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Though polluters and their apologists on the Right love to bash the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a bastion of leftists running roughshod over innocent businesses, the truth is quite frequently the opposite. Indeed, the agency is often guilty of bending over backwards to dismiss the complaints of pollution victims. This is particularly true for poor people of color who, as has been demonstrated time and again, are typically the first to suffer when pollution invades places of human habitation.

A 2015 report from the Center for Public Integrity (“Environmental racism persists, and the EPA is one reason why: The EPA office tasked with policing alleged civil rights abuses is chronically unresponsive to complaints and has never made a formal finding of discrimination”) made the following remarkable findings:

  • Ninety-five percent of the time, communities of color living in the shadows of polluters find their claims of civil-rights violations denied by the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • In its 22-year history of processing environmental discrimination complaints, the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights has reviewed nearly 300 complaints filed by minority communities. It has never once made a formal finding of a civil-rights violation.
  • While touting the importance of tackling environmental racism, the EPA has closed only 12 cases alleging such discrimination with official action on behalf of minority communities. EPA officials have negotiated settlements in nine cases; the rest were resolved among the complainants and targeted agencies.
  • At least 17 communities are still waiting in limbo — more than half for over a decade — as the EPA reviews their civil rights claims. The delays have left residents, many forced to endure unsafe pollution levels, without recourse.
  • The EPA’s civil rights office takes, on average, 350 days to decide whether to investigate a case. In nine cases, the agency took so long — an average of 367 days — that investigators had to dismiss the allegations as “moot.”

In the aftermath of the report and numerous complaints about the EPA’s performance in this vital area, the agency has proposed some new rules to revise its procedures that it claims are designed to make things better. Unfortunately, advocates representing victims are not so sure.

This Friday, the topic will be aired in public as the EPA Office of Civil Rights holds a public hearing in Research Triangle Park — one of five sites around the nation to do so. Advocates for victims of pollution and environmental racism are calling on citizens and advocates to attend the event and speak out. This is from news release issued by the UNC Center for Civil Rights earlier today: Read More

Commentary

For those who missed last week’s Crucial Conversation luncheon, “The problem of race-based policing: Can we finally overcome it?”, be sure to check out the video below. In it, you’ll hear the latest (mostly damning) data on the subject from Prof. Frank Baumgartner of UNC Chapel Hill, some hopeful news from the city of Fayetteville where police chief Harold Medlock has made enormous progress in transforming the culture of that city’s police department and a higher-altitude overview of the subject, including where things stand and where we’re headed, from Chatham and Orange County Public Defender, James Williams. It’s definitely worth a little of your time if you couldn’t be there in person.

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Commentary

In case you missed it, the recent featured article in the New York Times on discriminatory, race-based policing in North Carolina and, in particular, the city of Greensboro, has spurred a positive response. As the Times reported Wednesday:

“The police chief in Greensboro, N.C., has ordered his officers to stop pulling over motorists for minor infractions involving vehicle flaws like broken taillights, an action he called a first step toward eliminating ‘alarming’ racial disparities in traffic stops.

Chief Wayne Scott’s directive, issued Tuesday, followed an article last month in The New York Times that documented wide racial disparities in traffic-law enforcement in Greensboro, imbalances that were mirrored across North Carolina and appeared in some traffic stop data collected by half a dozen other states.

‘As your police chief, I am deeply disturbed by these issues,’ Chief Scott said at a Tuesday night City Council meeting largely devoted to discussion of the investigation by The Times. He said stopping vehicles for minor equipment infractions had a needlessly negative impact on minority drivers.

The chief also promised to better supervise young officers, a response to data showing that four times as many blacks as whites were charged with the sole offense of resisting, obstructing or delaying an officer after traffic stops and other police encounters. That, too, is alarming,’ he said.

Though encouraging, this is far from the end of the story on the matter. To get a more complete grasp on where things stand in our state with respect to this hugely important problem, please join us next Tuesday for a special Crucial Conversation luncheon, “The problem of race-based policing: can we finally overcome it?”  The event will feature three of North Carolina’s leading experts on the subject.

Frank Baumgartner is the Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professor Political Science at UNC Chapel Hill. Prof. Baumgartner has conducted extensive research and written at length about the issue of race with particular focus on the death penalty and on traffic stops.

James Williams has served as the Public Defender for Orange and Chatham Counties since 1990. He has helped lead multiple efforts in and out of government to address the issue of racial bias in the justice system.

Harold Medlock is the Chief of Police in Fayetteville. Since assuming office in 2013, he has effected a transformation in how his department conducts business in an effort to end discriminatory targeting of people of color.

Here are the event details:

Click here to register

When: Tuesday, November 17, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Space is limited – pre-registration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

Commentary

NC Policy Watch presents a very special Crucial Conversation luncheon

Featuring Professor Frank Baumgartner of UNC Chapel Hill, Orange and Chatham County Public Defender James Williams and Fayetteville Police Chief Harold Medlock

Click here to register

Black lives matterA recent front page article in the New York Times once again shined a bright light on a troublesome and longstanding problem in North Carolina – discriminatory policing that targets people of color for unfair treatment.

According “The Disproportionate Risks of Driving While Black: An examination of traffic stops and arrests in Greensboro, N.C., uncovered wide racial differences in measure after measure of police conduct,” people of color are disproportionately stopped and searched by police “even though they found drugs and weapons significantly more often when the driver was white.”

Since the release of the Times article, responses have been mixed. Many, including major newspapers and civil rights advocates, have called for new reforms and policy changes. Others, including some political leaders, however, have rejected the article’s findings and denied that change is necessary.

Please join us as we explore this vital issue with three of North Carolina’s leading experts on the subject.

Frank Baumgartner is the Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professor Political Science at UNC Chapel Hill. Prof. Baumgartner has conducted extensive research and written at length about the issue of race with particular focus on the death penalty and on traffic stops.

James Williams has served as the Public Defender for Orange and Chatham Counties since 1990. He has helped lead multiple efforts in and out of government to address the issue of racial bias in the justice system.

Harold Medlock is the Chief of Police in Fayetteville. Since assuming office in 2013, he has effected a transformation in how his department conducts business in an effort to end discriminatory targeting of people of color.

Click here to register

When: Tuesday, November 17, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Space is limited – pre-registration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

Commentary

This morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer is absolutely right in decrying the outrageous violence in the latest viral video of police abuse from a classroom in South Carolina. Here’s the excellent conclusion:

“[Officer] Fields’ actions are about much more than getting tough with a defiant student. They are about a mentality that needs to be rooted out of law enforcement.

On the day after the classroom incident, a prosecutor announced that an another police officer in South Carolina will not face criminal charges for fatally shooting a 19-year-old who was fleeing from a drug deal sting operation.

Seneca police Lt. Mark Tiller said he shot Zachary Hammond because Hammond tried to run him over. But a newly released dashcam video shows Hammond’s car passing the officer as he opened fire.

The case has received less attention because both the officer and suspect were white, but it still demonstrates a persistent culture of excessive force and official tolerance.

The student who took the classroom video, Tony Robinson, summed up the lesson he learned that is instructive for police as well. He said a police officer is ‘supposed to be somebody who is going to protect us, not somebody we’re going to be scared of.’”

As horrific as the flood of viral videos that have been flooding our computer screens are, let’s hope that they are finally opening the nation’s eyes to the disturbing reality of police misconduct that’s been ignored for too long. (Note: The ACLU now has an app (The “Mobil Justice” app) that people can download to their phones. It  makes it easy to record police behavior and send it on to a safe and secure place. Click here for more info.)