North Carolina legislation in a ‘State of Emergency’
Leaders in North Carolina, nationwide, must recognize America’s ‘State of Emergency,’ and reject legislation based on perpetual racism The recent killings of yet more Black men at the hands of police, again has the nation abuzz.
Leaders in North Carolina, nationwide, must recognize America’s ‘State of Emergency,’ and reject legislation based on perpetual racism
The recent killings of yet more Black men at the hands of police, again has the nation abuzz. One of the recent incidents took place in Charlotte, N.C., where Keith Scott was shot by an African-American officer. The family released a cell phone videotape of Scott’s wife, who actually witnessed the shooting. It remains an open and unanswered question whether Scott actually had a gun prior to being shot, but this seems to be the replay of an old story. Only recently, after a great deal of public pressure, did the Charlotte police department release some of the police video of the incident.
Government leaders in North Carolina, from the governor on down, have been encouraging calm, and promising a thorough investigation. Meanwhile, people fed up with police shootings have taken to the streets in protest. A congressman from the state gave his diagnosis of those that protested by simply stating “protesters don’t like White people.” He later apologized.
Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency as protests turned violent. However, the “State of Emergency” has been going on there, and everywhere for a long time, and is directly tied to the priorities shown by the governor and state leaders.
In seeking to understand why citizens may not trust the system to investigate and deliver justice, equitably, it is logical to evaluate what state leaders in North Carolina have been “up to” the last few years.
- In 2013, North Carolina passed voter identification laws which had nothing to do with preserving the integrity of the voting process, but were passed simply to keep certain groups (notably African-Americans who vote Democratic, a growing demographic) from voting. President Obama won this state in 2008 and barely lost it in 2012. Recently, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the Voter ID law as unconstitutional. McCrory also signed anti-abortion legislation that required abortion providers to meet the same standards as surgical centers, effectively curtailing the availability of the procedure.
This and other laws related to tax reform, and changes to Medicaid, which all disproportionately affect poor people and people of color, prompted North Carolina NAACP president, Dr. William Barber, II to institute “Moral Mondays,” a regular act of civil disobedience at the state legislature. This has spread into other states and, along with the Black Lives Matter movement, has put social justice issues back at the forefront.
- Earlier this year, North Carolina passed (and the governor signed) the most sweeping Anti-LGBT law in the country. Ironically called the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act,” the law requires everyone, including transgender people, to use public restrooms according to the biological sex on their birth certificate, which will be all but impossible to enforce. Furthermore, it prevents local governments from passing contrary laws.
And, in a final and significant stroke, it rejects the basic remedy for workers in the state to sue under a state anti-discrimination law on the basis of race, gender, or religion. This law led the NBA to remove next year’s NBA All-Star game from Charlotte, which the city was due to host.
This brings us back to the police situation. Even if we assume that most police officers are good and well-intentioned, that does not make them immune to the institutional racism that manifests in disproportionately more Black-Americans dying at the hands of police than Whites (as a percentage).
However, the investigation of the Scott shooting turns out, this will still be true. Interestingly, most of what has made for national news coming out of North Carolina in the past few years has been its leadership in passing laws that perpetuate racism, sexism, and homophobia, in a desperate attempt to hold off continuing societal change.
Even if we assume that the Charlotte Police Department does not want to hide inconvenient truths from coming out (again there is no investigative result), the laws passed in that state, in the eyes of many, have dried up the goodwill needed to come up with solutions in an environment of mutual trust. Instead of spending so much time disenfranchising its citizens through its laws in recent years, the governor and state leaders should have been planting seeds of goodwill through honest dialogue, and good faith attempts to understand issues affecting everyone, including the disenfranchised.
Given its legislative actions, North Carolina’s leadership has no moral authority to suggest citizens should not be angry and distrusting that the “system will work.” Moreover, their attempts at sincerity fall short when they have spent years undermining Blacks, gays and the poor, and demonized those like Rev. Barber that pointed it out.
In short, it is incumbent on all leaders, in North Carolina and nationwide, to recognize our country’s continuing “State of Emergency” to reject legislative action based on perpetual racism and fear, and to make deposits of goodwill that will allow for withdrawals in times of crisis—like now.
Joe Richardson, Esq., is an attorney practicing in Los Angeles.