News

New Elon poll shows views on $5 billion Amazon project

Last week the Elon University Poll took a look at enthusiasm and support for a second Amazon headquarters in the 19 locations in 16 U.S. metros competing for the $5 billion project.

The project, which could employ as many as 50,000, has the potential for a huge economic impact. It’s also become a bit of a political football.

The competition for a new headquarters has thrown light on the fact that the tech company is a top employer of food assistance recipients.

It’s also reignited debates about state LGBTQ protections as the company has said it is limiting its criteria to states that have such laws.

The Elon poll found “strong support” for the project from 43 percent of the North Carolinians surveyed — well behind sites like Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Atlanta, where “strong support” was at over 50 percent.

From the Elon release on the results:

“The balance between cheerleaders and opponents is key to how a major change is received within a community. While a majority in all of the HQ2 finalist regions support Amazon moving to town, some areas had more cheerleaders and fewer opponents,” says Jason Husser, director of the Elon Poll and assistant professor of political science. “Our results suggest Amazon should expect Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Indianapolis to be particularly rich with advocates. Conversely, executives should have at least some reason for pause about the potential for opposition groups emerging in Austin and Denver.”

The survey also explored public appetite for large-scale incentives packages and the perceived impact from such a large-scale project as the Amazon headquarters on the local community in terms of real estate costs, cost of living and wages. It asked whether residents want what promises to be an expansive Amazon campus in the suburbs or downtown.

Read the full results of the poll with info on methodology here.

News

Bail agent charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill

Regular Policy Watch readers will be familiar with our recent series on the for-profit bail bond industry, its dangers and flaws.

A recent shooting by a bail agent – now facing multiple charges – now joins a long list of arrests, convictions and predatory behavior that has come

From the Winston-Salem Journal story:

Thermon Desmond Sellers, 31, of Elderbank Drive in Charlotte, was charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, discharging a firearm into an occupied moving vehicle and violating a city ordinance by discharging a firearm within city limits, the Winston-Salem Police Department said in a news release.

Capt. Steve Tollie of the Winston-Salem Police Department said Sellers turned himself in at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office on Friday. He was released on a $250,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in Forsyth District Court on Thursday. He made a first appearance in Forsyth District Court on Monday, where a judge formally read out the charges against him and informed him of his right to an attorney.

The shots were fired about 7:15 p.m. March 17 outside Hanes Mall. Sellers was one of two bail bondsmen who were attempting to take into custody Nathaniel Artillery Taylor, who had several outstanding warrants. Winston-Salem police have not named the other bondsman. Tollie said that bondsman does not face any criminal charges.

As we’ve written previously, licensed bail agents do enjoy some police-like powers in North Carolina. They can use reasonable force to apprehend a person for whom they have provided bail, even if they have not yet forfeited their bond. They can use force to “overcome resistance of a third party who impedes their efforts to apprehend a person on bond.”

A U.S. Supreme Court case from 1866 even allows them to break and enter a home to recover a suspect without a warrant. But bail agents aren’t granted any special powers with regard to carrying or using guns. Bail agents who choose to do so must be licensed in the same manner as any typical civilian. They can, and often are, charged with discharging their weapons in public, even when they do so in commission of their duties.

North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, whose department regulates the industry, issued a statement about the Winston-Salem case.

“I will not condone, nor will I tolerate any actions by bail agents that put the public in danger, particularly in such as public place as a large shopping mall parking lot,” Causey said in the statement.

News

Bail agent pleads guilty to “forced labor” in exchange for bail bonds

Regular Policy Watch readers will remember the case of Phillip Armachain, a Cherokee-based bail bondsman charged with abusing his position to coerce sex from women he bailed out of jail, including a young woman under the age of 18.

Phillip Armachain, a Cherokee bail agent, is accused of using his position to coerce sex from women he bailed out of jail.

It is also alleged Armachain, a citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the only bond agent servicing the native population of Cherokee, loaned money at a 100 percent interest rate to people too poor to make payments in bail deals he offered them.

Late last month Armachain pleaded guilty to one count of forced labor – a felony charge for which he could face a maximum sentence of 20 years and a $250,000 fine.

The Smoky Mountain News reports that the mother of Armachain’s alleged underage victim has also been charged in the case.

From their story:

A fourth victim, the complaint said, was a girl between the ages of 12 and 16 whose mother borrowed money from Armachain. According to the complaint, Armachain would give her the money only if she sent her daughter in alone to get it. During those visits, according to an investigator’s testimony in a court transcript, Armachain would digitally penetrate the girl and touch her breasts under the shirt.

The girl’s mother was later charged in the case as well, with a second superseding bill of indictment issued in December 2017 charging Armachain and the mother with three counts of sexual abuse of a child 12 to 16 years old, a crime that includes either committing the sexual acts or aiding and abetting another in commission of those acts. In addition, Armachain faced two charges of forced labor for “obtaining the labor and services of (the victims) by means of the abuse and threatened abuse of law and legal process.”

However, the cases were later separated, with the mother in January pleading guilty to misprision of felony, a crime that occurs when a person has knowledge of a felony being committed but does not alert authorities as soon as possible. The crime comes with a maximum prison sentence of three years.

News

Window closing for public comment on Confederate statues

The N.C. Historical Commission’s Confederate Monument Study Committee will take comments from the public for one more week.

In a telephone meeting Thursday afternoon, the committee voted to end public comment at midnight on April 12.

At issue are three Confederate monuments on the capitol grounds and a request from Gov. Roy Cooper that they be removed.

The statues are:

  • The 75-foot Capitol Confederate Monument, erected in 1895, which commemorates North Carolina’s “Confederate dead.”
  • The Henry Lawson Wyatt Monument, erected in 1912, which commemorates the first Confederate soldier killed in the Civil War combat at the Battle of Bethel on June 10, 1861.
  • The Monument to North Carolina Women of the Confederacy, erected in 1914.

A law passed by the N.C. General Assembly in 2015   makes it more difficult to remove such statues or “objects of remembrance.”

That law was passed in response to a growing movement to move or remove Confederate monuments. The law makes such requests the business of the Historical Commission, which appointed a committee to study the issue.

Last month the committee heard comments at a public meeting attended by about 60 people – most of whom spoke in favor of keeping the monuments where they are.

The commission has heard much more from the public online, where it has so far received 4,682 public comments through an online portal created to get feedback.

Another part of the committee’s charge: getting input from historical experts and legal advice from the law schools at Duke University, Elon University, N.C. Central, UNC-Chapel Hill, Wake Forest University, Campbell University and from the UNC School of government.  The committee heard on Thursday that of those, so far, only the UNC School of Government has responded to the committee’s request to weigh in.

The full commission will meet next month and is expected to hear a report from the Confederate monument task force.

Defending Democracy, NC Faces of Change, News

N.C. Faces of Change: Sayer Kirk

Sayer Kirk, 18, founded the Queer Fish Center to support LGBTQ youth in conservative Alamance County.

When Sayer Kirk founded the Queer Fish Center in January, she knew there was a need for a supportive environment for LGBTQ youth. But she wasn’t sure how much support there would be in conservative Alamance County.

“I’m from Burlington – and Burlington itself is fine in terms of queer acceptance,” said Kirk, 18, in an interview last week. “But if you branch out into Snow Camp or Graham it won’t necessarily be the same.”

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election and the aftermath of the HB2 fight, Kirk said, she could feel a shift toward people no longer hiding their homophobic and transphobic views.

“It just felt like people were actively saying, ‘We don’t want you here. There isn’t a place for you,’” Kirk said. “I wanted there to be a place and for people to know there was a place.”

Kirk envisioned a place – maybe a small house – where young LGBTQ people could come together to support each other, plan activism, have access to a library of queer literature and wardrobe of donated clothing for transgender people who are transitioning. But the first step, she realized, was creating an actual 501(c)(3) charity – and that would take some money. She set up a GoFundMe page with a modest goal of $750.

To date, the project page has raised more than $1,600.

“That felt good,” Kirk said. “We realized there was support out there.”

With funds raised to apply for status as a tax-exempt charity, any funding over the $750 ask is going  toward books featuring queer characters, clothes for transgender clothes swaps, a group banner for pride events and eventually the permanent physical location Kirk originally imagined.

There isn’t a strong history of activism in her family, Kirk said. But she was inspired to begin helping others because she felt lucky to have a supportive family when she came out as a lesbian. She knew that wasn’t everyone’s story.

“I had a very easy coming-out, in comparison to some people,” said Kirk. “But I had friends who did not. One of my best friends didn’t have a good experience and didn’t have anywhere to go if he were to have gotten kicked out of his house, which was a possibility at one point.”

Her mother, Amanda Kirk, offered to take in that friend if he needed – a generosity and active engagement that inspired her.

Having gotten a taste of activism with the Queer Fish center, Kirk has stayed engaged in the political fights now inspiring young people – particularly in the wake of the mass shooting in  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Kirk helped organize a walk-out at Walter M. Williams High School, where she is a junior, to honor the lives of the 17 people killed at Parkland and raise awareness about gun violence.

She faced some opposition from school administration, she said – who confiscated signs that had previously been approved for use in the protest. But faculty like Robin Farber, a Latin teacher Kirk said has been like a second mother to her, have encouraged student passion for change.

Kirk said the greatest current threat she sees to Democracy is the dismissal of youth voices by those in power.

“We’re being directly affected by what’s going on in America right now, and we haven’t really had a voice,” Kirk said. “But I’m 18 and I’ll be voting in the next election. A lot of us will. If they’re politicians aren’t listening to what we have to say, we’re going to do what we can to get rid of them.”

The greatest hope for Democracy, Kirk said, is that an entire generation seems to be waking up from its apathy and conviction that they can’t change the world. From LGBTQ rights to gun violence, she said, young people are leading the way and their views will determine the nation’s direction.

“I have hope that people are getting involved, that we’re getting out of this mindset that mine is just one vote and it doesn’t matter. We’re the ones being killed in schools. We’re the ones who these policies are affecting so we’re speaking up and realizing we have to be the ones whose votes push these things over the edge.”