Crazy impeachment talk from the NC right wing needs to stop

John Locke Foundation staffer and former state GOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse

Memo to the North Carolina political right: Your crazy talk of impeaching elected North Carolina leaders because you disagree with their policy decisions and/or judicial decisions needs to stop.

Besides making yourselves look utterly foolish, you’re ratcheting up our already overheated political atmosphere to new and dangerous levels — something that’s particularly unsafe when so many of your supporters possess only a passing knowledge of how a democracy is supposed to work and at a time in which the nation only recently survived an deadly attempted coup d’etat.

Just a couple of weeks ago for example, the John Locke Foundation — a group that aspires to be taken seriously as the voice of the state’s responsible conservative movement — featured an essay by a deeply confused Stanly County conservative activist in which he described Gov. Roy Cooper as a “dictator” (the essay is provocatively entitled “How long will we allow a dictator to rule?”) and called for his impeachment because of the comparatively restrained and broadly popular actions he’s taken to combat the pandemic.

The author of this essay — which, like so many, right-wing screeds of the modern era is peppered with talk of “tyranny” and the people being “sovereign” — is the same fellow who wrote on the same website in October that masks for children to prevent the spread of COVID-19 constitutes “child abuse.” Here’s the loonie tunes conclusion:

“I realize some will consider this the nuclear option and one that should be avoided at all costs. But how much more of our freedom must we lose? Must more lives be ruined? How many more children must be abused before we draw the line? Failure to resist tyranny is an open invitation for more. We the people are sovereign, and we will live under this dictator for only as long as we are willing.”

The post followed on the heels of (and cited approvingly) another post by Locke staffer and former state Republican party executive director Dallas Woodhouse advocating for/threatening the impeachment of state judges — Democratic Supreme Court justices over the recusal controversy surrounding Justices Phil Berger, Jr. and Tamara Barringer, and Judge David Lee, the presiding jurist in the Leandro school funding case.

Woodhouse even went so far as to discuss the practical benefits to the conservative agenda that such a tactic would provide, writing:

“If the legislature chooses to play its hand, it could sideline these judges before they do any more harm to North Carolina’s constitutional norms and let the voters judge the actions of the legislature in these matters in November 2022.”

Woodhouse repeated his cockamamie idea again this week on Twitter and implied that House Speaker Tim Moore was seriously considering this idea.

The bottom line: Each of the proposed impeachment moves described by these individuals would constitute blatant abuses of the North Carolina constitution and, even more worrisomely, take our state into some very dangerous waters. It’s a scandal that a supposedly serious organization like the Locke Foundation provides a platform for such rubbish.

Mockery of justice: Jury deciding fate of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers highlights a nation’s failure to prevent racist jury strikes

In this May 2020 photo, crowds gathered on the lawn of the Glynn County Courthouse as a grand jury considered murder indictments in the Ahmaud Arbery murder case. Photo: Georgia Recorder.

The law promises a “race-neutral” process for choosing juries. Yet, last week, the nation watched as a jury of eleven whites and just one Black person was seated to hear the case of the three white men accused of hunting down and killing Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was jogging through a residential neighborhood.

This skewed jury came from a pool that was one quarter Black. But, one by one, almost every person of color was struck. How does this happen?

This week’s excellent story in The Intercept, about North Carolina’s ongoing scourge of racism in jury selection, provides an answer. Black citizens who report for jury duty, particularly in high profile cases, are subjected to a barrage of questions, as prosecutors hunt for any seemingly “race-neutral” reason to strike them.

They once had a negative encounter with police? Strike. They’ve had a family member in prison? Strike. They believe the criminal punishment system is racially discriminatory? Strike.

A rational person might think that having first-hand experience with the ways that racism infects courts and policing would make someone a fairer, more careful juror. These kinds of perspectives could bring needed balance to juries. But the law considers these legitimate, “race-neutral” reasons to exclude people. And (surprise!) almost all the people excluded for their negative law enforcement experiences are Black.

But not every Black juror offers such a simple reason. So prosecutors (and occasionally, as in the Arbery case, defense attorneys) dig deeper for “race-neutral” reasons to strike Black jurors. The reasons often defy logic or carry echoes of racist stereotypes.

The juror rented rather than owned a home, and therefore had a lesser stake in the community. The juror wasn’t registered to vote. The juror wasn’t well dressed. The juror was too young and attractive. The juror attended a historically Black college. The juror was “monosyllabic” when answering yes or no questions. The juror didn’t make eye contact with the prosecutor or had an “air of defiance.”

North Carolina courts have accepted these reasons for strikes of Black jurors as “race neutral,” including in death penalty cases. In one capital case, a prosecutor admitted that he struck two jurors because they were “both Black females.” (It’s also illegal to strike a juror because of gender.) However, the North Carolina courts allowed the strikes because the prosecutor offered a second reason that was not explicitly racist.

The enforcement of the Supreme Court’s decision in Batson v. Kentucky, barring race discrimination in jury selection has become a charade. This is especially true in North Carolina where prosecutors have shared tips on how to strike Black jurors and get away with it. North Carolina is also the only state in the South where the courts have never once overturned a conviction because of discrimination against a juror of color.

The N.C. Supreme Court is currently considering a handful of cases that could finally change this deplorable record, including the case where the two Black women were struck. These cases provide some small measure of hope, but for the most part, they are too little, too late. In each case, the court is considering whether a jury strike is racist years or decades after it happened. Even if the court finds in their favor, the defendants will have spent huge swaths of their lives in prison, and people of color will have been denied their right to participate as citizens in a democracy.

This large-scale failure to ensure diverse juries is one of the major reasons why North Carolina passed the Racial Justice Act. The legislature repealed the law in 2013, but we are still fighting for the right of every person on death row to have their case freshly examined for racism.

Jury discrimination of all kinds must stop, but it’s especially pernicious in cases where a jury decides life and death. No defendant, Black or white, should be put to death by a jury where the voices of people of color were excluded.  To achieve true justice, juries need the perspectives of all citizens.

Kristin Collins is the Associate Director of Public Information at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. This post appeared originally on the website of the North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

CVS sometimes forces people to use its pharmacies. Now the Supreme Court will weigh in

Photo by Marty Schladen, Ohio Capital Journal.

[Editor’s note: In September, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed Senate Bill 257 into law — a measure that will increase state regulation of “pharmacy benefit managers” in hopes of better protecting consumers. As the following story by reporter Marty Schladen of the Ohio Capital-Journal makes clear, however, many PBM practices remain controversial and will soon come before the U.S. Supreme Court.]  

It’s a practice long complained of in multiple states.

CVS Health and other massive corporations often use their pharmacy middleman subsidiaries to force people to get the most expensive class of drugs from the businesses’ own mail-order pharmacies. Some call the practice “patient steering.”

CVS and companies such as UnitedHealth and ExpressScripts/Cigna say the arrangements save patients money. But some patients, oncologists and other health providers say it threatens lives.

Now the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to weigh in. In a little more than a month, it will hear arguments in a California case in which AIDS patients are claiming the practice discriminates against them.

Known as “pharmacy benefit managers” or PBMs, the middlemen work with insurance companies or government programs like Medicare and Medicaid to facilitate prescription-drug transactions. They negotiate rebates with drugmakers, decide what drugs are covered and they determine how much to reimburse pharmacies that dispense drugs as part of their health plans.

But the function that’s in dispute in the California case is how PBMs structure their pharmacy networks.

Each of the big three PBMs is affiliated with a major insurer and each is part of a corporation that is among the 13 largest in the United States. And the combined PBMs are estimated to control well over 70% of the pharmacy-middleman marketplace.

They’re also frequently in direct competition with the retail pharmacies whose reimbursements they control. CVS owns the nation’s largest retail chain and each of the big three owns a mail-order pharmacy for “specialty drugs” — the most expensive class of medicines, which can cost upward of $100,000 a year.

Increasingly, the big-three PBMs have been saying they won’t cover super-expensive specialty drugs if patients get them at their oncology centers or their AIDS clinics. It’s increasingly the case that the only way PBMs will cover them is if patients get them through the mail from a PBM-owned pharmacy.

Critics say the point is to pad profits, but the PBMs maintain that they do this to help their customers. Read more

Feds: Kansas-based sect with NC ties physically, mentally exploited children to operate business empire

Photo: Getty Images

TOPEKA, KAN. — Five men and three women indicted for allegedly coercing minors to work without compensation were inspired by a leader who claimed to have attained god-like status after traveling with angels through the galaxy and who twisted the Islamic faith to support a business empire in Kansas and other states.

Federal prosecutors said in a statement Wednesday indictments secured through a grand jury asserted kids as young as eight years old were forced by adult members of the United Nation of Islam to work in gas stations, bakeries and restaurants while also performing household chores. Some minors worked 16 hours a day without pay, with leaders of the sect defending the practice by telling children they owed a duty to Allah.

The children weren’t provided a meaningful education, federal prosecutors said, despite promises to parents their kids would receive fulsome schooling and develop life skills by enrolling in the University of Arts and Logistics of Civilization and working at businesses located in Kansas City, Kansas.

“UNOI did not inform the parents that their children would work extended hours, sometimes in lieu of attending school, or be sent to other UNOI businesses around the country to work extended hours and receive no legitimate education,” federal court records said.

Click here to read the indictment in a PDF document.

Organizers of the group allegedly blocked victims from reading newspapers or books of their choosing and were physically and mentally abused the children. Victims lived off a diet confined largely to bean soup and salads or went for days by consuming only lemon juice, officials said. The victims couldn’t travel freely and rarely received legitimate medical treatment, prosecutors said.

Victims were required to live in cramped barrack housing, were relocated without notice from one state to another and rarely had an opportunity to speak with their parents outside the presence of cult leaders.

Meanwhile, prosecutors said, the defendants and their immediate families lived in spacious housing, ate whatever food they wanted and worked at their own discretion.

The people orchestrating use of child labor in businesses from 2000 to 2012 were led by Daniel Aubrey Jenkins. The sect was founded by the late Royall Jenkins, a trucker who claimed he was Allah. Royall Jenkins asserted that he learned how to rule the world by traveling through the galaxy with angels who had abducted him. Royall Jenkins wasn’t indicted and apparently died of COVID-19 complications in September.

Youth under control of the organization had to endure “Fruit of Islam Beatdowns” by adult leaders, the indictment said, and victims were indoctrinated with the idea they would burn in an eternal bonfire if they ran away.

Females under direction of the organization had to maintain specific weights or face humiliation and scorn, prosecutors said. In addition, court records say, some children were forced to undergo colon cleansings that involved streaming gallons of water through a tube inserted into the rectum.

The defendants directed the victims to shower in a certain way and required some victims to undergo colonics performed by adult members,” the indictment said.

Dustin Slinkard, acting U.S. attorney for Kansas, and Ryan Huschka, assistant U.S. attorney for Kansas, secured indictments from a federal grand jury in Kansas against the eight defendants.

They are: Daniel Aubrey Jenkins, 40, Lawrenceville, Georgia; Kaaba Majeed, 47, Jonesboro, Georgia; Randolph Rodney Hadley, 46, Fairburn, Georgia; Yunus Rassoul, 36, Cape Coral, Florida; James Staton, 59, Fayetteville, North Carolina; Jacelyn Greenwell, 42, Severn, Maryland; Etenia Kinard, 46, Waldorf, Maryland; and Dana Peach, 57, Clinton, Maryland.

They allegedly operated businesses in Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, as well as New York City; Temple Hills and Baltimore, Maryland; Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio; Atlanta, Georgia; New Jersey, New Haven and Hamden, Connecticut; Durham, North Carolina; and Mobile, Alabama. The indictment also indicates the group maintained a “temple” in Raleigh.

Majeed served as a national lieutenant in United Nation of Islam, while Rassoul took on the role of national minister. Hadley was a captain. Aubrey was responsible for male membership. Kinard and Greenwell oversaw youth membership.

If convicted, the defendants could be sentenced for a maximum of 20 years in prison for forced labor and up to five years behind bars for conspiracy to commit forced labor. Both offenses carry a top fine of $250,000.

Tim Carpenter is a reporter for the Kansas Reflector, which first published this story.

Policy Watch seeks new Courts, Law and Democracy reporter as Yanqi Xu departs for the Midwest

In her short time in Raleigh, NC Policy Watch Courts, Law and Democracy Reporter Yanqi Xu did a great job of quickly mastering a complex and challenging beat and providing in-depth coverage of scores of important stories not reported anywhere else.

Now however, in a sad development for us but an exciting one for her, Yanqi will be heading soon to Omaha, Nebraska to take on a new position with another nonprofit newsroom, The Flatwater Free Press. We will miss Yanqi and wish her the best in the new gig.

If you or someone you know thinks they might up to filling Yanqi’s shoes, we are looking to hire her replacement as quickly as possible. Please help us to spread the word.

Click here to view the announcement posted by our parent organization, the North Carolina Justice Center.