Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, race

NC Equal Justice Alliance statement on the murder of George Floyd and call to action for racial justice

George Floyd’s funeral today includes a nationwide call to justice. The latest voice comes from the North Carolina Equal Justice Alliance that joins its community of staff, clients, volunteers, donors, and partners across the state in mourning Floyd’s death, denouncing the police violence and reaffirming the commitment to racial justice.

Here’s more from the Alliance official statement:

We mourn George Floyd, who was killed, tragically and painfully, at the hands of Minneapolis police. The image of Mr. Floyd’s murder is seared into our memories and reinforces the urgency of the fight against systemic racism. Along with so many other senseless deaths, known and unknown — including David McAtee, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, Dreasjon Reed, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Keith Collins, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin, Mr. Floyd’s murder is an unmistakable cry for justice long denied and has spurred a mass movement. We support this movement and its call for social change. We mourn the many Black Americans whose lives have been unfairly taken, including those whose murders were not captured on video, whose stories have not made the headline news, or whose names are buried deep in our long and shameful history of racist violence.

As we mourn these deaths, we denounce the White supremacy and anti-blackness that has created and perpetuated an unequal justice system. Race-based discrimination and violence must end. We are justice-seeking organizations working for peace, not silence. We seek to amplify the voices of Black, indigenous, and people of color in our communities, who have for years witnessed firsthand the depth of this crisis and fought for justice on behalf of their communities.

Last week, a group of civil rights leaders called for a National Day of Mourning as the family of George Floyd memorialized his life. Leaders also demanded action to ensure justice through federal, state, and local reform of discriminatory policies and practices within law enforcement and criminal justice systems that oppress and discriminate against Black people in America. We join their call for changes to the systems and structures that give rise to such tragic deaths and rampant inequalities.

The leader of our state’s highest court, Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, called on us all to commit to the practice of justice and work together toward change. She wisely stated, in part,

“The work of improving justice is never truly done. Justice is not an achievement. It is a practice. As we change and grow as a society, our understanding of justice changes and grows and expands. And our courts must do the same.

We must come together to firmly and loudly commit to the declaration that all people are created equal, and we must do more than just speak that truth. We must live it every day in our courtrooms. My pledge to you today is that we will.

The recent deaths have once again shed light on the truth that injustice and discrimination still exist. And the protests that have followed have shown us just as brightly that we can come together in expressions of solidarity and grief. My hopeful prayer is that we continue to learn and grow together and that we have the courage to make change where change is so desperately needed.”

The member organizations of the Equal Justice Alliance fight against the impacts of systemic racism and inequality daily as we seek justice on behalf of our clients, in and outside of the courtroom. We resolve to continue our advocacy which at the core seeks to dismantle systems of inequality and we renew our commitment to fight racism in all its forms wherever it may be found.

Signed,

North Carolina Equal Justice Alliance

The North Carolina Equal Justice Alliance provides central coordination of a sustained, comprehensive, integrated, statewide system to provide the most effective legal services to people in poverty in North Carolina. Members of the Equal Justice Alliance include: Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, Council for Children’s Rights, Disability Rights North Carolina, Financial Protection Law Center, Land Loss Prevention Project, Legal Aid of North Carolina, North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission, North Carolina Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts, North Carolina Justice Center, North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, and Pisgah Legal Services.

News, race

Statement from the NC Justice Center

RALEIGH (June 3, 2020) – In this unparalleled, existential moment, it is essential we hear and listen to the cries of the people in the streets, understanding the genesis of the pain and outrage.

Let’s be clear. Our nation’s wealth and power were built upon a brutal history of slavery and colonization. The violence that many people, especially people of color, have suffered for centuries has directly led us to this watershed moment. The undeniable, systemic racism that led to the horrific murder of George Floyd, as so many before him, has also created patent and dramatic disparities in income, education, health, and working and housing conditions which threaten the very lives of people of color, especially Black people, in North Carolina.

Excessive use of force by police is but one of a long list of brutalities inflicted on the innocent by the machinery of an unequal, polarized, and divided society. Evidence of this truism is found everywhere (if we simply remove the silver from the glass and just look). Black Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites. The unemployment rate of Black workers is twice as high as for whites. The poverty rate for Black Americans is twice that of whites. Public schools serving students of color are disproportionately underfunded and have operated for decades in an unconstitutional manner in North Carolina. The odds of dying from pregnancy related complications are almost three times higher for Black women than for white women. Now, with all of these systemic defects laid thread bare, the death rate due to COVID-19 is twice as high as for patients of color as that of white patients. So people are in the streets why isn’t everyone?

As an organization committed to eradicating poverty by advocating for public policies that uplift people and begin to close the disparities fueled by racism and poverty, we understand the anger and frustration of the protests in North Carolina. Now is the time, particularly for white people calling themselves allies, to ask ourselves some difficult questions. Why aren’t we all angry at the injustice and societal inequity that traumatizes our friends and neighbors of color and divides us as a nation? We must be ready to be brave, courageous, and compassionate enough to change the future of our people. For if not now, when? We recognize that we are united in a common life, in which our relationships to and with one another are what will transform our world—for good or for ill. In this moment, we face a choice about what type of transformation we will embrace.

We condemn any escalation of violence by police and support demands for police accountability and reform. Responding with tear gas, riot gear, rubber bullets, and a heavily militarized police force only leads to further harm and distrust.

We stand in solidarity with the rallying cry that Black Lives Matter. We can no longer accept a society built on white supremacy, where Black and Brown people are diminished, disenfranchised, and devalued.

We also recognize that we are one of many organizations releasing statements calling for change, for action, for solidarity when many of our institutions must take an important first step: reckoning. Like much of the nonprofit sector, those in power at our organization are overwhelmingly white people, and we have struggled to dismantle the systems of white privilege in our own internal operations. This is a difficult, but in this moment, much needed admission. In doing so, we stand with renewed resolve to address this issue. We are continuing to work with external racial equity consultants and an internal racial equity working group, developing a diversity and inclusion hiring and retention plan, and offering racial equity training to our staff, management, and governing board.

The time for silence and inaction is over. Words are no substitute for deeds. We can no longer abrogate our responsibility, one to each other. We must open our eyes and our hearts, use our mouths and our minds, and make the promise one does to those one loves, to make for a better life for everyone. No more silence. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever again. By any of us.

 

Education, Higher Ed, race

UNCG Chancellor Frank Gilliam: I am filled with sadness and anger

On Sunday, as protests against police violence and racial inequity continued in cities across the state and nation, UNC-Greensboro Chancellor Frank Gilliam sent a message to the university community.

Gilliam, one of the UNC System’s few Black chancellors, grew up in suburban Minneapolis. He reflected on the killing of George Floyd in that city, his own experience with police harassment and his fears for his son, who lives in Los Angeles. He also talked about racial disparities closer to home, including on his own campus.

His weekend message, in full:

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

To sustain our democracy, and enact our shared values of freedom, prosperity, equality, safety, and a brighter future for our children, we must solve our problems collaboratively. People are mistaken if they believe the outcry over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis is the singular cause of protests across the country. Rather the protests are the expression of mounting frustration over the country’s inability to solve the systemic inequities central to quality of life. Justice in the criminal system is just one of a litany of problems that confront minorities (and black Americans in particular) including equal access to food, health care, decent housing, jobs, and schools. This has not happened overnight. It has been festering close to the surface for decades (if not centuries).

What do I mean? Here is one local example of a broader problem – food insecurity, or the lack of access to fresh food. Last week, my wife Jacquie and I were at Spartan Open Pantry (a nonprofit designed to provide food, clothing, and hygiene products to students who can’t afford these items)

UNCG Chancellor Frank Gilliam.

delivering food that is used to feed people who do not have anything to eat. The executive director told us that while 23% of the UNCG students are black, 50% of their clientele is black. He told us that some students come to the Pantry having not eaten in two or three days.

But I want to bring this discussion back to the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis. This hits close to home. This is personal. I am a black man. I have a black son. I went to high school in suburban Minneapolis. My parents lived there for 35 years. One evening I was detained by local police in front of my parent’s driveway. I asked why they stopped me, they said I “looked suspicious.” I often think that maybe things would have turned out differently that night if I had made one false move.

And closer to the bone, I worry about my 21-year-old son (who lives in Los Angeles) being stopped by the police. I have had the “talk” with him. If you don‘t know, the ”talk” is a conversation most black parents have with their black sons about how to behave when they encounter law enforcement and, in fact, how to navigate the world as a young black man. It is uncomfortable but necessary. Think about that. Think about how that would make you feel.

I wrestled with this all weekend. But I finally had to sit down and put thoughts to paper.

I am filled with sadness for the Floyd family (as well as the families of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, unfortunately the list goes on), for the country, and for my son. I’m filled with sadness for our young people – particularly the black students at UNCG. We owe them better than this. I’m filled with sadness for the hardworking and dedicated law enforcement folks who do things the right way.

But to be honest, I’m also filled with anger. I’m mad that we can’t seem to come together to find commonsense solutions to the nation’s problems. Mad that the direction we are heading is not sustainable where in a post-COVID-19 world it is likely we will see more inequality not less.

I know there are a lot of people in the country, in Greensboro, and on our own campus who are sad and angry too. Many of our nonblack friends and colleagues have written or called and asked what they can do: how do we fix this?

One answer is that this is all about “public will.” That’s the collective sense of people coming together with a good heart and common sense to solve problems. For example, we know what a good education looks like, we know what quality health care looks like, and we even know how to reform the criminal justice system. But are we willing? Are we willing to buy into the notion that we have a “shared fate” regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or party affiliation? Are people willing to change how institutions work in this country so that all people are treated fairly?

If we are willing, we can provide our children and grandchildren with a better tomorrow. If we are not, this will not be sustainable in the long run. By nature, I am an optimist. I get to work every day with faculty and staff who fuel this sense of hope; and I get to see thousands of students each year on our campus who make me believe that we can do more, do better. I have faith that we can come together and meet the challenges head on. I hope we have the will to do so.

Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr.
Chancellor

COVID-19, News, Policing, race

Cooper: NC National Guard to address unrest, focus on de-escalation, listening

After a night of violent protests, Governor Roy Cooper said as many as 450 guardsmen would be available to North Carolina cities with the focus on protecting public structures.

In a rare Sunday press conference, the governor said he had spoken directly with the mayors of Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte and Fayetteville and granted their request for state support. He also urged the mayors to work with their local police departments to prioritize de-escalating tensions.

“We cannot focus so much on the property damage that we forget why people are in the streets in the first place,” said Cooper.

Governor Cooper says leaders must create an open dialogue with protesters outraged by the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

“Racism, excessive use of force, health disparities, poverty, white supremacy. These are wrong. They are ugly. But they are present.”

The governor also revealed that he had spoken with Bridgett Floyd, George Floyd’s sister, who lives in Hoke County.

“While I cannot bring her brother back, I can work for justice in his name.”

The governor said while this is a painful moment for North Carolina and the nation, we must constructively channel our anger to force accountability, fight racism and create thriving communities for everyone.

COVID-19, LGBTQ issues, News, race

Advocates highlight LGBTQ discrimination, vulnerability in COVID-19 pandemic

With the U.S. Supreme Court set to rule any day on whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ people from employment discrimination, advocates are emphasizing the importance of the decision in the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a video press conference Wednesday Equality NC, the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, highlighted the increased vulnerability of marginalized people during the pandemic  — particularly transgender people of color.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in several discrimination cases in October and could rule any time between this week and a self-imposed deadline next month.

Ames Simmons, policy director for Equality NC, said the ruling coming in the middle of a pandemic underlines the potentially dire consequences of a loss to the LGBTQ community.

“We are in the middle of a pandemic like we’ve never seen before and it’s important to lift up that members of the LGBTQ community also hold identities that may make us either more vulnerable to COVID-19 or make the effects of COVID-19 worse,” Simmons said.

Ames Simmons, Policy Director for Equality NC, addresses LGBTQ health disparities during Wednesday’s video press conference.

Like many marginalized groups in society, LGBTQ people suffer from higher rates of chronic health conditions that may make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus or make its effects more deadly.

About 1.4 million LGBTQ people in the U.S. live with diabetes, including 81,000 transgender people.

While HIV is not a de facto risk factor for COVID-19, those living with the disease who are immunosuppressed and/or unable to afford or access treatment are at greater risk. Among LGBTQ people in the U.S., HIV impacts 1 in 2 Black cisgender men and transgender women, 1 in 4 Latinx cisgender men and transgender women. About 75,000 transgender people are living with the disease, Simmons said, according to the best available statistics.

“It’s been measured that people in the LGBTQ community are more likely to have asthma,” Simmons said — something from which he himself suffers.

About 21 percent of LGBTQ people are asthmatic as compared to 14 percent of non-LGBTQ people.

Like many marginalized groups dealing with higher levels of stress, LGBTQ people are more likely to smoke, which leads to  greater respiratory health disparities.

The percentage of smokers in the LGBTQ population is 37% compared to 22% of non-LGBTQ people. That number includes 278,000 transgender people.

There are also estimated to be about 1.7 million LGBTQ people over 50 years old.

Because of historic and ongoing discrimination from the medical community, LGBTQ tend to have a fraught relationship with health providers. They also report having less access to care.

Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC.

In the latest polling, 450,000 transgender adults report they have not gone to the doctor in the last year because they could not afford it.

LGBTQ people are much more likely to be without health insurance — about 17%  of LBGTQ adults are uninsured, compared to 12% of non-LGBTQ people. For transgender adults, that number is 22%.

Among LGBTQ people of color, the numbers are worse — 23% are uninsured. For transgender people of color, it is 32%.

LGBTQ people are also less likely to have paid sick leave (just 29%) or paid family medical leave (20%) that they could use if they or a family member become ill.

The coronavirus and the social distancing necessary to prevent is spread have been devastating for the economy — and particularly for LGBTQ people and industries that most employ them. About 15% of all LGBTQ workers work in restaurants — about 2 million people. More than 5 million LGBTQ people work in the food, hospitality and personal services industries, which have been hardest hit. While about 22% of the general population has reported a cut in work hours, that number among LGBT people is 30%.

Even before the pandemic, many LGBTQ people faced higher rates of unemployment and underemployment. Transgender people were three times as likely to be unemployed.

Those are particularly disturbing health and employment related  numbers for a population that could see a Supreme Court decision taking away what workplace discrimination protections they do now have, Simmons said.

That makes it all the more important to pass federal non-discrimination protections, Simmons said, however the Supreme Court rules on the current cases.

Only 22 states currently have explicit laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. North Carolina is not among them — but neighboring state Virginia is and has recently passed a raft of LGBTQ protections.

Source: Movement Advancement Project

 

Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC, said the lack of state tracking of LGBTQ statistics is itself a great harm to the community.

“The data issue is a major roadblock for a lot of our efforts,” Johnson said. ” It’s practically systematic erasure of our community.”

With many state doing no tracking of things like LGBTQ hate crimes and gathering little to no data on health disparities for LGBTQ people, Johnson said, they are undercounted and underrepresented.

“In almost every system we are an afterthought,” Johnson said.

The looming Supreme Court decisions could be a big turning point in that changing, Johnson said, at least in terms of non-discrimination protections.

It could hardly come at a more vital time, she said.