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N.C. Historical Commission meets Friday amid Confederate controversy

A reminder: the N.C. Historical Commission will hold its fall meeting Friday.

On the agenda: Requests to Relocate “Objects of Remembrance.”

Under a 2015 law the board must approve moving or removing historical monuments like the Confederate statues that have been at the center of a renewed public controversy for months.

In the wake of deadly violence at a white supremacist rally over a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia and the toppling of a similar statue in Durham, all eyes are on the once utterly uncontroversial board. Its members – mostly historians, writers and college professors – say they aren’t sure what they are empowered to do about the statues or how the board should proceed.

Several members have staked out positions on the issue, but most say the law is so vaguely written that they aren’t yet sure how their recommendation will be handled. The board will meet as the UNC campus at Chapel Hill and the UNC Board of Governors continue to wrestle with the issue of “Silent Sam,” a Confederate monument on the campus’ quad.

The meeting, which is open to the public will be held at 10:00 a.m. at the Archives and History/State Library Building at 109 E Jones St. in downtown Raleigh.

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Attorney General expands opioid investigation, calls for more funding to battle crisis

N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein at a Tuesday press conference on the opioid epidemic.

Attorney General Josh Stein is joining 40 other state attorneys general in an expanded investigation of five opioid manufacturers and three opioid distributors, he announced in a Tuesday press conference.

The investigation will look into how the companies may have contributed to the national opioid epidemic through their business, advertising and marketing practices.

Approximately 1,600 North Carolinians died of drug overdoses last year, making it the number one cause of accidental death in the state, Stein said. That’s nearly four a day. According to the latest data, one in 100 newborns in the state begin life with opioid dependency.

“A crisis of this magnitude deserves our attention,” Stein said Tuesday.

That means more funding, more education and treatment, Stein said – but it also means looking carefully into the origins of the epidemic.

“As millions of Americans were becoming addicted to prescription pain killers and communities were struggling to respond to this crisis, drug companies were reaping enormous profits,” Stein said.

“Our investigation will determine whether the drug manufacturers and drug distributors unlawfully created and fueled this crisis,” Stein said. “And if they did, I will hold them accountable.”

The expansion of the investigation, which began earlier this summer, will include Purdue Pharma, Endo, Janssen, Teva/Cephalon, Allergan and distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.

Stein was joined at Tuesday by a half-dozen people with expertise in and personal knowledge of the opioid epidemic and its costs. They included Nashville, NC Police Chief Thomas Bashore, N.C. Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen and Dr. Ashwin Patkar of Duke University Medical Center. Read more

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The cost of securing “Silent Sam”

As the controversy over Confederate monuments  heads to the North Carolina Historical Commission on Sept. 22, we thought it was worth asking the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill what it costs to secure “Silent Sam,” the Confederate monument that has become the most recent flash point in the controversy.

MC VanGraafeiland, media relations manager for the university, said it can be difficult to separate the cost of patrols and surveillance related to the statue from the larger security of McCorkle Place, the historical heart of the campus that includes the quad and “Silent Sam.”

But between 2014 and July of this year, the university has spent $41,000 on maintenance, upkeep and security of the monument, VanGraafeiland said.

That includes cleaning up after multiple instances of vandalism.

“In at least once case, the University spent more than $17,000 to remove the paint and seal the statue and monument,” VanGraafeiland said.

In the wake of deadly white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, VA and the toppling of  Robert E. Lee statue in Durham,  the question fo how to deal with “Silent Sam” has caused controversy on the UNC Board of Governors and divided members of the N.C. Historical Commission. The commission will need to approve any moving or removing of historical monuments, according to a 2015 law.

This week UNC students threatened a federal lawsuit if the statue is not removed.

 

News

Greensboro Police again face charges of profiling, brutality

One of the Greensboro police officers involved in the Jose Charles case is again at the center of racial profiling and police brutality complaints.

The complaint, filed late last month, is again raising questions about a department that has for years faced charges of profiling and several high-profile brutality cases.

From a story this week in Greensboro’s alternative weekly, Triad City Beat:

Almost from the moment they parked their car in front of Cheesecakes by Alex on South Elm Street, the four young, black men attracted the attention of the Greensboro police downtown bike patrol, Jones said.

“Immediately, we were surrounded by police officers, maybe seven of them,” Jones recalled. “They started asking us what we were doing, where we were going. We asked them why they were asking all these questions. The best answer they could give us is that they were the community resource team, and it was their job to go out in the community and ask questions.”

They would soon encounter the bike patrol again, this time on the 100 block of West McGee Street bustling with raucous late-night revelers in a confusing situation that quickly spun out of control, ending with Jones’ friend, Aaron Garrett, getting Tased and all four arrested and hauled down to the Guilford County Jail. Graham Holt, Jones’ lawyer, contends that the four men became the target of the police’s attention solely because of their race, and that the officers unnecessarily escalated the situation.

One of the officers involved in the incident was Officer Samuel A. Alvarez, who can be seen in an eyewitness video grabbing one of the young men from behind and slamming him into a car before he is tossed to the ground.

Alvarez was also involved in the controversial Jose Charles case:

Jose Charles, a 15-year-old boy who had been attacked by a group of teenagers at the Fun Fourth Festival at Center City Park on July 4, 2016, wound up in a melee with downtown bike patrol officers that resulted in criminal charges against him and a hospital visit. While Charles was using his T-shirt to stanch blood from a cut above his eye, Officer Alvarez approached Charles and asked him what he was doing. Tamara Figueroa, Charles’ mother, alleged in an interview with Triad City Beat earlier this year that Alvarez reacted to her son’s profane response by grabbing him, lifting him “in the air with all the force they could, and slam[ming] him on his head.”

Cpl. Johnson, the supervisor on duty on both July 4 and Sept. 10, acknowledged in the investigative report for the Charles incident that following the encounter with Alvarez, “Charles’ pre-existing lacerations to his right eye began bleeding rapidly.”

The administrative investigation by the department’s professional standards division cleared the officers of wrongdoing in the Charles incident, but the police community review board, a citizen panel, disagreed with the department’s finding. Lindy Perry-Garnette, a member of the board, was forced to resign after she publicly expressed concern about what she saw in police body-camera video of the incident. Frustration about city council’s handling of the matter boiled over with dozens of Charles’ supporters taking over council chambers in May.

The latest incident is under administrative investigation, according to the Greensboro Police Department.

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UNC Students threaten federal lawsuit over “Silent Sam”

University of North Carolina students threatened a federal lawsuit Wednesday unless the Chapel Hill campus’ “Silent Sam” statue is taken down.

Hampton Dellinger, a Durham attorney, is representing the Black Law Students Association, a professor and 12 individual students. Dellinger sent a letter Wednesday to UNC President Margarent Spellings, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt, members of the school’s Board of Trustees and the UNC Board of Governors.

From the letter:

“As UNC’s Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office acknowledges, federal laws guarantee a series of rights to members of the UNC campus community. Among the applicable laws are Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which forbid racial discrimination at UNC as an institution of higher learning and a recipient of federal funds. Because Silent Sam violates the rights guaranteed by these and other federal laws, we request that you authorize its immediate removal in order to avoid needless litigation.

Any federally funded institution (such as UNC) that is deliberately indifferent to a racially hostile learning environment runs afoul of federal law. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights defines a hostile environment under Title VI as “harassing conduct (e.g., physical, verbal, graphic, or written) sufficiently severe, pervasive or persistent so as to interfere with or limit the ability of an individual to participate in or benefit from the services, activities or privileges provided by a recipient.”

In a Wednesday interview with N.C. Policy Watch, Dellinger said he helped organize students in the legal effort because the violation seemed so obvious.

“This violation has been hiding in plain sight,” Dellinger said. “I think the case law is strong. It’s particularly compelling in this instance.”

In many instances where campuses have been sued for creating hostile environments, the violations boil down to students creating the environment and the University tolerating it, Dellinger said.

“But this is university created and university tolerated,” Dellinger said. “It’s not something ephemeral – it’s a permanent structure that represents white supremacy in the center of campus.”

It’s been established a university’s deliberate indifference to racially insensitive public displays can violate Titles IV and VI, Dellinger said.

“I hope that they’ll voluntarily take it down and end the violation,” he said.

The confederate monument controversy will be the subject of a meeting of the N.C. Historical Commission, which must approve any removal of such monuments, on Sept. 22.

Members of that board have recently begun to speak out on the issue, with several supporting the monuments’ removal.

A 2015 law – which even board members regard as vaguely written and confusing – limits the circumstances under which monuments can be removed – and to where they can be moved.