Commentary, News

NC faith leaders call for action on neglected policy proposals

In case you missed it, be sure to check out the following new and powerful letter to Gov. Cooper, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore that was put together by the North Carolina Council of Churches and signed by a diverse array of faith leaders from across the state.

The letter calls for state action on Medicaid expansion, public school funding, broadband access, and criminal justice reform and highlights the direct impact each of these issues bears to questions of racial equity.

Dear Governor Cooper, Representative Moore, and Senator Berger,

We write as denominational leaders of churches across North Carolina and as members of the North Carolina Council of Churches. Know that each of you are in our prayers daily, as are all elected officials with the responsibility of making our municipalities, state, and nation a place of “liberty and justice for all.”

The previous few months have shined a light on important matters for North Carolinians. We’d like to focus on just four: Medicaid expansion, public education funding, broadband access, and criminal justice reform.

Medicaid expansion: It baffles us that N.C. has not accepted the billions of federal dollars that could be flowing into our state, a state filled with citizens who pay their share of federal income taxes. These taxes are being used to fund the 90 percent federal match on Medicaid expansion enrollees for states that have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Not only does this forfeit money that Washington is trying to send back to North Carolinians who qualify for healthcare coverage under the law of the land, it also leaves nearly half a million of our neighbors without health care coverage. When we consider the positive ripple effect that coverage would have for their communities—dollars out to the clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, providers—it becomes more baffling to us. For people of faith, however, this goes far beyond the economic argument. It is a moral imperative to restore health whenever possible. The numerous stories found in our gospels show that healing does much more than make people well; healing restores people to community. When Jesus healed the 10 lepers they were so excited about returning to their friends and families that only one of them thought to return and thank Jesus first (Luke 17:11-19). Medicaid expansion can restore people to community by making them well again. Perhaps they will even thank you for it.

Public school funding: Across the centuries, education can nearly always trace its roots back to religion, but in this country, Thomas Jefferson had a new idea. He proposed tax supported general education for all citizens (1779). Ten years later, the first public college was founded in N.C., and remains among the best public universities in the nation. Along with faith communities, schools are an anchor institution in many of our towns and neighborhoods. Schools provide a social safety net for the children in these communities, but they cannot do it without resources and without respect.

We need to move from talking about teachers and discipline as the problem in our schools to talking about funding as the problem for our schools. Read more

Commentary, COVID-19

Lesson from Texas: the race to reopen is a mistake

If you get a chance, be sure to check out an interesting essay that appeared on The Conversation yesterday by health researchers at Texas A&M University. In “COVID-19 messes with Texas: What went wrong, and what other states can learn as younger people get sick,” Professors Murray J. Côté and Tiffany A. Radcliff provide a cautionary tale about how a state that seemed to be keeping the pandemic at bay now finds itself in great big mess.

After noting the overwhelming evidence that the virus is spreading via community-based social interaction, that infections are afflicting young people at a particularly rapid rate and the publicly expressed regret of Gov. Greg Abbott at having allowed bars to open so fast (are you listening conservative North Carolina rapid reopen advocates?), the authors say this:

“The nature of the virus makes contact tracing challenging. The delay of up to two weeks between exposure and symptoms, if symptoms appear at all, means carriers are generally unaware they are spreading the virus to others. Texas is investing in more contact tracing to educate and isolate individuals who may have been exposed, but it only had 2,900 of the planned 4,000 contact tracers in place by June 1.

Because this latest spike in COVID-19 cases is linked to community-based spread, intensive contact tracing to target individuals needs to be matched with disease containment strategies in affected communities.

Statements from political and health leaders encouraging people to stay home, wear masks, wash their hands frequently and avoid large gatherings helped make the early response effective.

Reinforcing these strategies now so individuals, particularly those in the lowest risk categories for serious illness, understand their role in preventing the spread of the virus is critical to flattening the curve again. Knowing that there is a lag of one to two weeks from an increase in cases to the predictable consequences of more serious illnesses, hospitalizations and fatalities, makes this a huge challenge.

The unfortunate reality is that many Texans who now have COVID-19 but aren’t yet showing symptoms will become severely ill or even die of COVID-19 in July.

The authors then offer this lesson to people like the inhabitants of North Carolina and other states in which loud voices have called for mimicking the less restrictive policies of Texas, Florida and Arizona — all of which are now grappling with big spikes in infections and backtracking from their previous laissez-faire approaches:

Will these steps be enough to flatten the curve?

The answer depends largely on changing people’s behavior. Going forward, some of the most important steps are to reinforce the messaging of established public health practices:

  • If possible, stay at home.
  • Use precautions, such as wearing a mask, social distancing and frequent hand-washing when not at home, and avoid gatherings in spaces with limited airflow.
  • If you are showing symptoms or may have been exposed to someone infected with the coronavirus, quarantine yourself, and seek care if symptoms are severe or prolonged.

In other words: listen to Gov. Cooper, Secretary Cohen and do your civic duty people. We’re not out of the woods yet.


Editorial blasts failed legislative session

Be sure to check out this morning’s lead editorial on “Legislative partisanship triumphs over real progress for N.C.” In the latest of what seems like an endless stream of such editorials from major news outlets over the last decade, the authors make a powerful case that the all-but-concluded 2020 “short session” of the General Assembly has been another colossal missed opportunity — particularly with respect to addressing the health pandemic and the needs of the state’s badly neglected public schools. Here are some excerpts:

“In the midst of a very real pandemic, what they are not about is working with Gov. Roy Cooper to beat the virus and plan for the future; to best position the state so it can rapidly recover when the opportunity becomes clear; or even to set examples for healthful behavior.

Republicans who refuse to wear masks in the Legislative Building are acting like children. Their actions and the dangerous example they set, is helping, not slowing, the spread of COVID-19. They jeopardize our state and nation’s recovery from the ravages of the coronavirus. They need to grow up.”

After noting how lawmakers wasted precious time and effort on trying to force the opening of gyms and bars and dispensing a woefully inadequate tip/bonus to school teachers, the editorial highlights the failure to deal with public education in a meaningful way:

“One bill brings it in sharp focus:

The state Senate’s obstinate refusal to even bring up in committee, the House passed $3.1 billion bond issue for public school and road construction projects. This legislation is the definition of bipartisan consensus. The House passed it 113 to 5 (a lone Democrat and four Republicans voted against it).

This legislation creates jobs; pumps badly needed money into communities across the state; and meets critical needs of public schools not to mention the economic development benefits of a quality road system.

At a time when legislators should be focusing on opportunities for cooperation and achievement, the leaders of this General Assembly have been busy looking for opportunities to sow division.”

The essay acknowledges that there were some useful actions taken this spring — including passing the long-delayed “Second Chance Act” and a bill to address some of the huge challenges posed by the pandemic for conducting fair election this fall — but its bottom line assessment is simple and straightforward: “Election Day cannot come soon enough.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.


Firings of racist police officers in Wilmington provides yet more evidence of need to heed protesters

In case you missed it this week, the crisis posed by racism and white supremacy in American law enforcement hit home again in North Carolina for what seems like the umpteenth time in recent months. As multiple news outlets have reported, the Wilmington Police Department fired three officers for making racist comments that were captured by a police vehicle camera.

This is from a story in the Wilmington Star-News:

“Three Wilmington Police Department officers have been fired after being caught on a police vehicle camera making racist comments about local Black citizens, fellow officers and the department’s newly appointed police chief.

The now-former officers – Michael Kevin Piner, Jesse E. Moore II and James B. Gilmore – were identified Wednesday afternoon at a press conference held at WPD’s headquarters. Moore and Gilmore have worked for WPD since 1997 and Piner was hired in 1998.

Much of the video, which begins just before 7 a.m. on an unspecified date, is of Piner’s backseat. But then, about 46 minutes into the video, he is heard talking to Gilmore, who pulled up next to him, about the Black Lives Matter protests happening across the country and in Wilmington, according to the report.”

The article goes on to explain in grisly and disturbing, but sadly unsurprising, detail, the kind of language and statements the officers made. The men made repeated use of the “N” word and discussed their desire to “slaughter” people of color. At one point, former officer Piner expressed his hope for the U.S. to experience a new civil war so that he could (referring to Black people) ““wipe ’em off the f—–g map.”

The horrific revelations contained in the recordings provide just the latest in a long series of recent confirmations that the twin evils of racism and white supremacy remain a poisonous plague in America. What’s more, it’s a plague that has been regularly and aggressively fueled by cynical politicians like Donald Trump — a man pursued the presidency based in part upon the dog whistle prevarication that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and who once alleged that the infamous Charlottesville clash of a few years ago between anti-racist and white supremacist demonstrators featured “very fine people on both sides.”

While there are many reasons to feel optimism about the awakening that seems to be taking place across much of the nation’s white population in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and the protests that ensued, the disgusting news from Wilmington (which undoubtedly could be repeated in numerous law enforcement departments across North Carolina) makes clear yet again that the process of rooting out hate, and the troubled souls who wallow in it and spew it, is going to be slow and painful one.

Commentary, News, Trump Administration

Civil rights groups express vehement opposition to Tony Tata’s nomination for Pentagon post

Then-NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata and Governor Pat McCrory in 2015. (Photo: McCrory’s’s flickr account.)

As reported in this space last week, President Trump’s nomination of former North Carolina Department of Transportation secretary, Wake County schools superintendent and pulp fiction author Tony Tata to a high-level post in the Pentagon has provoked strenuous opposition from groups and individuals concerned about numerous outrageous statements Tata has made (and positions he’s voiced) through the years.

This week, a collection of more than 50 civil rights groups, including the North Carolina NAACP, ramped up their opposition by issuing the following statement:

Pentagon Nominee’s Record on Race and Segregation Draws Scathing Rebukes from Civil Rights Groups

Anthony Tata’s Self-Serving Apologies Don’t Excuse Long, Thorough History of Bigotry

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, a diverse coalition of more than 50 civil rights, faith, education and labor groups have come out in opposition to the nomination of Anthony Tata for Under Secretary of Defense for Policy because of his long record of bigotry. Additionally, the North Carolina NAACP released a scathing statement of opposition documenting mismanagement, racial hostility, and efforts to resegregate schools when Tata was the schools superintendent of Wake County, NC. Spokespeople representing the national coalition and the North Carolina NAACP are available for interviews.

“His racial insensitivity quickly became notorious,” wrote Reverend T. Anthony Spearman, President of the NAACP’s North Carolina State Conference, about Tata’s brief tenure in Wake County before he was fired. He was “a walking scandal” who “seemed to regard African American parents as ideological adversaries, rather than taxpayers invested in the quality of their Public Schools.”

The national groups letter to the Senate—led by Muslim Advocates, the NAACP, the American Federation of Teachers, the Center for Disability Rights and the SPLC Action Fund—draws on Tata’s deep record of bigotry, racial epithets, anti-Muslim and anti-Black hostility to declare him “one of the most openly and brazenly bigoted nominees in recent memory.”

  • Tata has: Repeatedly attacked Black public figures with racial and religious epithets, including calling Congresswoman Maxine Waters a “race baiting racist” for her defense of Rodney King, a victim of police violence. He also invoked plantation slavery to criticize a Black news anchor.
  • He has spread the false, anti-Black, anti-Muslim conspiracy theory that President Obama is a secret Muslim.
  • He has said that Islam is the “most oppressive violent religion I know of” and wrote books invoking “Islamic gang rape” of white women.
  • In addition to criticism of his efforts to resegregate schools as Wake County Superintendent, the groups also point to allegations of discrimination against Latino and disabled students.

“All of our communities have been directly harmed by Mr. Tata’s words and actions,” stated the groups’ letter. “One simply cannot lead a diverse department while having such contempt for diverse people.”