Local Assistant District Attorney Testifies in Voting Rights Trial

The much-debated North Carolina voter ID law was back in federal court this week.

Local Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman was called to testify in the trial on Wednesday. Nieman was called to provide his experience with residents who have had their license revoked and the demographic trends of those who have had their license revoked multiple times for minor infractions.

Nieman spoke with WCHL’s Blake Hodge about his role in the trial:


NAACP Says State Not Properly Informing Voters About IDs

North Carolina’s branch of the NAACP said the state has not been adequately informing voters for the new rules for the 2016 elections.

Reverend William Barber, president of the North Carolina branch of the NAACP, said the organization is deeply concerned about the issue.

“According to the law, you can vote with or without a North Carolina driver’s license or other photo ID,” Barber said.

Voters without a photo ID will have to fill out a reasonable impediment declaration and be able to cast a provisional ballot. These voters must also provide their birth date and the last four digits of their social security number.

“That should be said up front in every ad, in every brochure,” he said. “Instead what we’re seeing is brochures where that information is on the back side five lines down. Or it may be casually mentioned in the radio ad but not mentioned up front.”

Examples of reasonable impediments given by the State Board of Elections include family obligation, disability or transportation problems.

“There is no standard for reasonable impediment as the law is written and as the state board has interpreted it to us,” said attorney Irving Joyner. “The problem is people out in the communities don’t know that. No one is telling them and the only message that is coming from the state board is that you have to have a state-sponsored voter ID.”

Joyner said this lack of information is also a problem because it affects poll workers. He said untrained poll workers may tell people who do not have an ID that they will not be able to vote.

“The director of the State Board of Elections has already acknowledged that people have not been trained,” he said. “We are roughly a month and a half away from the March 15 primary. If you’re not going to train them now, when are you going to do it?”

Although the NAACP is informing citizens about the changes to voting laws, Barber said the ultimate goal is to get rid of the voter ID laws entirely.

“We’re going to continue to fight,” he said. “We’re not going to be satisfied until the ID requirement is fully fixed and no voters are intimidated or kept from casting their ballot. We believe it, courts have already said at its face, photo ID is unconstitutional.”


Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools Candidate Forum

It is election season and candidate forums are helping voters decide who they will cast their ballot for this year.

Eight candidates are running for four open seats on the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools Board of Education; two incumbents are not running for re-election.

A CHCCS debate on Monday night presented by the PTA Council, Chapel Hill – Carrboro NAACP and the Special Needs Advisory Council was aired live on WCHL.

Listen to the debate below:


Municipal races in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough will also be on the ballot this fall.

Early voting begins on October 22. Election Day is November 3.


Forum Saturday Will Tackle Equity, Excellence At CHCCS

The “achievement gap” has been a major issue in our local schools for years, even decades. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district is generally recognized as one of the very best in North Carolina (if not the best), but there’s a persistent disparity between rich and poor, and between whites and minorities, when it comes to test scores, graduation rates, and the other measures of academic performance. That disparity is wider in CHCCS schools than in many other districts. And there’s also a “gap” in discipline as well: students of color are more likely to be punished or suspended for infractions than their white peers, even when both commit the same offense.

Educators, administrators, staff, parents, and everyone else involved in the schools have long been concerned about those persistent “gaps.” But while the district has committed a great deal of resources and effort to tackling the problem, actual progress has been frustratingly minimal.

What are the next steps? How can our schools move toward equity and make real progress in closing the achievement and discipline gaps, while maintaining the excellent quality that the district is known for?

Members of the community are invited to a community forum on this topic Saturday, September 26, from 1-4 pm at Northside Elementary School. Co-sponsored by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, Organizing Against Racism, the CHCCS Multicultural Student Achievement Network, and the CHCCS PTA Council, the forum is called “Achieving Equity and Excellence in Our Schools: Challenges and Opportunities.” Everyone’s invited to offer feedback, hear from others, and be a part of the ongoing effort.

Greg McElveen of the CH-C NAACP (a former school board member) and Wanda Hunter of Organizing Against Racism joined Aaron Keck on WCHL this week to discuss the forum and the larger issue.



Hundreds Gather in Hillsborough to Support Confederate Flag

Several hundred confederate flag supporters gathered in downtown Hillsborough Saturday for a ‘Southern Heritage Ride and Rally.’

It was pitched as an educational event to learn more about the history of the flag and other Confederate memorials. WCHL’s Jess Clark was there, listen below:


Last Thursday, on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, NC NAACP leaders held a press conference aimed to “promote the accurate history of ugly racist policies and symbols of hatred.”



NAACP Protests Hillsborough ‘Ride and Rally’

More than 150 people gathered in front of the historic Hillsborough courthouse for the North Carolina NAACP’s “Press Conference for Historical Accuracy.” The crowd included elected officials, local NAACP leaders and residents of many races, some waving small American flags.

North Carolina NAACP leader Rev. William Barber said his organization called the conference to mark 50 years since the passage of the Voting Rights Act and to protest the 2013 state voting laws and moves by the 2015 legislature to protect Confederate monuments.

“Our current legislature and governor will protect monuments and flags of our racist past that fuels racism in our present, but they refuse to protect voting rights.”

The NAACP press conference in Hillsborough came two days before as many as 1,500 Confederate flag supporters are expected to converge upon the town for Saturday’s “Southern Heritage Ride and Rally.” The rally was organized in response to efforts to remove the words “Confederate Memorial” from the Orange County Historical Museum.

“When we equate Southern heritage with pro-confederate rhetoric and symbols, we are falling victim to the lie of Southern heritage—a lie that so many of my white brothers and sisters have been fed for their entire lives,” said Laurel Ashton, field secretary for the North Carolina NAACP. She was one of many speakers at Thursday’s press conference who expressed skepticism about the history and values behind Confederate symbols.

“An accurate reading of history shows us that most Confederate monuments were erected 50 years after the war to celebrate a successful campaign of violent white terrorism to crush Reconstruction,” Ashton said. “An accurate reading of history shows us that it wasn’t until the 1950s when the Confederate flag became main-stream after a rise in white supremacy groups following the passage of Brown v. Board of Education.”

Rev. Barber called on Governor Pat McCrory and the General Assembly to repeal the monuments bill, saying the Confederate symbols it protects represent white supremacy.

“And if you push white supremacy to the nth degree, it means that you have the right to kill or destroy anybody that’s not like you,” Barber warned. “That’s dangerous. It’s dangerous yes, in the mind of Dylann Roof, but it is even more dangerous when it is supported by governors and legislatures of the state because it gives a legitimacy to it.”

The North Carolina NAACP will continue its protest of the state legislature and the removal of sections from the Voting Rights Act in a 170-mile march across North Carolina. The 170 miles are part of a larger march organized by the national NAACP. Like the historic march for voting rights in 1965, this summer’s march begins in Selma, Alabama, and ends in Washington, D.C.


‘Southern Heritage’ Rally Could Bring 1,500 to Hillsborough on Saturday

The Town of Hillsborough is preparing for a rally in support of Confederate heritage this Saturday that’s expected to draw more than 1,500 people.

Billed as an “educational rally about Confederate heritage,” the event is organized by a group called Orange County Taking Back Orange County.

Members are hoping to draw attention to an effort by Hillsborough leaders to remove the words “Confederate Memorial” from a building built in 1934 that now serves as the Orange County Historical Museum.

The “Southern Heritage Ride and Rally” was inspired by a similar event in Alamance County last month that drew more than 1,000 supporters. Participants will drive from Burlington to Hillsborough then gather at 2 o’clock on the lawn of Town Hall for two hours of songs and speeches.

In a press release, Police Chief Duane Hampton says: “This is going to be a very challenging event for public safety to manage, and we are asking for and appreciate the community’s patience and help as this event happens.”

Multiple law enforcement and emergency management agencies will be on hand to direct traffic. Officials are asking “citizens who would like to express a counter view… to do so at another time.”

Police are also warning of traffic delays before and after the event. In addition to the rally, the Carolina Tarwheels Bikefest event is slated to come through Hillsborough on Saturday, with 850 cyclists visiting historic sites in and around town.

Police are reminding the public that weapons and alcohol are not allowed at the rally. You can learn more about parking options and street closings here.

In response to the planned “Southern Heritage” rally, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP is hosting an event Thursday morning in Hillsborough called a “News Conference for Historical Accuracy.”

Reverend William Barber will commemorate the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and address the Governor’s decision to sign a bill protecting Confederate monuments.

That gets underway at 11 a.m. in front of the historic Orange County Courthouse at the corner of North Churton and East King streets in downtown Hillsborough.


North Carolina Voting Rights Trial Begins Monday

The case against a set of voting laws passed by the General Assembly in 2013 begins Monday in federal court.

The U.S. Department of Justice and civil rights groups, including the North Carolina NAACP, took issue with a series of voting laws the General Assembly passed in 2013. The Voter Information Verification Act, or House Bill 589, ended same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct voting. It also reduced the number of early voting days and requires voters to present a photo ID beginning in 2016.

Jasmyn Richardson is an attorney for the Advancement Project, an organization representing the NAACP in the case.

“We have a few big claims, to simplify them,” Richardson says. “The biggest one is under The Voting Rights Act.”

The Voting Rights Act is the landmark federal legislation of 1965 that outlawed racial discrimination in voting. Richardson says the plaintiffs will argue House Bill 589 conflicts with Section 2 of that Act.

“And under that section, we’re basically arguing that House Bill 589 as it is enacted places an unfair burden on African Americans and Latinos.”

Those racial minorities, Richardson says, use the voting provisions eliminated by House Bill 589 at higher rates than whites.

“Our argument essentially is that by taking that away, you’re taking away what a group of Americans, particularly African Americans and Latino Americans, had been accustomed to using,” Richardson explains.

Richardson says the plaintiffs will make several constitutional claims as well, arguing the bill applies differently to different people and that it places a burden on the general right to vote.

The state argues the laws are not discriminatory, but meant to increase confidence in the integrity of North Carolina elections.

Judge Thomas Schroeder will preside in the case. He serves on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina in Winston-Salem. The trial is expected to last two weeks.


Memories on the Fault Lines of Race

Two people who wanted to be something else have grabbed our attention recently: Rachel Dolezal, the former NAACP chapter president in Spokane, Wash., and Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner, the 1976 Olympic decathlon champion.

Dolezal, who grew up white, wanted to be black. She took every step she could think of to be a black person. Though her parents are white, she grew up with black siblings. She married a black man and has black, or mixed-race, children. She attended the historically black Howard University. Later, she worked enthusiastically and effectively to improve the lives of black people.

Bruce Jenner, who grew up male, wanted to be a woman. Many applauded, although some women said, “Oh no, you can’t be a real woman. You didn’t spend a lifetime with the terrible challenges that every real woman has to face.”

Although some African Americans welcomed Dolezal’s efforts to be a part of the black community, others said, “No. Only those who have actually suffered the challenges that all real black people face from birth can have a legitimate claim to be black.”

Dolezal and Jenner brought back an assortment of personal memories of encounters on the fault lines of race.

The late Maxine O’Kelly, an outstanding African-American leader, served on the UNC Board of Governors while I was Secretary of University. One day she explained to us that her very light skin created ambiguities and problems for her, so that she determined to marry someone with much darker skin, “so my children would never have to worry about people thinking they were white.”

Several years ago, at the request of then University of North Carolina-Pembroke Chancellor Joseph Oxendine, I worked for about six months in Pembroke, the unofficial capital of the Lumbee people. Some Lumbees have red hair and blue eyes, and others have very dark skin. These differences cause no problem for Lumbees. UNC-Chapel Hill history professor Malinda Maynor Lowery in her book, “Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South: Race, Identity, and the Making of a Nation,” lovingly and authoritatively explains that the identity of the Lumbee is defined primarily, not by the percentage of Indian blood, but by kinship, mutual recognition, and strong and longstanding connections to the land.

While we were living in Charlotte, my children were assigned to formerly all-black West Charlotte High School. Our children flourished, making us proud of their performance and of our connection with the school’s history. However, once an older woman in the school’s neighborhood jarred me when she said loudly and pointedly, “The white people have come and taken our school away from us.”

For many years, my family and I were active members of a predominantly black church in Charlotte, where our children learned at an early age the otherness of being a minority. But when I tried to take advantage of our commitment to the “black church” in my political campaigning, a black minister deflated my claims, saying, “That is not a black church. It is a white church that has black members.”

In “Civil Rights Journey: The Story of a White Southerner Coming of Age during the Civil Rights Revolution,” my brother-in-law, Joe Howell, explains how he and my sister were active in the civil rights movement in the deep South during the summer of 1964, at a time when the leadership of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) determined that white people would no longer be welcome in leadership positions.

Howell records his humiliation under the SNCC leadership on the same pages he describes the humiliations of the local blacks under the oppressive white power structure.

What are the lessons from these recollections?

I am not sure, except that when we react to those who want to change their lives dramatically or discuss our racial differences and attitudes, we should look for ways to communicate with kindness and respect.


“We Have Work To Do”: NAACP Hosts Police Chiefs, Sheriff

In the wake of the events of Ferguson, Missouri, a national debate has erupted over policing in local communities: are racial minorities unfairly targeted, and if so, what should police departments be doing to address that issue?

On Saturday, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP welcomed Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue, Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton, and Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood for a two-hour forum on policing here in Orange County, with topics ranging from the role of police in schools to the use of deadly force.

Listen to Aaron Keck’s full story on WCHL.


Listen to Saturday’s forum in its entirety (approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes long). Additional highlights from the forum can be found below.


“The events that we’ve experienced in other parts of the country have made it clear that we have work to do in our own community,” said Diane Robertson, who moderated Saturday’s forum at the Rogers Road Community Center. About 50 people packed the room, including several elected officials.

At issue was the question of “implicit bias” in policing: do police officers unfairly target racial minorities, even without intending to? Blue, Horton and Blackwood all reiterated that their officers don’t intentionally discriminate.

“I think if you show raw data to the officers – which we have – they’ll say, ‘man, I’m surprised by those numbers, it doesn’t feel like it would be skewed,'” Chief Blue said. “I know for folks out there in the community it feels very obvious that it’s skewed, but for those officers, I don’t think there’s intentional effort to skew the data one way or the other.”

Chief Horton agreed. “When I was on patrol, I didn’t look at the race of the person I was stopping, I was looking at the car – if a tag was out, I’d stop the car for a violation – and I’m pretty sure that’s how it is now,” he said.

“We want to do the right thing,” Sheriff Blackwood added. “I don’t think anybody puts the uniform on with an evil heart.”

Diane Robertson questions the panelists. From L-R: Walter Horton, Chris Blue, Charles Blackwood.

Diane Robertson questions the panelists. From L-R: Walter Horton, Chris Blue, Charles Blackwood.

But even if there’s no intent to discriminate, there are numbers suggesting that minorities in Orange County do get singled out. About 20 percent of the traffic stops in Orange County involve black drivers, even though only 10 percent of the population is black – and when they’re pulled over, black and Latino drivers are also 2-3 times more likely to have their vehicles searched than white drivers are in the same circumstances.

Those numbers indicate a serious issue in our community – even if the cause, or the solution, isn’t as obvious.

Stephanie Perry (in attendance) discusses implicit bias with Sheriff Blackwood, arguing that officers will “congregate” in low-income or majority-black neighborhoods.


Sheriff Blackwood responds to Perry (in the most heated moment of the forum): of vehicles searched in Orange County last year, he says, 23 were driven by black drivers and 20 were driven by white drivers.


Diane Robertson replies to Blackwood: “(That) might seem almost 50/50, but that’s not the population breakdown.”


“We’re scratching our head about some of the same data,” Chief Blue said. “If I could figure out exactly why those disparities are happening, I would take action immediately, but I’m not sure either.”

Chief Blue says the CHPD will bring in trainers this year to help officers recognize and deal with implicit bias.


But all three police chiefs said they were committed to addressing the issue and improving the quality of policing in Orange County – in a variety of different ways. Many of those efforts are already ongoing: Sheriff Blackwood said his department is beginning to reward officers who speak a second language; Chief Blue said the Chapel Hill PD documents and reviews every single use of force by an officer; and Chief Horton spoke of community policing and similar efforts to improve communication between officers and citizens.

Chief Horton discusses the importance of communication.


And all three emphasized the importance of CIT, or Crisis Intervention Training, as an effective tool for training officers to de-escalate tense situations.

Chief Blue discusses the CHPD’s goal with respect to the CIT program.


Sheriff Blackwood describes a recent incident where an officer’s CIT training helped resolve a dangerous situation.


In addition to programs already in effect, Chiefs Blue and Horton both said they were hoping to roll out a body camera program in the next fiscal year.

Chief Blue discusses the benefits (and possible challenges) of body cameras.


And all of those efforts have had some positive effects. For one, Chief Blue says there’s been a steady decrease in the number of times his officers have had to use force.

“Those continue to trend down,” he said Saturday. “We investigate every single complaint we receive, and we require – even if we don’t get a complaint – any time an officer uses force, we document every single (instance). And those numbers are trending down.”

But while that statistic is promising, the larger issue persists. Sheriff Blackwood said it’s important for all of us to highlight our similarities rather than our differences: “I was always taught that when you take our skin off, we’re the same color; there is no difference, we’re human beings first.”

Sheriff Blackwood discusses the process of training for when to use and when not to use deadly force – a question that, for him, hits very close to home.


But moderator Robertson responded that there’s still a gap between that ideal and everyday reality. “We may be all the same on the inside, but we’re not all the same on the outside,” she said, “and I think the concern is that that’s having an effect on how people are being treated.”

And Chief Blue added that that gap generates mistrust, where officers and citizens can begin to suspect each other even when no one is doing anything wrong.

Chief Blue describes a “powerful phone call” he received recently from a resident.


The issues raised at Saturday’s forum will likely take years to address, if not longer. Chief Blue said his department is doing a great deal to tackle the problem – but it’s an ongoing project.

“This implicit bias stuff is tough,” he said. “Over two years ago we began a process of quarterly analysis of every single traffic stop by an officer, (requiring) supervisors to certify to me that they’ve had a conversation about their data…and that’s enabled us to have some important conversations, and I believe it’s laid the foundation for some of this implicit-bias training that we’re going to do…

“However, it’s very hard to know what’s in someone’s heart. We all bring bias into every encounter…so being able to talk about it together is, in my mind, the only way to bring it to a level of consciousness where you can feel bias creeping in and take some action in response.”

And insofar as we in Orange County are not immune from bias – and insofar as we are all human, as Sheriff Blackwood observed – our community is also not immune from the issues that sparked such a national outcry last year.

“This community really isn’t that far from Ferguson,” said Robertson. “That is, I think, why people are here today.”