3rd Shift

3rd Shift… Journalism, Desperation, & Dividing Our City… Selling Out the City Again

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by Camel City Dispatch

By Chad Nance

“They’re selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they’re restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row”
– Bob Dylan


chief barry rountree
chief barry rountree

It is often difficult being a reasonable person in unreasonable times. It is a pain in the ass to have to do this kind of thing again, but here goes. The typical American demand for instant gratification and the desperate need for failing newspapers to bring in revenue has now resulted in an unfair and petulant attack on Winston-Salem’s police chief, Barry Rountree.

I don’t usually read the Journal, but this morning a friend sent me a link and the comment “Dude came after Barry unnecessarily hard”. The link went to an article published in Thursday’s Winston-Salem Journal, where columnist Scott Sexton launched a blistering attack on Chief Rountree while defending the position taken by District Attorney Jim O’Neill. (All while including new points that were already in CCD’s coverage of this story. Thanks for reading Scott.)

The facts of the situation are this: Less than one week ago a human being died after being subdued and handcuffed by four Winston-Salem police officers. What the public knows is limited, and the third party investigation is still ongoing by the SBI. There is no indication from the investigating authorities that they have been stone-walled or resisted by the WSPD or the individual officers involved. There have been multiple calls from City officials and the Minister’s Conference of Winston-Salem & Vicinity for camera footage to be released, but the requirements of process, and the slow delivery of other evidence from entities outside of our city, has kept that footage in the hands of authorities – for the time being.

None of that has stopped the Journal’s Sexton from sensationalizing the situation. This isn’t the first time Sexton has gone hammer and tongs at an African American man in a position of power- it just may be the most foolish and un-needed.

Sexton made a personal attack on a man who is already under the kind of pressure that very few of us could possibly imagine. In the piece, Sexton brags that he didn’t even attend the press conference where he implies that Chief Rountree stonewalled. Well… I did attend that press conference. I was there when Chief Rountree chewed out the Winston-Salem Journal’s Michael Hewlett for asking the question, “How many body cameras were on the scene that night?”

Chief Rountree, clearly irritated at a clumsy attempt to try to publicly trip him up, dismissed the question by pointing out that the answer (three) had already been reported by every media outlet in town, after having been provided willingly by the WSPD.

The Journal’s caption on their picture of Chief Rountree claims that he was “Uncomfortable” during the press conference trying to imply that the Chief was lying or holding back. I was there and could say the same for Michael Hewlett (a guy I like, and is who is more often than not a fine reporter) who seemed nervous, stressed, and desperate to squeeze some bit of “news” out of the press conference. I have no idea what pressures Mr. Hewlett is under from his corporate bosses, but I imagine they have something to do with ad sales and circulation numbers.

Apparently Sexton is upset that after his choice to not attend the press conference, where he could have asked questions directly, Chief Rountree didn’t stop everything he was doing and return Sexton’s “detailed” emails. It isn’t like the man has nothing else to do. Bully for you, Scott Sexton. The Chief of police didn’t bow down to you, and he chewed out one of your pals. You felt like the Chief shorted you and the Journal so you showed all of Winston-Salem what a dick you could be in return.

Lets face it, both reporters and police officers can be dicks. We are in professions where we get lied to routinely, must wallow in cold cynicism to survive, and are hated when something bad happens and only barely loved when all is well. But just like police officers should not let petty, personal conflicts get in the way of doing their job properly… neither should journalists.

Meanwhile, our city sits at a moment on which much pivots, and Sexton tried to make it about himself and the Winston-Salem Journal. This is a moment in which our legacy newspaper should have risen – and they acted like spiteful children. There is a reason that in his recent homecoming concert, Ben Folds was able to turn calling the Journal a bunch a corporate hacks into a massive applause line. The Journal is becoming the community equivalent of an internet troll- trolling public officials and prominent community members in the hope of creating some scandal they can sell. This is the last time CCD comments on something the Journal does. It is beginning to feel like punching down, which is never fun or productive.

Perhaps it is time to consider what pressures and stresses Chief Rountree and District Attorney Jim O’Neill are under right now. Winston-Salem really is a small town with skyscrapers. These men are our friends & neighbors, not distant public officials we watch on television.

Chief Rountree is getting pressed on many fronts and if we are to empathize with the possible victim here, we must also give the same courtesy to our law enforcement officials. First and foremost, Chief Rountree’s job is to protect the citizens of Winston-Salem. Those citizens not only include Mr. Page. That number includes the Page family, and the person at Family Dollar who called in the 911 complaint of shots fired, and the woman who reported having to shove her child into the floorboard of her car afraid of a stray bullet. Chief Rountree is ultimately responsible for the safety of those who may protest and demonstrate in the street. He is responsible for the property and safety of small business owners who have invested their hearts and souls into Winston-Salem. He must also protect the investments the business community here and beyond have made in Winston-Salem- investments of capital and labor that are bringing about a re-invigoration of Winston-Salem. (In spite of the fact that some think it is taking too long and moving too slow.)

Chief Rountree is also charged with the safety of those who work under him. (It should be noted that they do this for relatively very little pay.) Men and women who leave their homes everyday and face the very real risk of not returning home to their families when the whistle blows. The majority of African American males in Winston-Salem are not criminals.  They are men who are doing their best to make a life and living. The majority of police officers are not out of control, racist, psychopaths. They are blue-collar, working people just like you and me. These men and women must be confident in the fact that Chief Rountree and his staff have their backs and will not allow them to be railroaded by conspiracy theories, political expediency, or the PacMan-like hunger for media revenues.

chief barry rountree
chief barry rountree

The four officers who began their shift on December 9th are human beings just like Travis Page. They did not leave the Public Safety Center on a mission to murder Mr. Page. Like you and I, they began their shift just hoping to get through the day, then go home and spend time with their family and friends- which, in the end, is what matters most anyway. Chief Rountree is responsible for those four officers as well. As Bishop Todd Fulton has told me several times… The officers, just like Page, are innocent until proven guilty.

If these four officers broke the law then Chief Rountree and Jim O’Neill also bear the weight of securing some measure of justice for Travis Page and those left behind by his death. As we saw last year in Charlotte and yesterday in Baltimore at the Freddie Gray trial, it is extremely difficult to secure convictions in these cases. In the event that a prosecution of these officers proves necessary, O’Neill and Rountree are responsible to see that the best case possible be constructed with care, precision, and professionalism. If there were crimes committed here it does not serve justice to have evidence suppressed in court or a change in venue to somewhere with a jury, not of our peers, but made up of people who do not live here and have no understanding of the uniqueness of our community.

This is a moment for Winston-Salem to come together and not allow ourselves be torn apart by those who would divide us for their own reasons. It is a time for careful consideration, empathy for one another, and most of all for reason. Rushing like angry children in the throes of an ADD fit or hoping that this can be turned into a nasty debacle that stretches for months and equals internet hits and sells newspapers will serve no one in this city. We deserve better as a people and we can do better as a community.

There are major players looking to bring new jobs to Winston-Salem in a way that would turn our localized recovery into a genuine Winston-Salem renaissance which could be beneficial for everyone. Livability is one of our greatest strengths and this is not the time to ruin that perception and reality. Chief Rountree was absolutely correct at his press conference. This isn’t Baltimore. This isn’t Ferguson. This isn’t Chicago. We have this body camera evidence because we were one of the first North Carolina cities to purchase the equipment (before it was law) and it was one of our legislators (Rep. Ed Hanes) who shepherded the body camera requirement into law in the first place. There are many good and well meaning people in this City trying to address and heal the realities and scars of long time institutional racism and chronic poverty. When a challenge such as the Page case comes along we should not be circling the wagons and turning our guns inward… we should be aiming out and working together inside the circle to continue to make this a place where we can raise our families and enjoy a quality of life that will make our children want to stay here, work, and raise the next generation. No one, friends and neighbors, can destroy us but ourselves.

this really what winston-salem needs?
is this really what winston-salem needs?


You can read CCD’s coverage of the Travis Page case HERE , HERE and HERE.

More Third Shift regarding the Journal’s past misrepresentation of a story HERE.


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