Rev. Dr. William J. Barber on nationwide protests: America must listen to its wounds.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber

After nationwide protests and vandalism sparked by outrage over the death of George Floyd, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber called for America to confront the ‘interlocking injustices’ facing our country.

In “A Pastoral Letter to the Nation” the founder of the Moral Monday movement called Floyd’s death a tipping point to take a deeper look at what has caused these demonstrations.

“The lethal violence of these racist officers and others is only one manifestation of the systemic racism that is choking the life out of the American democracy.”

Barber said the nation must confront systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation and the denial of healthcare.

He said Floyd’s brutal death captured on video should be enough to help understand the emotional outburst of demonstrators this week, but that’s not the only thing sparking the public’s outrage.

“But it comes after the compounded death of and deadliness of a pandemic that has wreaked havoc on poor and low-income communities across this nation, especially communities of color. More than 100,000 people have said ‘I can’t breathe.’ And this disease choked them to death.”

Barber said in some cities where racial data is available, Black people are six times as likely to die from the coronavirus as their white counterparts.

Click below to listen to Rev. Barber discuss racism and racial disparities:

And as cities began cleaning-up after Saturday’s protest, Rev. Barber cautioned against trying to return to normal too quickly without reflecting on a history of events that led to these actions.

“If we take time to listen to this nation’s wounds, they tell us where to look for hope. The hope is in the mourning…The hope is in the very thing that makes us want to rush from this place,” explained Barber.

“It is only if these screams and tears and protests shake the very conscience of this nation …until there is real political and judicial repentance, can we hope for a better society on the other side of this.”

Rev. Barber and other members of the Poor People’s Campaign are planning a national call for moral revival next month. Click here to learn more about the digital Moral March on Washington, on June 20th.

COVID-19, News

Governor Cooper extends moratorium on evictions, utility shut-offs

Governor Roy Cooper took action Saturday to extend a moratorium on utility shut-offs and evictions as the state works to combat further spread of the coronavirus.

“North Carolinians need relief to help make ends meet during the pandemic,” said Governor Cooper. “Extending housing and utility protections will mean more people can stay in their homes and stay safe as we all work to slow the spread of this virus.”

The Executive Order received full support from the Council of State, according to the governor’s office.

“North Carolinians want to pay their rent, but for far too many people – through no fault of their own – that’s just not possible right now,” said Attorney General Josh Stein in a press release. “We are in unprecedented times that call for unprecedented action. I support Gov. Roy Cooper’s extension of the moratorium on evictions to ensure that people do not face homelessness in the midst of this health and economic crisis.”

Here’s more on how the new order will impact will impact North Carolinians struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic.

The Order’s utility shutoff moratorium:

  • Continues effective immediately and lasts 60 days;
  • Prohibits utility disconnections for all customers;
  • Prohibits billing or collection of late fees, penalties, and other charges for failure to pay; and
  • Extends repayment plans at least six months, and sets the default term for repayment to six months for cases when the utility and customer cannot agree on the terms of an extended repayment plan.

The Order’s evictions moratorium:

  • Is effective immediately and lasts for 3 weeks;
  • Would prevent landlords from initiating summary ejections or other eviction proceedings against a tenant for nonpayment or late payment of rent;
  • Prevents landlords from assessing late fees or other penalties for late or nonpayment;
  • Prevents the accumulation of additional interest, fees, or other penalties for existing late fees while this Order is in effect;
  • Requires landlords to give tenants a minimum of six months to pay outstanding rent;
  • Requires leases to be modified to disallow evicting tenants for reasons of late or nonpayments; and
  • Makes clear that evictions for reasons related to health and safety can take place.

As May draws to a close, North Carolina has recorded 27,673 positive cases of COVID-19 with 1,185 new cases reported Saturday.


Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: the fight against COVID goes to the dogs

Once again, dogs get all the good press.

And once again, I find myself reading aloud a news story to my twin tuxedo cats, Joey and Chandler as they pace around the food bowls in the kitchen.

“Boys, it says here that dogs are being used to detect the coronavirus just by smelling people!”

They immediately flopped to the floor and fell asleep. There was a  definite “wake me up when it’s time for the Fancy Feast” vibe to their reaction.

I’d heard, years ago, dogs could be trained to detect certain cancers, which led to a brief but passionate crusade to get a talented friend to rename his rock band “The Cancer Sniffin’ Dogs.” He didn’t bite. I thought it was genius, but a prophet is seldom loved in her own land. I think Ramona Singer said that.

So it’s not a total shock the dogs being tested at the University of Pennsylvania and the London School of Hygiene (home of the “Fightin’ Bar Soaps!”) are showing some promise at detecting COVID before we know we have it. Dogs have long been trained to sniff out certain cancers, contraband, malaria and even a bacteria destroying Florida’s orange groves.

According to The Washington Post, six Labrador retrievers will be deployed to sniff passengers at airports. The goal will be to sniff up to 250 people per hour, a number Joe Biden called “Tuesday.”

That said, it could be unnerving to be pulled out of the TSA line like you’re a favorite rawhide bone, because the doctor is in and it turns out he’s four-legged.

The star of the show, so far, is Poncho, a cute lab who, armed with the scent of urine and saliva samples from Covid-infected humans, is being trained to alert his handlers like you got a pound of weed in your carry-on. Ah, the good old days.

As someone who is afraid of dogs, this will prove doubly traumatic if Poncho “outs” me in an infected state. Why not a cat? WHY????

And then, as if they could read my mind, Joey and Chandler…rolled over and fell back asleep.

For the love of…

The biggest hurdle so far is the lack of dogs available. Turns out,  TSA is already experiencing a serious shortage of explosives-sniffing dogs.

“We don’t have enough detection dogs and…now, all of a sudden everyone wants a COVID detection dog?” mused one official.

Well, not everyone. It’s not like telling Santa you want a puppy, but I get her point. I’d be happy to ship her my neighbor’s dog who waits until I get dead-even with his fence on my (cough) daily walk and then barks so loudly I jump, flap my arms wildly and scream. Every single time. Yes, where can HE sign up?

Will there ever come a day when a cat performs this sort of heroic work? Ha. Look at that. I think Joey and Chandler are laughing in their sleep.

Celia Rivenbark spent an entire day putting together a hanging shoe organizer that “assembles in 15 minutes.”

Commentary, COVID-19

Utility shutoff moratorium, protections from other fees and debts are essential while crisis continues

Image: Adobe Stock

In this time of crisis, all of us need to be looking out for our families and neighbors, protecting and helping our brothers and sisters in every way we can. After all, we are our brothers’ keeper. Our response must be based on compassion, morality, and care for our communities—values rooted in our shared faith traditions. To that end, one essential, immediate step the Governor must take is to extend the moratorium on utility disconnections – currently set to expire on May 30—until this emergency is over.

For the past couple of months, we have shared a common faith that we can work together to support each other as people began getting sick and dying from COVID-19, as businesses closed down, jobs were lost, and families began struggling to weather the economic crisis. And the twin storms of pandemic and unprecedented job loss have hit Black and Latinx communities disproportionately hard.

While 22 percent of North Carolina residents are African American, Black people account for 31 percent of all COVID-19 infections and an alarming 36 percent of all related deaths. Hispanics account for about 10 percent of the state’s population but more than 35 percent of infections. These disproportionate outcomes mirror the unfair poverty levels that people in these demographic groups experience–over twenty percent of all African Americans and about a quarter of all Hispanics live at or below the poverty line compared to only one-tenth of white families. As has been widely reported, long-term structural racial inequality in education, health care, and wealth too often force Black and Latinx residents to take on the low-wage, manual, and often public-facing service jobs that are still deemed “essential” at a time while much of the population is asked to stay at home.

While our Governor is taking steps toward slowly reopening businesses, we all must recognize that it will be many months before hundreds of thousands of households of all racial and ethnic backgrounds will be financially stable enough to afford basic necessities like rent and utilities. One data point that drives this home is that more than 425,000 households could have already lost one or more vital utility services, such as access to clean water, electricity, or gas due to being unable to pay their bills over the last two months. While this data is not reported by race, it is likely that a disproportionate number of households struggling to pay their utilities bills are also within Black and Latinx households. Even before the pandemic, within households at or below the Federal Poverty Level, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration has shown that in our region, African American households more often experience shut-offs of essential electricity service than their white counterparts. Read more

Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center

Twelve good ideas for the General Assembly to move forward on now

This week was the filing deadline for legislative proposals at the General Assembly. While it isn’t the last opportunity for legislators to introduce policy ideas for consideration, it presents an important milestone in the session and a crucial time to review the priorities of policymakers.

The work of the General Assembly will be critical to address the public health threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and its ripple effects through the economy. There remain many gaps in the response from federal and state policymakers and the result is persistently high needs for families and communities across North Carolina.

The following are a dozen legislative proposals that would support the well-being of our neighbors and secure a stronger recovery for our state.

  1. House Bill 1229 (Howard, Wray, Saine) would provide funding for the unemployment insurance system, which has been overwhelmed by a historic number claims and pays out only half of those claims to individuals. It would also extend a temporary waiver on the time limit on food assistance. House Bill 1075 (Alston, Batch, Holley, Hunt) and Senate Bill 792 (Nickel, Chaudhuri) would also make important fixes to the system to protect workers and the economy when federal programs expire at the end of July.
  2. House Bill 1120 and Senate Bill 778 (Murdock, Smith, Foushee) would expand anti-hunger programming on college campuses  and provide funding to UNC institutions for this purpose. With college students excluded from federal food assistance and often facing higher rates of food insecurity, this program makes sense anytime, but particularly when hardship is likely to persist. Senate Bill 849 (Petersen), another important anti-hunger proposal, would remove the ban on food assistance for certain people with drug felonies and would support their successful re-entry from prisons and jails to society.
  3. House Bill 1040 (Batch, Brewer, Clark, Gailliard) and Senate Bill 834 (Robinson, Foushee, Blue) would close the Medicaid coverage gap. It would ensure that people who have lost health insurance during COVID-19, as well as those who were blocked from accessing Medicaid before the virus hit, can receive affordable care. In addition to creating a healthier, stronger community, researchers estimate the state would increase its business activity by $11.7 billion in just three years between 2020-2022 which could be spent on education, infrastructure and other needs.
  4. A series of bills would make important steps in addressing the state’s affordable housing challenge, including the unique pressures on renters and homeowners whose income has been disrupted by COVID-19. House Bill 1134 (Autry, Holley, Harris, Butler) and House Bill 1135 (Autry, Holley, Harrison, Butler) would provide rental and foreclosure assistance, respectively, while House Bill 1200 (Szoka, Saine, Baker, P. Jones) would do the same. House Bill 1208 (Lambeth) would put more dollars towards the state’s Workforce Housing Loan Program, supporting the development of more affordable units across the state. Read more