No one should be surprised that something as tangible as construction of a municipal police headquarters would, in 2020, take on exaggerated significance.
That's not to say the voices of Black Americans and other minority populations raised throughout the summer months, in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing, don't deserve to be heard loud and clear. If anything good can arise from such a horrific scene as Floyd's excruciating death at the hands of Minneapolis police, it will be that people in decision-making positions have had to open their eyes to deep mistrust felt strongly by people of color when it comes to law enforcement.
Acknowledging that isn't about embracing riots -- those who automatically amalgamate riots and protests as the work of the same people do a disservice to all Americans who use the power of their united voices to peacefully influence change and to get the attention those in power. Conflating those very different behaviors is a tactic designed to diminish the very real concerns stemming from brutal acts of some police officers and the way some people of color have been treated.
But, in our view, it's also disingenuous to link Fayetteville's voter-approved construction of a new police headquarters to the national outcry against injustices.
Council members on Oct. 6 voted unanimously to approve the rezoning needed so that the city's new police headquarters can be built on 12 acres at Porter Road and Deane Street, just off Interstate 49. The new institutional zoning is the kind typical of governmental structures, dictating fewer regulations than other zoning classifications and freeing architects to meet the unique characteristics a public safety structure must include.
It was welcome progress in a city in which loud protestations by a small portion of residents made it seem the headquarters project was somehow in jeopardy, although no city leader has ever said as much. In a special election in 2019, those who voted overwhelmingly approved the $37 million construction project and the tax revenue to support it. The funding is locked in and so is its purpose -- to build a new police headquarters.
And no one we've heard suggests the former JC Penney auto repair shop that in the early 1990s was fitted out as Fayetteville's police station is adequate to the city's modern law enforcement needs. At a bare minimum, Fayetteville knows it needs security, as a lack of it in the current facility made it possible for a gunman to murder Officer Stephen Carr as he sat in a police vehicle just a few feet from the police station's back door.
"The bottom line for me is if I can't protect my officers, I can't protect our community," Police Chief Mike Reynolds told city leaders.
Amen to that.
Perhaps because they sensed a level of lingering concern among some constituents, City Council members agreed to hold a town hall-style meeting so that all voices could have their say about the planned facility. Although a decision-making moment must necessarily come on every issue, government leaders can hardly be blamed for providing a venue for getting all concerns out on the table.
But we maintain there is a clear distinction between a building and the kinds of reforms that may or may not be needed in Fayetteville's law enforcement efforts. Those are two different conversations that overlap to some small degree. But the questions about how a new police headquarters will be built should be easily resolved in fairly short order. The questions about law enforcement reforms, because they are meaningful and complex, will not be resolved by some modification to the structure.
Policing in Fayetteville and across the nation is what it is because it developed this way over decades. For anyone to suggest policies and practices can be meaningfully changed quickly is to lack an appreciation of the fullness of what that conversation needs to be.
Yes, we consider it nonsense to suggest the way to address racism is to kill construction of Fayetteville's police facility. We reject that the voters' decision to build it was tantamount to upholding systemic racism, as one critic suggested.
It appears clear that a relatively few critics have latched on to the police headquarters as their best local opportunity for a victory in the name of their campaign, that they're misguided notion is that to prevent its construction is to strike a blow for racial justice.
Certainly, work on racial justice must continue. Fayetteville can do that while building a safe, modern facility for a very necessary public function.
To the degree that systemic racism can be tackled, it's not going to be in the form of a steel and concrete building. That's going to require changes in people's minds and hearts as well as the human system referred to as criminal justice.
Fayetteville won't end or advance racism by completing its police headquarters. That's a much, much deeper conversation that Fayetteville leaders, and those of all communities, need actively engage in.
What’s the point?
Construction of a new police headquarters cannot be viewed as the beginning or the end of conversations about race and law enforcement.