New poll: North Carolina voters support bail system reform, pretrial justice programs

As a state panel continues to examine reform options for North Carolina’s cash bail system, a new poll shows voters in the state support pretrial programs that eschew bail as a default and reducing arrests for low-level, non-violent offenses.

The poll, released last week by the Pretrial Justice Institute and Charles Koch Institute, consisted of phone interviews with 538 registered voters in North Carolina.

Conducted from May 2 – 17, 2018, the poll’s data were weighted by gender, age, education, party identification, race, and region. The margin of error is +/- 4.2%.

Among the poll’s key findings:

78% of North Carolina voters want to reduce the number of arrests for low-level, nonviolent offenses by issuing citations instead of making arrests.

77% of North Carolina voters favor providing court reminders or supervision for people awaiting trial in the community.

70% would prefer that decisions about detention be informed by an assessment that takes into account the arrested person’s possible impact on public safety rather than the risk of failing to appear in court for trial.

73% of poll respondents want to limit how many days people not charged with serious violent crimes can remain in jail before trial if they cannot afford money bond.

55% of respondents agree that white people enjoy substantially better outcomes from the criminal justice system than people of color.

Over the last year, Policy Watch has written extensively about the state’s current bail system and efforts at reform.

Our reporting has highlighted numerous examples of individual and systemic corruption within the bail systemthe system’s frequently unjust impact on the poor and the concerns of veteran jurists that profit and politics have compromised the original intent of state statutes dealing with bail as well as the presumption of innocence.

Many judgespublic defenders, reform groups and bail agents themselves agree the current system and the for-profit bail industry it feeds are badly flawed.

In a 2016 report, the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice called for pretrial justice reform – reform that would move the state away from a de facto system of requiring all criminal defendants to post cash bail in order be released from jail prior to their day in court.

Cherise Fanno Burdeen, chief executive officer of the Pretrial Justice Institute, said the new poll makes it clear voters support that direction.

“System stakeholders across North Carolina are taking up the work of improving their pretrial practices, and the state’s voters are ready for change to come,” said Burdeen in a statement released with the poll.  “North Carolinians believe their pretrial system uses jail too readily for people who are charged with nonviolent crimes, and they’re ready to move toward a system that protects fairness and ensures public safety.”


United Daughters of the Confederacy requested custody of Silent Sam

The United Daughters of the Confederacy requested custody of the Silent Sam Confederate monument just days after it was toppled by protesters at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, According to an August e-mail.

The e-mail was obtained by activist Heather Redding of Hillsborough Progressive Taking Action. It shows  Peggy W. Johnson, president of the North Carolina division of the UDC, reached out to UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees Chair Haywood Cochrane on August 22.

As Policy Watch has reported, the United Daughters of the Confederacy is the group responsible not just for Silent Sam’s installation in 1913 but for many of the Confederate monuments that sprung up throughout the country as white supremacist campaigns disfranchised Black Voters and brought about legal segregation.

It is not clear whether UNC, its board of Trustees of the UNC Board of Governors would have the authority to return the statue to the group.

A 2015 law , passed to prevent the removal of confederate statues as a public movement to do away with them swelled, states: “A monument, memorial, or work of art owned by the State may not be removed, relocated, or altered in any way without the approval of the North Carolina Historical Commission.”

The law further states, in subsection (b): “An object of remembrance located on public property may not be permanently removed and may only be relocated, whether temporarily

A large crowd rallies at the Silent Sam Confederate monument on UNC’s campus as student Michelle Brown speaks. (Photo by Joe Killian)

or permanently, under the circumstances listed in this subsection and subject to the limitations in this subsection. An object of remembrance that is temporarily relocated shall be returned to its original location within 90 days of completion of the project that required its temporary removal. An object of remembrance that is permanently relocated shall be relocated to a site of similar prominence, honor, visibility, availability, and access that are within the boundaries of the jurisdiction from which it was relocated. An object of remembrance may not be relocated to a museum, cemetery, or mausoleum unless it was originally placed at such a location.”

Critics of the law – including Gov. Roy Cooper, believe that subsection leaves an opening for at least temporary removal or relocation.

The relevant portion reads:

“The circumstances under which an object of remembrance may be relocated are either of the following:

(1)        When appropriate measures are required by the State or a political subdivision of the State to preserve the object.

(2)        When necessary for construction, renovation, or reconfiguration of buildings, open spaces, parking, or transportation projects.

(c)        Exceptions. – This section does not apply to the following:

(1)        Highway markers set up by the Board of Transportation in cooperation with the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources as provided by Chapter 197 of the Public Laws of 1935.

(2)        An object of remembrance owned by a private party that is located on public property and that is the subject of a legal agreement between the private party and the State or a political subdivision of the State governing the removal or relocation of the object.

(3)        An object of remembrance for which a building inspector or similar official has determined poses a threat to public safety because of an unsafe or dangerous condition.  (2015-170, s. 3(c); 2015-241, s. 14.30(c).)”

Cooper referenced that subsection of the law last year, telling UNC officials they have the power to remove the ‘Silent Sam’ statue if “building inspector[s] or similar officials” determine there are “threats to public safety.”

In a recent report, a group of security professionals told UNC they believed returning the statue to a prominent place on campus would constitute a continuing security threat.

Vocal members of the UNC Board of Governors – and the Republican majority in the N.C. General Assembly that appoints board members – continue to say they do not believe the law allows for the removal of the statue from campus. That would make its return to the United Daughters of the Confederacy a difficult prospect.

Redding, whose group recently protested in front of the UDC headquarters in Raleigh, said the option of returning the statue should at least have been discussed in the months of public comment by various UNC boards and administrators.

“The United Daughters of the Confederacy rarely inserts itself into public discourse,” Redding said in a statement. “So it comes as no surprise that they requested its return through an email rather than a public statement. The University of North Carolina should take this request seriously, as it is only proper that a monument to white supremacy be returned to the white supremacist organization whose name is on its plaque.”


UNC TA: Opposition to Silent Sam part of a history of protest, resistance

The faculty and graduate teaching assistants at UNC-Chapel Hill this week released the final grades they were withholding as part of their protest of the proposed return of the Silent Sam Confederate statue to their campus.

But they’re making it clear the battle is far from over.

In a piece for the Student Nation section of The Nation magazine, UNC PhD student Nicole Castro says administrators at UNC-Chapel Hill and the UNC system shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking this year’s toppling of the statue was a flash in the pan. Rather, Castro said, it is the latest chapter in a struggle against the statue and what it represents that has gone on for half a century.

The TAs of UNC are not only participating in a campus-wide history of resistance. We join a national legacy, taking our cues from the indigenous activists and activists of color who have paved the way for our actions. Take, for a contemporary example, the Standing Rock Pipeline movement, known for its nationwide #NODAPL support in 2016. Most national coverage spoke of the participants as protesters, yet this collective identified as water protectors: “That label of protester…could never describe the protectors that are here.” The word protester, up for use here at UNC, speaks to a short-lived disruption. A protector acts from a place of deep commitment: a series of choices that defines a life philosophy. A UNC protector, like our indigenous role models, recognizes racial injustices on campus over the span of months, years, and decades, and won’t be turned away or dismissed just because the proposal has been moved back three months.

This life philosophy is what we are teaching our students through action: Tar Heels are no stranger to protest. From the Food Workers Strike of 1969 to the recent actions of Maya Little, a graduate student, who contextualized Silent Sam using paint mixed with her own blood, UNC has long been at the forefront of nationwide debates on issues of civil and workers’ rights. And it’s in this tradition that we—graduate students at UNC—have chosen to resist Folt’s grotesque proposal through the powers we have at our disposal.

The university has already attempted to spin this fracas as a misguided effort by disgruntled radicals to disrupt undergraduates’ “Carolina experience”—that is, preventing our students from getting their education by withholding their exam grades. On the contrary: As teaching assistants and instructors, we spend hours every day in the rooms with the students—we teach the material. We assign and grade the work. We field questions and talk to students during office hours. And by and large, the undergraduates have expressed their enthusiastic support. Far from an abdication of our duty to teach, our disruption this fall represented a long-standing commitment to our students’ right to learn at a place free of hatred. Only an administrator could mistake an exam for an education.

UNC has awakened a collective of graduate students, instructors, and faculty—groups that, previously, were not united, divided as we were across the departments and schools that split us into silos. But we need your help, too. We can be “divided and conquered” as much as any collective, a strategy UNC will be sure to deploy with further threats aimed at our school’s national standing. If you are a UNC student, now done with finals, keep making noise. Contact Chancellor Folt and Dean Kevin Guskiewicz directly with your demands: that Silent Sam never be allowed back on campus and that there be no negative repercussions for campus members who seek to make it a place safe from white supremacy. Ask your parents to do the same. Send letters of support to your instructors, and make it clear that you stand by their choices, now and in the future.

With the UNC Board of Governors having rejected the plan of UNC-Chapel Hill Carol Folt and the school’s trustees to build a $5.3 million history center that would house Silent Sam, Folt is asking students for feedback on how they would like to see the issue resolved.

As UNC-CH PhD student James Sadler points out in an exhaustive Twitter thread collecting statements from students and student groups, that input is already widely available and resoundingly against the statue’s return to campus.


UNC faculty, TAs release grades withheld over Silent Sam, vow further action in new year

Faculty and graduate teaching assistants at UNC-Chapel Hill have released final grades they were withholding to protest the proposed return of the Silent Sam Confederate monument to their campus.

Last week the UNC Board of Governors rejected a controversial proposal to build a $5.3 million UNC history center which would house the statue, which was toppled by protesters in August.

But the conservative-dominated Board of Governors also appointed a task force of their own members to help craft a new plan, due to the Board March 15. with Board Chairman Harry Smith saying any plan that removes the statue from campus permanently would violate state law designed to prevent that.

In an online statement, those organizing the grade withholding action said the move changes the way they are approaching their protest.

“Although we welcome the Board of Governors’ (BOG) rejection of the BOT’s Report, their decision does not guarantee a satisfactory long-term resolution,” the statement read. “The Confederate monument must never return to campus in any shape or form nor a center to its history be erected. We further express here our right to freely assemble and to practice our freedom of speech on a matter of great public concern.”

The statement went on to lay out their reasoning for releasing the grades and plans for further action in the new year:

The BOG’s rejection of the Report extends the timeline for deliberation over the disposition of the Confederate monument, requiring that a revised proposal be submitted in March 2019. For the StrikeDownSam Anti-RacistCoalition, this new timeline necessitates a new strategy; we recently released all grades for the fall 2018 semester, but will be in a strong position to continue our action in spring 2019 if the BOG, BOT, or members of the University administration decide to place UNC students at risk.

In the coming semester, undergraduate and graduate students will work together with faculty to plan further actions and to continue exerting pressure on the University. We denounce the BOG resolution that aims to“prescribe minimum sanctions including suspension, termination, and expulsion for individuals who engage in unlawful activity that impacts public safety,”including “inciting riots, resisting arrest, participation in a riotous act, and other acts of violence.” It is a naked attempt to intimidate dissenting students who are routinely punished by police for peaceful assembly and protest. We will continue to work collectively until the newly constituted committee develops amore honest and humane plan for our collective future. We are unwavering in our demand for a safe learning environment and resolute in our fight to eradicate white supremacy from our campus and community.

After last week’s rejection of the plan crafted by UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and the school’s board of trustees, the chancellor reiterated that she and the trustees would like to see the statue moved off campus as well.

In perhaps the strongest language Folt has used during the controversy, she described the statue as a relic from another time that would never be accepted on a modern campus were it to be placed there today.

“We are the only university in this state that has anything closely resembling this statue,” Folt said.

“Put here more than one hundred years ago, our community is carrying the burden of an artifact, given to us by a previous generation in a different time,” she said. “The burden of the statue has been and still is disproportionately shouldered by African Americans. No university today would even consider placing such an artifact on their campuses.”


Hearing set for January 11 in 9th Congressional District ballot fraud case

There will be a public evidentiary hearing on irregularities in the 9th Congressional District election on January 11, the State Board of Election and Ethics Enforcement announced late Friday afternoon.

The meeting, to be held at 10 a.m., does not yet have a location but one will be released with further details in the coming days, according to a release by the board.

“State investigators are awaiting additional documents from parties subpoenaed in this matter and finalizing the investigation prior to the hearing,” board spokesman Patrick Gannon said in an e-mail.