Rumors of white supremacist rally spurs concerns, preparations at UNC

UNC students will rally this afternoon to oppose a rumored white nationalist demonstration on campus.

The rally, at 2 p.m. outside the South Building administration offices, comes in reaction to an email received by a faculty member who who says he was confronted and threatened by alt-right activists outside his office last week.

According to an email sent by Dwayne Dixon, a teaching assistant professor in the Asian Studies department, a pair of men chased him down an academic building hallway last week, trying to provoke him into violence while videotaping him.

“They were video recording me with a phone the whole time and were clearly trying to provoke a reaction they could use to smear me as a ‘violent antifa,’” Dixon wrote.

Dixon wrote that one of the men was Noel Fritsch, a conservative campaign consultant.

Fritsch, a self-described “unsolicited accountability partner to elected officials” and “political lackey”  tweeted that he was assaulted by Dixon on Feb. 7.

Dixon reported the incident to the UNC Police, who have been investigating since. Read more


Charges dropped against Durham protesters in Confederate statue incident

Durham District Attorney Roger Echols dropped the remaining charges against protesters accused of helping to topple a Confederate statue last summer.

The move came a day after District Court Judge Frederick S. Battaglia Jr. threw out charges against two other suspects and a third was found not guilty.

Echols, who previously signaled he would take into account the political atmosphere and circumstances when bringing charges, said he believed misdemeanor charges were appropriate.

Durham District Attorney Roger Echols

“Acts of vandalism, regardless of noble intent, are still violations of law,” Echols said in a statement Tuesday.

But the evidence for the remaining five suspects was much the same as that against those whose charges were dismissed on Monday, Echols said.

“For my office to continue to take these cases to trial based on the same evidence would be a misuse of state resources,” Echols said.

Whitley Carpenter helped represent the defendants as part of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s Criminal Justice litigation team. She applauded Echols’ decision Tuesday.

“The statue that was torn down was a symbol of white supremacy that has no place in front of the public buildings that represent our community,” Carpenter said in a statement.  “We applaud the District Attorney for finally dropping the charges in this case.  It’s time for us to recognize that these symbols of hate create division within our communities.  We need to make monuments to the ill-conceived project of white supremacy a thing of the past.”


NC Harm Reduction Coalition gets $1 million grant to battle opioid epidemic

The work of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition was given a boost this week when the group received a $1 million grant Tuesday from health care provider Aetna.

From the Spectrum News story on the grant:


Healthcare provider, Aetna, presented a $1 million grant to the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, a group dedicated to battling the opioid epidemic in the state. The money will go towards staffing their Rural Opioid Prevention Program, which provides education and anti-overdose drug naloxone in Cumberland, Johnston, Vance, Brunswick, and Haywood counties.

“With the rise of fentanyl, especially in the eastern part of the state, every second counts,” said NC Harm Reduction Coalition director Robert Childs. “We’re trying to load these communities up with access to naloxone so they can reverse the drug overdose sight unseen, and that way less people have to die.”

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein was in attendance for the grant presentation. He says it’s important that rural counties aren’t overlooked in the opioid epidemic.

“Rural counties tend to be disproportionately affected by this crisis,” said Stein. “There are more pills in circulation in a lot of rural counties. The rate of death is greater in rural counties. I think developing strategies that target rural counties and support the groups that are trying to help save lives is really important.”

Regular Policy Watch readers may remember our interview with Robert Childs,  executive director of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition.

Last month the group reversed its 10,000th overdose through Naloxone distribution.


Food assistance, the military and North Carolina

If you’ve been following the presidential proposal to cut funding and make massive changes to food assistance eligibility, you need to read this piece from on how it’s likely to impact military families.

From the piece:

President Donald Trump’s proposals to cut eligibility for food stamps would hit hard on thousands of military families who receive the benefit, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

“It’s a very unfortunate situation,” Army Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Ierardi, the Pentagon’s Joint Staff Director for force structure, readiness and assessment, said of the difficulties of troops who have to resort to food stamps.

Ierardi did not immediately have an estimate on how many troops were on food stamps but said he had personally dealt with the problem of families struggling to meet their dietary needs in a previous post as a division commander. He said the military would seek to mitigate the impact on families if the proposed cuts to the food stamp program were approved by Congress.

Amy Bushatz of last year cited a report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office which said that the Department of Defense lacked the data or coordination with other federal agencies to keep an accurate track on how many troops were receiving food stamps.

The report found that about 23,000 active duty service members received food stamps in 2013, according to U.S. Census data. In addition, information from the Department of Defense Education Activity showed that in September 2015, 24 percent of 23,000 children in U.S. DoDEA schools were eligible for free meals, while 21 percent were eligible for reduced-price meals.

“While it is known that service members use food assistance programs and that information on recipients can be obtained, specific data on service members’ use of these programs are not available because there is no requirement or need that has been established for agencies” to collect the information, the GAO report said.

In a White House briefing Monday on the budget, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney indicated that the Trump administration was ready to press a crackdown on eligibility for food stamps and other benefits as part of sweeping cuts on federal anti-poverty programs.

North Carolina is one of the states with the largest active duty military populations in the nation. The Army’s Fort Bragg in Fayetteville the largest military base in terms of population, with more than 140,000 people including soldiers and civilians. Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville one of the largest Marine Corps bases.

NC Faces of Change

NC Faces of Change: Michelle Brown

Michelle Brown (Photo by Joe Killian)

Editor’s note: This is the first in Policy Watch’s new series of profiles of the up and coming progressive activists in North Carolina.

The movement to remove Silent Sam, the only Confederate monument on a UNC campus, is decades old. But in the last year it has gained new urgency and momentum, bolstered by young activists who have used social media and old-school coalition building to rally students, staff and faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill and the surrounding community.

Brown’s activism extends well beyond the movement around Silent Sam.

One of the most prominent voices in the movement in Michelle Brown, a senior at Chapel Hill majoring in Hispanic Literature and Culture and Women’s and Gender Studies.

Brown became aware of the Silent Sam statue during her freshman year, when there were student rallies against it. But over the course of her four years on campus, she said she’s seen the movement to remove the statue become better organized, tighter knit and more effective in planning its demonstrations for maximum impact.

“This year I could really tell it was different – the first day of school, the protest was so large and the community was so supportive and tightly knit,” Brown said. “I went early in the morning and then went again in the afternoon and it was still going and strong.”

Brown, 21, is now finishing up her senior year and looking toward graduate school, where she hopes to study public administration. But she’s also committed to her activism and community building, which extends well beyond the movement around Silent Sam.

This month marks her fourth year helping to organize the annual Catalyst Conference, which brings 100 select high school students to UNC for a weekend-long discussion of social justice issues.

“We spend the weekend talking about social justice issues, all day and all night,” Brown said. “This year our issue is privilege. We talk to them about the issues, they get to know people and how they can become real social justice agents in their communities.”

The event is so popular that it got more than 500 applications this year, Brown said – a good sign for the future of progressive activism in the state.

There was no real tradition of activism in her own family, Brown said. She and her identical twin sister were raised by a number of different family members from her mother’s side of the family in Maryland, Virginia and Ohio. They moved around a lot, but the issue of racial and economic identity was a constant. Read more