really important,” Hemminger said. “The lower voter turnout is from the college age group, and we need them to come out and vote to put good people into office: people who care about racial equity, people who care about balance and community values.”
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