Nearly two weeks ago the Raleigh News & Observer requested emails from the City of Raleigh for the period of time immediately preceding the unsanctioned threat of arrest of several groups for sharing food in Moore Square. Most of the emails surfaced, except the emails sent in the two weeks prior to the police crackdown in Moore Square. The City suspiciously claimed that those messages, the ones most likely to contain information unflattering to the City, were “missing.”
The remainder of the emails have since surfaced and made their way to the News & Observer. Their contents reveal that in July certain City staff members ramped up their efforts to push out the groups that share food in Moore Square.
Unbeknownst to the City Council, Raleigh Parks and Recreation Director Diane Sauer, Raleigh Police Lt. Kevin Carswell, and Raleigh Public Affairs Director Jayne Kirkpatrick have been colluding for months to solve an issue that Sauer sees as “out of control,” according to one email message to City Attorney Tom McCormick.
“Is there anything we can do from a legal perspective to stop the feeding around Moore Square? I recognize this is a very sensitive topic, but it is truly out of control,” she wrote.
Out of control— I never thought I would hear from a public servant that the compassion of dozens of groups could be deemed “out of control.”
What’s out of control is the power hungry actions of Lt. Carswell, who according to the emails, enjoys harassing the groups sharing food in Moore Square.
“… [Lieutenant Carswell] seemed pleased/laughed about the fact that he irritated several groups that are feeding on the sidewalks,” wrote Sgt. John Marx.
Together he and Kirkpatrick gathered manipulative information taken out of context for the purpose of convincing the public that sharing food in the park causes problems in Moore Square.
“We are developing a public education campaign on the harm that is done by persons feeding the homeless in Moore Square. Therefore, I need photos of the feedings, the debris that remains, the rodents, the collection (by trash crews). I need extensive footage,” wrote Kirkpatrick to Raleigh Television Staffers.
I want to make sure you understand that someone working for the City believes that it’s harmful to share food with someone who may have slept outside or in a cockroach infested room the night before. And that person has the power to manipulate how the public perceives information about Moore Square and the people who rely on it.
But then again, we’re out of control, right?
It’s interesting that these City of Raleigh employees feel so strongly that the public needs to be educated on the evils of sharing food with hungry people, lest they be kept in the dark while nonprofits and church groups continue to care for the Raleigh’s most vulnerable citizens— an honor that the City refuses to do anything about besides saving face and controlling the conversation with public meetings.
These scathing emails come in the heels of the ones turned over to the News & Observer nearly two weeks ago, which named Sauer and Community Oriented Government Coordinator Dana Youst as the initiators to push groups sharing food out of Moore Square and to “clean up” Moore Square.
All of this information is in direct contradiction with what every city staffer has told us. We have sat in countless private meetings and listened with patience and trust as public servants told us that no one has been working to remove groups like ours from Moore Square. That no one saw this coming. That everyone in the room wants to make sure that people experiencing homelessness eat three meals a day.
So, who’s out of control now?
I would like to be able to tell you how this new information affects our future interactions with City staff as we do our damnedest to move forward on the path of reconciliation. But I don’t have an answer to that question. In the nearly two weeks since the first batch of infuriating emails, no one from the City has attempted to contact us. Not even to tell us that we got it wrong.
I can tell you, however, how this information and the culture that affirms it is affecting our community and the people we serve. But the people hanging out on the first floor of 707 West Jones Street don’t care about these emails. They don’t care about the scandal receiving international attention in a city constantly named as the best this or that.
They care that a man with a gun threatened to arrest their pastor for trying to share breakfast with them. They care that their mom’s food stamps got cut a few weeks ago and now she has to stand in line on Saturday and Sunday morning with them. They care that for as long as they can remember, government leaders have shunned them and their families because centuries of history have justified the racism, discrimination, and prejudice that we saw the day an officer of the law threatened to send me to jail for passing out biscuits.
So we are left with as many unanswered questions as we had two weeks ago, if not more.
- Why will the Raleigh Police Department not acknowledge that the arrest threat even happened, let alone hold anyone responsible for disobeying orders?
- What does Interim City Manager Perry James plan to do about all of this?
- Why was the City Council not notified of the intended policy changes? Why did the Raleigh Police Department push for those changes?
- It seems that Lt. Carswell’s reputation is widely known. Why is his behavior acceptable to the police department?
We need your help to do two things:
- Write or call the City of Raleigh to remind them that their actions to push poor people and their food out of Moore Square are reprehensible, unacceptable, and embarrassing. We also need to ask the City of Raleigh the questions listed above.
- Attend the public Food Distribution Alternatives Task Force meetings. Only the task force takes part in the discussion but the meeting itself is public, meaning anyone can sit in the audience. The next meetings will take place October 10 and October 22, both at 6 p.m. at Marbles Kids Museum.
You can contact any or all of the following city employees to share your opinion and/or ask questions.
Interim City Manager Perry James: 919-996-3070 // firstname.lastname@example.org
Parks & Recreation Director Diane Sauer: 919-996-3285 // Diane.Sauer@raleighnc.gov
Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown: 919-996-3385 // email@example.com