March still planned for Saturday

By Ed Brock

Several civil rights groups are still planning to march through the streets of Riverdale on Saturday to protest the recent firing of a police captain.

The march is scheduled to begin at noon Saturday at the New Macedonia Baptist Church at 7263 Church St. and will end at Riverdale City Hall, said Roberta Abdul-Salaam, one of the march's organizers. They are protesting the termination of Capt. Philip Neely, who was fired last week, as well as what some called a pattern of discrimination against black officers in the Riverdale Police Department.

"We're marching for justice in Riverdale," Abdul-Salaam said. "There is no justice in Riverdale."

On May 11 Riverdale's interim Co-City Manager Sylvester Murray sent a letter to Neely explaining that he was being fired in connection with an investigation into comments he made to the media that alleged he had been threatened by another city employee. Riverdale Mayor Phaedra Graham attended last week's rally and said that Murray made the decision to fire Neely without a vote by the Riverdale City Council.

On Thursday Murray said, "The decision to fire (Neely) was mine after we reviewed the case."

Also, Murray said he called Neely on the morning of May 11 and offered to let him resign, perhaps with severance pay. Neely called back 30 minutes later and told Murray that the city would have to fire him.

Neely said previously that he didn't see a reason to quit and denied doing anything wrong.

Abdul-Salaam, president of Grassroots Leadership Conference Inc., said the people of Riverdale have the perception that there is no free speech in the city.

She also said that, though Graham is black and most City Council members are black, racism is still the source of the injustices the march is intended to protest because the council is still continuing the work of the prior administration that made decisions based on race.

Neely, former Riverdale police Capt. Carl Freeman, Officer Frank Usher and Code Enforcement Officer Susan Porter have made allegations that officers in the department have used racial epithets toward black officers. Freeman and Usher have also been fired and also arrested in connection with two separate incidents, but Abdul-Salaam said the officers accused of making the racial slurs still have their jobs.

"I'm not in favor of anybody losing their jobs," Abdul-Salaam said. "I'm just in favor of people doing the right thing."

Murray also said that he had not yet seen an application for a permit for Saturday's march but Abdul-Salaam said they expect to have one by Saturday.

Prior to the march there will be a two-hour live radio broadcast from the church by WAOK disc jockey Coz Carson beginning at 10 a.m. Carson was arrested last week during a sit-in at the Riverdale Police Department in support of Neely.

Other organizations involved in the march include the Clayton-Henry-Fayette-Spalding Chapter of Rainbow/PUSH, the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples Agenda, the Concerned Black Clergy, the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, the Martin Luther King Jr. March Committee, the New Ambassadors Church, the Youth Empowerment Program and the Southern Christian Leadership Foundation.