North Carolina lawmakers have introduced a bill that would give cities the authority to allow citizen review boards investigatory and subpoena powers.
House Bill 165 is sponsored by Representatives Rodney Moore (D-Mecklenburg) and Amos Quick III (D-Guilford) and would also give cities the power to establish citizen review boards without having to first get permission from the General Assembly.
“In our democracy, ultimately power is held by the people,” Quick said. “The most important document in the establishment of our nation begins ‘we the people.’ … This bill will give some of that power back to the citizens.”
Moore held a press conference Wednesday to discuss HB165 and two other anti-discrimination bills he is sponsoring.
Rep. John Autry (D-Mecklenburg) applauded Moore and Quick for sponsoring HB165 and said it has long been a request from the Charlotte Police Chief to give the city’s citizen review board subpoena power.
“Two years ago, the Charlotte City Council took every power it had granted by the General Assembly to expand the authority of the citizens review board as far as it could go within the state statute,” Autry said. “I think [this bill] puts North Carolina in the right light and it certainly puts us in the correct direction.”
The other two bills are House Bill 99, which would prohibit law enforcement officers from racial profiling and require them to undergo yearly training about discriminatory profiling; and House Bill 152, which would expand the population protected by the state’s hate crime statute and increase crimes from a misdemeanor to a felony.
“I think we had kind of a lackluster penalty in the past and so we really want to put these reforms in place so that we can assure our citizens of our commitment as elected officials to their quality of life,” Moore said.
Hate crimes in North Carolina would be expanded to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It currently only covers race, color, religion, nationality or country of origin.
Moore pointed to statistics from the Southern Poverty Law Center that show an uptick in hate crimes and hate groups.
The number of hate groups operating in the country in 2016 remained at near-historic highs, rising from 892 in 2015 to 917 last year, according to the organization. There are 31 reported hate groups in the state of North Carolina.
In the first 34 days of Donald Trump’s presidency, SPLC reports there was 1,094 hate crimes and lesser incidents across the nation. Overall, anti-immigrant incidents (315) remain the most reported, followed by anti-black (221), anti-Muslim (112), and anti-LGBT (109).
Violence against trans people also hit a new high last year, with at least 26 apparent murder victims, surpassing the 23 killed in 2015. The SPLC found trans women of color are the minority most victimized by violent hate crime.
“We want to make sure that all of our citizens are protected,” Moore said. “We are aggressively hoping to push this legislation through.”
Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Durham, Orange) is a sponsor of the bill. He said if the Republicans at the General Assembly want to demonstrate that they are not in favor of discrimination — which they have said in regards to their stance on the discriminatory House Bill 2 — they will support this legislation.
“Actions speak louder than words,” he said. “We are hearing politicians at every level deny that their actions are discriminatory in intent or effect.”
Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D-Pitt, Wilson) also spoke in favor of the hate crime bill. She said her counties have experienced hate crimes and constituents have asked for protection.
“We have to be diligent and we have to move forward. We have to set the tone for policy,” Moore said. “We can’t wait for another body to give us an idea; we are the North Carolina General Assembly and so it is incumbent upon us to look for ideas and try to put in place laws that will protect our citizens and enhance their life.”