Proposed NC Constitutional Amendments

As the 2018 legislative session draws to a close, the General Assembly has introduced a slew of proposed constitutional amendments that will be on the ballot for voters in the fall.

This move comes before elections that threaten the Republican supermajority in both houses. Overriding vetoes from the governor and amending the constitution both require a 3/5 supermajority.

One proposal is to make photo identification a requirement for in-person voting. Other proposals include capping the state income tax and protecting the right to use “traditional methods” to hunt. Additionally, “Marsy’s Law” would support victim’s rights.

Two of the proposals have the potential to move power from the gubernatorial branch to the legislative one. First, one would give the general assembly the power to appoint the state board of elections and ethics enforcement. Second, Senate Bill 814 would change the process by which judicial vacancies are filled. A commission would review judicial nominations from the public and recommendations would be forwarded to the General Assembly. From there, the legislators would then send a minimum of two names to the governor, who would then pick the person to fill the vacancy.

Read more about all of the proposals here and here, and about the Senate bill 814 here.

Wake County Judge Orders the Release of Law Enforcement Video in Police Beating Case

Judge A. Graham Shirley of Wake County has ordered certain video and audio recordings from the Wake County Sheriff department, Raleigh police department, and state troopers to be released. They are now available to be viewed by the public.

They are from the body and dashboard cameras of officers who responded to calls that a man was standing in the middle of North Raleigh Boulevard on April 3. These officers have been accused of beating Kyron Dwain Hinton, 29, with flashlights and a police dog. Hinton said that he had a broken eye socket and nose, 21 bite marks and cuts on his head after the incident.

Officer Cameron Broadwell of Wake County and NC Highway Patrol Troopers Michael Blake and Tabithia Davis have been indicted by a grand jury. The video and audio recordings are highly disturbing. Hinton has said that although he was upset at the time, he made no threats. Some of the officers’ attorneys have requested that the 9/11 calls and radio traffic between law enforcement also be made public. The Carolina Justice Policy Center continues to advocate for Mr. Hinton, and hopes that the incident will serve as a catalyst for greater police accountability. Learn more here.

Two State Troopers Indicted for Beating Wake Co. Man Fired

Two State Highway Patrol Troopers indicted for the brutal beating of Kyron Hinton have been fired. N.C. troopers Michael G. Blake and Tabithia L. Davis were terminated, resulting from an internal department investigation. Read more about the firings here.

The firing of these officers, in the face of what can only be characterized as an abuse of the public trust at the highest level, is a step towards the type of law enforcement accountability North Carolina citizens deserve. However, many more policy and procedural safeguards need to be put in place for law enforcement to be truly accountable to the pledges to protect.

Carolina Justice Policy Center is proud to stand with Save our Sons and Justice Service to help bridge the trust gap that exists between our law enforcement and our communities.

NCGA Try to Force ID for Voting…AGAIN

Despite being told that it is unconstitutional to require and ID for voting, NC General Assembly is trying again to force an voting ID requirement on the citizens of North Carolina. This time they are trying to use a constitutional amendment, that will appear on Novembers ballot, to make showing ID mandatory for voters in North Carolina.

When you see this constitutional amendment on your ballot, VOTE NO! An ID requirement for voting disproportionally chills the voting rights of African Americans and senior citizens. Read more about the proposed constitutional amendment here.

Raise The Age Legislation a Hollow Victory Without Funding

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a budget , sent to him by the Republican controlled legislature, despite knowing his veto would likely be overridden. Cooper felt that the budget did not do enough for educators or to protect the environment and was too generous to corporations and the wealthy. But, for people who care about criminal justice reform, this budget presented other important shortfalls. One important area this budget fails to fully address is juvenile justice and funding raise the age.

Raise The Age: General Assembly budget did fund two important part of Raise The Age: additional juvenile court counselors and construction for a new juvenile facility. Many other necessary components to successfully implementing Raise the Age were ignored.

Specifically, for the children of North Carolina to truly benefit from raising the juvenile age, our General Assembly must provide funding for Juvenile Crime Prevention Council programs. According to William L. Lassiter, Deputy Secretary for Juvenile Justice, these programs establish court ordered sanctions and services for juveniles including victim restitution, restorative justice, court-ordered mediation, community service counseling programs and vocational skill development.

Other important components to Raise The Age that were not properly funded are:

  • community-based residential contracts
  • transportation drivers and additional vans
  • the Administrative Office of the Courts for additional ADAs, legal assistants, District Court Judges and Deputy Clerks.
  • the Office of the Juvenile Defender

Carolina Justice Policy Center is proud of the work we did to help get the Raise The Age legislation passed, but there is so much more work to be done. Please, consider calling your legislators and reminding them that raising the juvenile age means nothing without proper funding!

On the Criminalization of Immigrants: Behind the Dangerous Rhetoric of Family Separation as Punishment

When I am not at work advocating for criminal justice reform, I spend the vast majority of my time with my son.  He is about a year and a half.  For the past week or so, as I spend time with him, I think about the children who are around his age who are in the horrific position of having been separated from their parents as punishment for crossing the border.  Last week when I buckled him into his car seat, I noticed that it appeared to be the same model as those I had seen in a photograph of a bus designed for ICE agents to transport young children after ripping them from families.  As I put my toddler to bed last night, I felt distracted by the thought of what bedtime might look like for a toddler who has been placed into the custody of people who ignore their cries as they are separated. “Again?”, my son asks while pressing his Llama Llama book into my hands.

 

What justification can there possibly be for taking immigrant children as young as 53 weeks old from their parents and shipping them away, even to other states in some cases?  The answer reveals an age-old way that American society has used to dehumanize people, especially people of color, throughout history.  The government has justified various atrocities against people by labeling them criminals.  According to the new “zero tolerance” approach recently unveiled by Attorney Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, anyone who crosses into the United States illegally will face criminal prosecution.  This means that parents who arrive with children stay in federal jails while their children are sent to HHS shelters.  Last month, Senator Kamala Harris questioned Secretary Nielsen about the administration’s separation policy.  At a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Secretary Nielsen dodged questions about why she was separating families.  When directly asked, she responded that her decision “has been that anyone who breaks the law will be prosecuted.”  She continued with thinly veiled irritation, “If you are a parent or you are a single person or you happen to have a family, if you cross the between the ports of entry, we will refer you for prosecution.  You have broken US law.”  In short, she justifies snatching children from their parents by criminalizing them.

 

In “The New Jim Crow”, Michelle Alexander comments on the indignities suffered by those we label criminals, saying “Criminals, it turns out, are the one social group in America we have permission to hate.  In ‘colorblind’ American, criminals are the new whipping boys.  They are entitled to no respect and little moral concern.  Like the ‘coloreds’ in the years following emancipation, criminals today are deemed a characterless and purposeless people, deserving of our collective scorn and contempt.  When we say someone was ‘treated like a criminal’, what we mean to say is that he or she was treated as less than human, like a shameful creature.”

 

Of course, family separation is a consequence of incarceration resulting from many crimes.  In theory, people are incarcerated and separated from their families as a public safety measure or where those people present a flight risk.  In practice, criminal justice advocates know well that this is not the case.  For instance, people are jailed for no reason other than that they are too poor to pay bail.  Here, however, we see family separation being used in and of itself as punishment.  In a recent interview, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly told NPR that family separation could be used as a “tough deterrent” for immigrants who cross the border illegally.  Distracting from the question of why the inhumane practice of family separation is necessary, he stated, “[b]ut the big point is that they elected to come illegally into the United States”, and noted that this was a “technique” that “no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.”  In other words, they deserve this punishment.  This rhetoric is incredibly dangerous, as it begs the question of what denial of humanity we are willing to accept for people, especially those who pose no danger to us, simply because they break a law.

 

The government is using this “technique” to criminalize and punish families who are incredibly vulnerable.  They have already been displaced from their homes, and their children have one thing left in their lives to anchor them to familiarity: their parents.  In an interview on MSNBC, Lee Gelernt, Director of the ACLU Immigrant’s Rights Project told Chris Hayes the story of one mother whose child was taken from her.  She was incarcerated for a few days after her child was taken from her.  For seven months didn’t know where her child was.  She was in Texas and all she was told was that her child was in Chicago.  She told her attorneys, “I don’t know whether Chicago is a man, a place, a facility…”.  Once separated from their parents, the extreme vulnerability of unaccompanied children makes them prime targets for abuse.  Based on 30,000 pages of documents obtained through a public records request, the ACLU has already alleged physical, mental, and sexual abuse at the hands of Customs and Border Protection agents.

 

The way that immigrants are prosecuted for crossing the border makes a mockery of justice.  They are often tried en masse, in proceedings that last a few minutes, without meaningful legal representation.  Recordings of a federal magistrate’s court in Brownsville Texas capture some of one such trial of 40 defendants, with some of them asking questions about where their children are and whether they will be reunited with them.  Even those who present themselves willingly at the border are processed in this way.  Previously, it was rare to charge asylum seekers with crimes.  If they were, they were put into detention with their children while they pursued their claims.  Alternatively, they were released with supervision with their children.  Now they are churned out of a broken criminal “justice” system with little regard for their rights or their humanity.

 

As we talk about this crisis unfolding at the border, we cannot stop at asking whether immigrants should be treated like criminals.  We must pay attention to what this question implies.  It implies that at some level, we accept our administration’s dangerous contention that just breaking a law somehow rightfully permits the government to separate immigrant families as we did to enslaved people.  We must ask ourselves how simply labeling a person a criminal can justify stripping them of their humanity.  We must challenge the notion that, as Michelle Alexander describes it, even people labeled criminals should be “entitled to no respect and little moral concern.”

 

As I imagine my son growing older, I fear having to explain this shameful chapter in our history for so many reasons.  I fear having to explain why adults in the world have so willfully disregarded the basic human dignity of others.  I fear that once he is old enough to make painful historical connections between his history as a young man of color and current systemic oppression in its many forms, it will threaten his sense of power and security in the world.  And I know that still, I am fortunate that I can save these conversations for later and redirect my attention to the precious time I spend with him now.  I am fortunate that I can ponder these fears as he sits in my lap, asking me to read to him one more time.  As others are denied this luxury, we must think critically about how we allow others to justify it.

B. Tessa Hale, JD

Associate Director, Carolina Justice Policy Center