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City resident lambasts councilmen

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Samuel Battle listens from the audience as he is rebutted by Rocky Mount Councilmen Reuben Blackwell, Andre Knight and Richard Joyner after criticizing them in the public input phase of Monday's council meeting.

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

A man who blasted three Rocky Mount city council members at the speaker’s podium at Monday evening’s meeting was rebutted, including at length by one of the councilmen.

Samuel Battle, like numerous other speakers, got three minutes of time in the public input phase of the council meeting. Battle, as he had at the previous council meeting, expressed concern about crime and the numerous murders in Rocky Mount.

Battle said while there is talk about a proposed multi-million-dollar hotel, parking garage and residential and retail complex adjacent to the Rocky Mount Event Center in the heart of the city, “I’ll tell you what we need. We need a new jail, a new courthouse. That’s what needs to be put downtown.”

Battle was referring to the Nash County Detention Center in Nashville and the Edgecombe County Detention Center in Tarboro housing youths from Rocky Mount from the respective sides of the county line.

“We need our own jail here to house our own people,” Battle said.

Battle spoke of mothers losing their children and grandmothers dying because they are stressed out over their grandbabies.

“You’ve got the haves and the have-nots,” he said. “We’re the ones that are left behind.”

Then he said, “I keep preaching this, but we’ve got three pastors up here on the City Council,” a reference to Councilmen Reuben Blackwell, Andre Knight and Richard Joyner.

“None of these mothers have ever seen you come to their door,” he said. “Y’all go to other people’s funerals.”

“We’re sitting, going back and forth on a black and white issue,” he said. “This ain’t no white issue. This is happening in the black community. This is going down in the black community. I don’t see y’all walking the street. I don’t see y’all preaching.”

Normally council members have refrained from responding to speakers, but Blackwell addressed Battle first, saying “you like to drop bombs and then you like to walk out, but it’s OK. That’s your right.”

Blackwell said he has been involved for 21 years in the streets of Rocky Mount.

“I have a track record,” Blackwell said. “I might not know everybody you know, but I can say this: I’ve got a program that works for people who want to work. We have put 70 people this year who came back from jail and prison to work — and we got another 70 in class right now who want to work.”

Additionally, Blackwell said he and Knight for the past 15 years have organized community-based events.

“We walked the streets,” Blackwell said. “We prayed with people. We’ve sent food, delivered food, showed up at peoples houses — and the place that I am today is that mothers and fathers must raise their children, too.

“The city council cannot fix broken minds,” he said. “We can work together with people who want to work together and help make it better.

“To hear accusations that the city is not doing anything is false.”

He went on to state the city funds thousands of dollars of programs with community-based organizations with data about people being helped every day in the schools and in the community.

And he said what is happening regarding crime is not just about Rocky Mount.

“It’s happening across this country,” he said. “And anybody who watches TV or social media or reads a newspaper sees that inner-city crime is on the increase — and the way to deal with it is structurally dismantling institutional racism, creating economic development opportunities, workforce training opportunities, place building, building up housing, building up schools.”

And he called for people to go to their county commissioners in the two counties and advise them they fund the school systems.

And he told Battle, “This council and this staff has been more than engaging and willing any place that we can work, but we can’t take the blame for peoples personal behavior.”

Knight said of Battle, “He has been coming here consistently blaming the council, Reuben Blackwell or Andre Knight.”

Knight said Battle has stated he has relations with gang members, but he said Battle not yet has stopped one killing in Rocky Mount.

Knight said he and others know this is a political season and told Battle he and others know Battle is working for a candidate for mayor.

“I just want to say that we are a hard-working council,” he said. “We understand what the game plan is, but it’s not working.”

Joyner said, “I want you to know that we are concerned, not only as city council persons, but as pastors as well and residents of the city.”

Joyner said he and others in his ward are working with pastors and community leaders to be not just with the families of those who lost loved ones, but with the families of those who committed crimes as well.

“And so we are doing that and we do believe that we are coming to some solutions — and we do invite anyone that wants to participate to come and join us as we make our city a safe city,” Joyner said.

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