Barber, Robinson among those who sign letter asking Department of Justice to investigate Greensboro police – Greensboro News & Record

People gather in Greensboro on Thursday to hear the latest in the 2018 death of Marcus Smith, who died after being hogtied by police. Prominent civil rights activists and current and former elected officials have signed a letter asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the police department’s previous use of the restraint, which has since been discontinued.
People gather in Greensboro on Thursday to join the call for a federal investigation into the Greensboro Police Department.
People gather in Greensboro Thursday to hear the latest in the 2018 death of Marcus Smith, who died after being hogtied by police. Prominent civil rights activists and current and former elected officials have signed a letter asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the police department’s previous use of the restraint, which has since been discontinued.
GREENSBORO — Prominent civil rights activists and current and former elected officials have signed a letter asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate what the group calls “racially and sexually discriminatory policing” by the Greensboro Police Department.
At the beginning of the four-page letter is a description of the case of Marcus Smith, a Black man who died three years ago when police tied his hands to his feet behind him.
Smith stopped breathing after Greensboro police excessively restrained the homeless man while in the midst of what appeared to be a mental health breakdown on a downtown street.
Smith’s family has since sued the city, eight police officers and two county EMS workers for wrongful death in the case.
But the letter to DOJ says that Smith’s death is only the worst example of a pattern of restraining men and women in a way that is commonly referred to as “hogtying.”
During the discovery phase of the lawsuit, the Smith family attorneys obtained police body-worn camera videos from 50 other incidents where police bound people in a similar way. The letter tells the Department of Justice that 76% of the people were Black and 78% were people of color.
Among the 25 people who signed the letter are Bishop William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor Peoples’ Campaign, state Sen. Gladys Robinson of Greensboro and former Guilford County Commissioner Margaret Arbuckle.
The Rev. Nelson Johnson, a prominent civil rights activist and co-executive director of the Beloved Community Center, also signed the letter.
Those groups and others came together Thursday at the Phil G. McDonald Plaza downtown to announce that they had written the letter.
Retired civil rights attorney Lewis Pitts said in an interview that the groups have been working on the letter for several weeks and collecting the signatures. They decided to ask prominent people to sign the letter to add emphasis to its significance.
Pitts said the letter reflects that “the hogtying death of Marcus Smith was not a one-off incident. But instead, it was a common pattern of use of the hogtying device and in fact in brutal ways.”
That device, known as the RIPP Hobble, is no longer used by Greensboro police.
“We now need to reach out to the federal government for its traditional role in civil rights, which is to enforce the protections that are guaranteed to people of all colors and races and genders,” Pitts added.
He said the groups will continue their effort to make sure the Greensboro City Council watches the videos from the 50 incidents and also reaches a settlement in the Smith case. City Council is currently asking a Superior Court judge to grant access to the videos.
“The situation here is not to absolve or go around City Council,” he said. “They still have the duty to do the job. And we hope the election coming up next year will hold them all accountable for their failures thus far.”
Contact Richard M. Barron at 336-373-7371 and follow
@BarronBizNR on Twitter.
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One of the most revelatory aspects to emerge is that in the years prior to the Marcus Smith tragedy, police used that manner of restraint over 250 times.

The issue of whether Smith had children will become crucial if the city is ordered to pay financial damages should the case go to trial. 

A prominent North Carolina attorney says the City Council violated the state’s open meeting law. Greensboro’s city attorney disagrees.
People gather in Greensboro on Thursday to hear the latest in the 2018 death of Marcus Smith, who died after being hogtied by police. Prominent civil rights activists and current and former elected officials have signed a letter asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the police department’s previous use of the restraint, which has since been discontinued.
People gather in Greensboro on Thursday to join the call for a federal investigation into the Greensboro Police Department.
People gather in Greensboro Thursday to hear the latest in the 2018 death of Marcus Smith, who died after being hogtied by police. Prominent civil rights activists and current and former elected officials have signed a letter asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the police department’s previous use of the restraint, which has since been discontinued.
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