News

New Elon Poll results: Trump’s support declining in N.C.

The new Elon University Poll is out today – and it shows declining support for President Donald Trump in North Carolina.

The live-caller, dual frame (landline and cell phone) survey of 506 likely voters was conducted from April 18-21. Survey results in this news release present responses from registered voters who were classified as likely voters in the Nov. 8 election and has a margin of error of +/- 4.36 percentage points.

“Though President Trump enjoyed considerable support among North Carolinians on Election Day, he has lost ground among the crucial independent voters responsible for his success over Hillary Clinton,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon University Poll, in a press statement.

Trump was elected in November with about 50 percent of the vote in North Carolina. The new poll shows his job approval down to 41.6 percent, with 50.5 percent disapproving. Recent national polls have the president’s job approval at around 42 percent – very low when compared to this period in the presidencies of the last few of his predecessors.

Results on Trump’s use of Twitter, whether it is time to move on from repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the building of a border wall with Mexico were also not good news for the president.

Read the full report on the poll here.

News, Policing

“Economic Terrorism” bill dies in committee

A bill that would have stiffened penalties for certain types of protest died in committee Tuesday.

By a 6-5 vote, the members of the N.C. House Judiciary II committee chose not to send House Bill 249 – the “Economic Terrorism” bill – to the full House for a vote.

The bill would have created a new category of offense – “economic terrorism.” It would have included forms of protest that “intimidates the civilian population,” or “seeks to influence, through intimidation,” local, state or federal government bodies and which “impedes or disrupts the regular course of business” and does damage of at least $1,000. Under the bill the category of crime would have been a Class H felony with a sentence of four to 25 months.

Protesters who committed lesser offenses would have faced heavier charges under the bill as well. Those blocking roads while part of a “riot or other unlawful assembly” would have faced Class A1 misdemeanor charges and could have been civilly liable  for costs involved in responding.

Those participating in passive sit-in protests now face second degree trespassing charges – but under the bill even they would have faced stiffer Class 1 Misdemeanor charges.

Bill sponsors Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) and John Blust (R-Guilford) said the bill was primarily inspired by mass demonstrations in Charlotte last year after the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.

“This bill does not get rid of any freedom of speech,” Torbett said.  “It does not remove your lawful right to protest. It does not remove any lawful right to demonstrate against things you might think need to be demonstrated against.”

Torbett acknowledged that most of the already illegal behaviors described in the bill are covered by existing laws, but said he felt the need to “ratchet up” penalties because of an increase in the number and intensity of protests.

That led critics to ask whether the real target of the bill were protests like those over the controversial House Bill 2 and the continuing Moral Monday protests, both of which have featured sit-ins and have seen demonstrators arrested in the capitol.

“What you have here is a direct threat to civil liberties – the freedoms of speech and assembly – of everyone in this country, on the one side and the other side, ” said Rep. Henry Michaux (D-Durham).

Michaux said that during the heyday of the Civil Rights movement he was guilty of all of the things outlined in the bill and that he and those who protested with him had faced the consequences under existing law for demonstrating for things in which they deeply believed. The only reason for making the existing laws even more harsh toward protesters is to create a chilling effect on protest itself, Michaux said. Seeking to do that while doing nothing to protect the rights of protesters who have already faced abuse is unconscionable, he said.

“This bill that you have here is a piece of abomination that should be confined to the streets of hell forever,” Michaux said.

Republicans on the committee had their own qualms with the bill.

Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) said the title “economic terrorism” was “unnecessarily provocative.”

“We just didn’t need to get into a discussion of terrorism in this age. We could have framed it in a different fashion and not had the reaction we had,” McGrady said.

That reaction included more than 2,000 e-mails against the bill, many prompted by organized opposition by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.

McGrady said he believed existing law was sufficient to deal with most of what is dealt with in the bill.

Rep. Dana Bumgardner (R-Gaston) agreed, saying that though he too was concerned with violent protest existing law can deal with it — if it is properly applied. Failure to apply the law to these problems isn’t a failure of statute but a failure of leadership, Bumgardner said – and the overly broad language of HB249 was not the answer.

Speaking against the bill, Chatham County resident Vicki Boyer said the broad, vague language of the bill “could be used to shut down every basketball celebration that has ever happened on Franklin Street.”

Torbett and Blust were both agitated by the bipartisan resistance to the bill. Torbett said he could only conclude that those opposing the bill must condone violent protest and have no intention of addressing it — a comment at which fellow Republicans uncomfortable with the bill rankled.

“Maybe this isn’t perfect language, but we have to do something,” Blust said.

A majority of the committee disagreed that that something was House Bill 249. Failing to make crossover this week, it is – without a last minute resurrection as part of another bill – dead this session.

 

News, Policing

Greensboro columnist Susan Ladd on police brutality

Greensboro is one of many North Carolina cities that has, for years, been struggling with police/community relationships, cases of police brutality and – more recently – public access to records like police body camera footage.

This week Susan Ladd, columnist for Greensboro’s News & Record, takes a look at the case of Jose Charles – the young man of whose violent encounter with Greensboro police a member of the city’s Police Community Review Board says, “If we can’t see this one as wrong, we can’t see anything as wrong.”

From the column:

This week Lindy Garnette said what she had been thinking since she first reviewed the case of alleged police brutality in the arrest of Jose Charles:

“If we can’t see this one as wrong, we can’t see anything as wrong,” said Garnette, chief executive officer of the YWCA and a member of the Police Community Review Board. “If this case is swept under the rug, we might as well pack up, go home and call it a day.”

Charles, then 15, got beaten up by a group of other teenagers at last year’s Fun Fourth celebration in downtown Greensboro. He was using his shirt to wipe blood off his face when he was approached by a Greensboro police officer.

 After an oral exchange, Charles said, the officer threw him down, choked him and arrested him for malicious assault after he coughed up blood, which struck another officer in the face. Charles also was charged with disorderly conduct, simple affray and resisting arrest.

His mother, Tamara Figueroa, returned from a trip to the restroom that night to find her son on the pavement, bleeding from the head, with the officer’s hands around his neck. He needed eight stitches to close a wound over his eye.

Take the time to read the whole column.

News

New study: Vast majority of Americans support municipal broadband

A new Pew Research Center study this month shows 70 percent of Americans think local governments should be able to build their own high speed broadband networks.

Even broken down by party, 67 percent of those who self identify as Republicans or lean Republican and 74 percent of those who self identify as Democrats or lead Democrat support the idea.

North Carolina is pretty far behind in this respect, fighting for years to prevent municipal broadband. The courts have, so far, been on the side of state laws preventing its expansion.

There is some legislation this session to loosen things up a bit on this front.

The study also has some interesting data on how many Americans say home high speed Internet access is essential.

Read the whole study, which is worth your time.

News, Voting

Voting rights group: Investigate McCrory’s false “voter fraud” claims

Voter rights group Democracy NC is calling for a state and federal criminal investigation into false claims of voter fraud made by former governor Pat McCrory campaign during last year’s bruising gubernatorial contest.

You may remember the false accusations the surfaced after McCrory narrowly lost to Roy Cooper. McCrory, a Republican, contested the election results and dragged out the process even as GOP majorities on the State Board of Election and county election boards across the state rejected his claims of fraud.

Now Democracy NC is releasing an 16-page report on the McCrory campaign’s accusations, the people wrongfully accused of voter fraud and the “wrongdoing related to preparing, filing and promoting bogus charges of voter fraud.”

The report, the result of a five-month investigation, will be released at a press conference at 1 p.m. today outside the State Board of Elections office in Raleigh.

We’ll have more on the report after its release this afternoon.