Recently elected Appeals Court judge fires troubling broadside at former Chief Justice Cheri Beasley

Judge Jefferson Griffin (pictured at left) hasn’t served on the North Carolina Court of Appeals very long — he was only first elected last November along with several other Republicans swept in on Donald Trump’s coattails — but that doesn’t appear to be dissuading him from using his new platform to issue assertive statements that venture into politics and public policy.

Consider, for example, Griffin’s concurring opinion in the case of State of North Carolina v. Kevin Lee Johnson, that was issued yesterday. The case involved a search by an Iredell County Sheriff’s office lieutenant who found cocaine on an individual he stopped for allegedly failing to wear his seat belt. The defendant appealed his trial court conviction on the grounds that the bodily search the officer conducted was unlawful. By all indications, the officer was white and the suspect was Black.

In yesterday’s opinion, all three judges on the panel (including Griffin and fellow recently elected Republican Jeffery Carpenter) agreed that the search was unlawful and that the evidence obtained as a result of it should be suppressed.

What stood out from Griffin’s concurring opinion, however, was not his vote in the case, but a broadside on the issue of racially-biased law enforcement that Griffin decided to launch in the direction of former state Chief Justice Cheri Beasley.

Former Chief Justice Cheri Beasley

Beasley, you may recall, spoke publicly, courageously and quite accurately last year in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd about the horrific and undeniable reality that has long confronted Americans of color — and, in particular, young Black men — when it comes to policing and criminal justice. As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported on June 3 in the aftermath of protests that rocked the nation:

“We must do better,” she said. “We must be better. Too many people believe that there are two kinds of justice. … In our courts, African-Americans are more harshly treated, more severely punished and more likely to be presumed guilty.”

Beasley later established a commission to examine the blatant racism that has long permeated the state’s criminal justice system.

Griffin it seems, however, was none to happy with this fact and has apparently been spoiling to vent about if for some time. And when the lawyers for the defendant in the illegal search case raised the issue of race, he seized on that as grounds to attack Beasley.

Indeed, in his concurring opinion — a locale usually reserved for fine legal distinctions — Griffin decided to republish several paragraphs of a speech Beasley delivered last June in which, among other things, she called for “a plan for accountability in our courts” and training judges to “recognize our biases.”

Weirdly and disturbingly, Griffin was and is bothered by such talk, and by the fact that lawyers for a Black defendant would raise it in his case. We know this because he then used the remainder of his opinion to attack Beasley for wrongfully venturing into public policy.

“The speech by the former Chief Justice states our justice system does not treat people equally based on the color of their skin. It also encourages and charges the courts to become an active body by involving our judicial branch in policy decisions. The judiciary should at all times practice judicial restraint….We are fortunate to live in the United States of America where the law is applied the same to all citizens.

To which all a body can say in reply is “what planet did this man grow up on?”

The bottom line: Word on the street is that Griffin is an ambitious politician who, despite being one of the youngest and least experienced judges on the Court of Appeals, is already planning a run for a Supreme Court seat in the near future.

Sadly, it appears we already have a strong inkling as to what his campaign will look like.

Two decades after 9-11, it’s hard to identify the values that unite Americans

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Just two weeks ago, we paused to remember those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, as the unthinkable happened: America was attacked by a foreign enemy on its own soil. In the aftermath, amid the horrid loss of life, the pierced veil of safety once thought impenetrable, the fear and uncertainty about what was ahead, Americans seemingly became one.

Back then, in spoken and unspoken ways, the values that we held dear as Americans took over in a way that was palpable. We wore our unity on our sleeves. We rallied around those values that unite us — patriotism, our democratic institutions, freedom and protection of our collective well-being.

Fast forward to today, 20 years later, where has that sense of unity gone?

What seminal events have brought out the worse in our behavior where we often choose, unabashedly, baseness over valiance ? When did it start?

The years immediately following 9/11 we were united in spirit and actions to fight against the threat of terrorism to preserve our way of life. But while we were preventing foreign terrorists from attacking us, home grown terrorists were organizing in our midst.

Our politics was not filled with virulent rancor as we have today. Compromise was still possible between the two political parties. Peddling lies and declaring fake news as real news had not become a central part of the public discourse.

Little did we know that so many Americans would accept and fall victim to the lies that have rolled and continued to roll off the lips of leaders, and that the use of distorted news from many media outlets and voices would become commonplace.

Also, wedged between the unity that occurred after 9/11 and the crippling divisiveness of today was the election of America’s first black president.

On the surface that was a ray of hope. Many saw the election of President Barack Obama as America moving into a post-racial era.

Oh boy, were we wrong.

Since Obama’s election in 2008, race relations have deteriorated and many Americans believe that the gains made over decades have been lost.

Even though Obama was elected for a second term, partisan politics in Congress worsened, with Republicans openly expressing that their goal was to defeat whatever Obama proposed. Most times, they succeeded.

Meanwhile, all across America, more disunity was brewing and gaining a foothold fueled by lies and conspiracy theories. Read more

Things could be worse — you could live in Florida

Gov. Ron DeSantis reacts to Gainesville city employee Darris Friend’s suggestion that COVID vaccines change people’s RNA (actually, it doesn’t) during a news conference on Sept. 13. 2021. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel

Columnist explains how Sunshine State COVID craziness keeps getting deeper

“Human kind,” said the poet, “cannot bear too much reality.”

Many Republicans seem especially resistant, preferring to dwell in a miasma of Deep State conspiracies and Internet nonsense inspiring them to believe that Hillary Clinton drinks babies’ blood, Trump won the 2020 election, and that ingesting over-the-feed-store-counter tablets for deworming horses is a better way to protect themselves against a deadly pandemic than getting a thoroughly tested, highly effective, FDA-approved vaccine.

I guess they’re no longer doing Clorox shots.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is Florida’s chief reality-denier. Last week, he threw a tantrum disguised as a press conference in Gainesville, flanked by Attorney General Ashley Moody and CFO Jimmy Patronis. He ranted against the federal vaccine mandate, threatening to fine cities and counties requiring employees to get the COVID jab $5,000 per infraction.

I mean, how dare the government try to save people’s lives?

Then, a couple of characters who were either disgruntled city employees or escapees from the local psych ward got to air their anti-vaccine foolishness. One woman implied that the vaccine might kill her and she didn’t want her children left motherless: “My body, my choice, my business,” she said. “I will not comply.”

Darris Friend, who said he’d worked for the city of Gainesville for 22 years, asserted, “The vaccine changes your RNA.”

Pro tips: The vaccine does not change your RNA. Nor will it kill you.

Want to know what will kill you? The Delta variant. And the cruel cynicism of Florida’s Republican leadership.

The governor could have politely corrected these poor deluded souls. Instead, he looked at the floor and grimaced.

Ashley Moody, who’d clearly left her brain in her car, applauded.

She’s running for reelection, and can’t win without Florida’s Dim Bulb vote.

But here’s the thing, y’all: Moody, Patronis, DeSantis, the governors of vaccine-recusant states like Texas, Mississippi, and Arizona, plus the entire Trump family, have all been vaccinated. They have not grown an extra head. They will not (sadly) be unable to reproduce.

Nevertheless, these Republicans are happy to gamble that they can keep the base braying and snarling and ready to fight the libs over their “free-dumbs” while not losing too many of their clueless-and-proud voters to the virus — which could turn out to be: 1) A fascinating illustration of Darwinism in action; and 2) An electoral problem for Republicans, whose old, white stalwarts are already dying off.

Florida’s COVID rate is appallingly high. Hospitals are grossly over-stretched and ICU beds hard to come by. Undertakers are working double shifts to keep up.

DeSantis’s response to this epic heath care mess is to fight the school boards that have mandated that students wear masks; fight local elected officials who want their employees vaccinated; and fight the president of the United States, who’s told business owners to either get their workers vaccinated to test the hell out of them.

If DeSantis hears that you have mandated your teenaged children get the vaccine, he may come to your house and fight you, too.

Belligerence is his brand and ignorance is his friend. Read more

Editorial: Time for GOP-leaders to drop irresponsible rhetoric, racially-motivated voter ID laws

The Winston-Salem Journal’s editorial board offers a strong rebuke in its Tuesday edition of the ongoing push by conservatives in the legislature to muscle through a voter ID requirement.

Last week a North Carolina court struck down the legislature 2018 voter ID law, noting it was “would not have been enacted in its current form but for its tendency to discriminate against African American voters.”

Here’s an excerpt from the Journal’s editorial:

The decision will be appealed, but it’s only one of several voter ID cases moving through the courts. No such law is likely to be instituted before the 2022 election, which is good for people who prefer their elections to be free and fair.

Republicans have said voter ID laws are needed to build public confidence in elections — the public confidence they’ve been actively undermining for a good decade or more — and to prevent voter fraud — the widespread voter fraud they consistently fail to prove exists.

The idea of a voter ID requirement, in and of itself, may not be objectionable — especially if it actually does help restore voter confidence. (Telling the truth, that Democrats sometimes win, also would help.) But there were multiple problems with this law.

For one, many terms in the law were left undefined, like what types of IDs would be accepted and who would make those decisions. Those factors could be manipulated by whatever party is in the majority for its own gain.

But the biggest problem, as the court says, is that this law aimed to suppress the votes of Black citizens, who vote more heavily for Democrats — and not for the first time. It’s an echo of the Republicans’ 2013 election law, which a federal appeals court slapped down for being riddled with “racially discriminatory intent” to target Black residents with “almost surgical precision.”

Last week’s decision was welcomed by Kevin Farmer, the chairman of the Forsyth County Democratic Party. “The courts saw through the lies and hypocrisy and ruled accordingly,” Farmer told the Journal’s John Hinton.

His counterpart, Kenneth Raymond, the chairman of the Forsyth County Republican Party, disagreed.

“I’m not going to tiptoe around this,” Raymond told the Journal. “The Democrats hate the voter ID law because they want to be able to easily cheat during elections.

“Why do they even bother to hide behind accusations of racism. Everybody knows they cheat.”

Ah, yes, the mysterious but ubiquitous “everybody” and the effective but untraceable “cheating.” Is this the “everybody” that says vaccines aren’t effective, despite the absence of the vaccinated from overflowing hospitals? Is it the “everybody” that says John F. Kennedy Jr. is still alive, or that former President Trump will be reinstated to office next week?

Despite all the fanciful claims, Republicans have consistently failed to prove widespread voter fraud in court. The charge exists only through a series of self-serving anecdotal tall tales.

On top of that, Republican officials who run elections in disputed states such as Georgia and Arizona continually assure us that no widespread voter fraud occurs.

Raymond’s rhetoric is not only unrealistic, it’s highly irresponsible. With increasingly violent rhetoric and actions rising in right-wing circles because of such claims — Jan. 6 comes to mind — responsible leaders need to calm the waters, not churn them more with baseless, sour-grapes conspiracy theories.

Raymond might want to consider that Republican assertions that elections are rigged are probably keeping a number of their own supporters from casting votes.

Republicans don’t have to go down this route. There are GOP leaders who insist on integrity and adherence to reality, even if it means short-term election loss. They believe that the GOP should get ahead by promoting their conservative message and expanding their voter base.

Those are the leaders who deserve followers — and the leaders North Carolina needs to take us into the future.

Read the full editorial online in the Winston-Salem Journal.

Children’s experts: Investing in our state’s future starts with children not corporations

By Dr. Devonya Govan-Hunt, Muffy Grant and Dr. Iheoma Iruka

To build a thriving North Carolina, we need a multiracial democracy, an inclusive economy, and a commitment to ensuring people across the state have access to the health care, education, and social support they need. To realize this vision, our state needs equitable public investments, including funding for early childhood education that supports our youngest residents and their families. As our state lawmakers continue negotiations in an attempt to come up with a budget that the House, Senate, and Governor can agree on, they have a responsibility to create a budget which prioritizes North Carolina’s children over out-of-state corporations.

But the proposals that have come out of the NC Senate and House so far don’t meet this standard — the Senate’s budget proposal would eliminate corporate income taxes, and while the House’s doesn’t go quite as far, it includes multiple tax changes that will ultimately prohibit North Carolina from realizing its potential. Both proposals also include changes to income taxes that would primarily benefit the wealthiest families: under the House proposal, 56 percent of the value of these changes would go to households with annual incomes over $110,000. These changes would cost our state about $2 billion in annual revenue, limiting our ability to make the public investments our communities need.

As experts in childhood development and child care, we know we know that early childhood education presents one of the strongest cases there is for public investment. Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman conducted groundbreaking research showing that investments in high-quality early childhood education yield a robust return on investment of 13 percent per child per year. These benefits come from improved outcomes that children see throughout their lives, including in educational attainment, health, and employment. Public investments in early childhood education even impact future generations and reduce intergenerational poverty.

It doesn’t work to provide child care only through the private sector. Licensed child care providers operate on the thinnest of margins, because families cannot afford the true cost of high quality care. Even so, parents are left shouldering annual fees significantly higher than public university tuition. We have tried other models for years, and it hasn’t worked. Early childhood education is a public good that needs public funding — like parks, libraries, and K-12 education.

Investments in early childhood education are also an investment in racial and gender equity in North Carolina. The vast majority of early childhood educators are women, and over half are Black women and other women of color. These educators are paid an average of just $11 per hour to nurture our youngest children. North Carolina has some programs that boost wages for educators, but legislators have cut funding for these and so only a limited number of people can access them. The recent budget proposals ask these educators to subsidize corporate tax cuts with their persistently low wages.

North Carolina’s motto is “To be rather than to seem.” If we want to live up to that motto to truly be a state that cares about our children’s future, here are three key actions to take: Read more