Democratic lawmakers on Friday called on Republican colleagues to set aside partisanship to address systemic racism in the judicial system and stubborn health, educational and economic disparities that cripple African American communities.
“Education ought not to be partisan as we all ought to want all of our students to be educated,” said House Democratic Whip Amos Quick, (D-Guilford).
Quick said the American promise is that if you get a good education and apply yourself, then you will have success.
“However, this promise has been rendered a cruel hoax for too many bright African American students who endure substandard education through no fault of their own,” Quick said. “Dilapidated buildings and funding formula tricks make it still possible to go into any city or town in North Carolina and visibly identify schools that are mostly populated by African American students.”
Quick noted that African Americans are 22 % of the state’s population but make up 35 % of COVID-19 related deaths.
He said we can no longer tolerate health care disparities.
“Why should skin color and zip code determine quality of life and even the length of life for many of our citizens,” Quick said. “It cannot be acceptable any longer that African American North Carolinians have to endure an absence of quality health care and nearby facilities.”
Quick made his comments during a remote news conference.
Lawmakers also honored the memory of George Floyd, the Minnesota man who died in police custody a week ago. Floyd was born in North Carolina. A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday in Hoke County.
House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson, (D-Wake), called Floyd’s death a national tragedy that highlights the disparate treatment blacks receive at the hand of law enforcement officers.
“Sixteen times he said he could not breathe, and no one listened,” Jackson said.
A chilling video of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin with his knee planted lethally on Floyd’s neck sparked outrage across the nation and throughout the world.
Chauvin has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Three other officers involved in the incident were arrested and charged Wednesday. Officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng each face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder, as well as aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
“Of course, we cannot bring Mr. Floyd back but today we are here to listen,” Jackson said. “We’re here to honor his life and the lives of so many African Americans who lives were damaged, destroyed or lost before his.”
Jackson said Democratic lawmakers want to know how to better serve African Americans and how to ensure the American promise is extended to every African American child.
Rep. Robert Reives, (D-Chatham), a former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, said citizens must have faith in the judicial system.
“Nothing is more important than believing in your justice system when it comes down to law enforcement,” Reives said.
He called on cities and counties to create “meaningful citizen review commission” to build trust with citizens.
“Each locality has a different need when it comes to that,” Reives said. “What’s needed in Charlotte for a review commission is different than what we’ll need here in Siler City, in Chatham County.”
He said there’s a lot of emphasis on training law enforcement officer but others in the judicial system need to better understand how their work impacts black communities.
“Think about what it means with our judges, with our magistrates, with our prosecutors, with our defense attorney,” Reives said. “All of us need training on how the judicial system affects African Americans and what we can do to lessen that affect and equalize that affect.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Yvonne Holley, (D-Wake), addressed housing and economic disparities.
She noted that many frontline workers are earning less than minimum wage while putting their lives on the line during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When you realize this and look at this, people are putting their lives at risk for us and they’re not making enough to live off of, much less support their families,” Holley said.
She said it’s morally wrong to pay black women less than white males for the same work.
“Unequal pay means less food on the table, missed health care appointments, fewer educational opportunities, fewer trips to the museum and poor access tp technology and broad band,” Holley said.
She said it’s no longer possible for a person making minimum wage to make ends meet.
“Minimum wage will not support one person even in the least expensive part of the state,” Holley said. “And year after year, minimum wage stays flat, while prices of everything goes up.”
She said African American workers also have less access to paid leave than their white counterparts.
“They cannot miss work for being sick,” she said. “They have to show up sick or leave their newborn children. The result is a less healthy community and a less well-off community.”
Holley also criticized the state’s unemployment policy.
“North Carolina is the worst state in the country to be an unemployed worker,” Holley said. “Our compensation levels are low, and we have an extremely short, 12-week duration of benefit period.”
Holley said the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the black community in North Carolina especially hard.
She has filed bills to spend $100 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money to help renters avoid eviction and $100 million to prevent foreclosures.
In addition, Holley said North Carolina must make a substantial investment in affordable housing, particularly in programs such as the Housing Trust Fund, which support the preservation and production of affordable housing and work to increase opportunities for families and individuals to access affordable homes.
Friday’s press conference came a day after Gov. Roy Cooper created a task force to address the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 is having on communities of color.
The task force honors Andrea Harris, who co-founded the North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development in 1986. She served as president of the Durham-based organization for more than two decades. Harris died last month.
The Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental, and Health Equity Task Force will address systematic disparities in North Carolina.
“I’m proud to have signed Executive Order No. 143 to address disparities in communities of color that are being highlighted and intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cooper said in a statement. “This virus is exploiting those inequalities and it’s up to us to do something about it.”