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Cooper to extend Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice

Gov. Roy Cooper speaks to the Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice on Zoom on Oct. 7, 2022.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Friday morning that he would sign an executive order next month extending the work of the Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice.

The group has spent the past two and a half years trying to make the criminal legal system more just and equitable. They produced a report at the end of 2020 with a long list of recommendations for legislators to craft into law.

A few of the suggestions became a reality. Lawmakers passed bills raising the minimum age of juvenile jurisdiction from age six to 10, prohibiting the use of restraints on pregnant incarcerated women who are in their second and third trimester, and requiring police to intervene when one of their colleagues uses excessive force.

“The bottom line is to reduce crime and keep our communities safe while making sure our system operates fairly and without prejudice,” Cooper told the task force members. “It’s obvious that your work is making significant progress toward those goals. But it’s also very obvious that we are not yet where we need to be.”

Both Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein pointed to racist comments made by Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene in a phone call in 2019 as evidence of the issues still facing North Carolina’s justice system.

“At our core the work has been to further the restoration of trust between law enforcement snd the communities that they serve,” said Stein. “Just recently we’ve seen how devastating it can be when a single sheriff, through his despicable words, shatters people’s confidence that law enforcement will apply the law impartially and without bias. So, the work of TREC remains relevant and urgent.”

Friday’s meeting was set to be the task force’s last.

“Your work has been too important to let this process end, especially when there’s more work to do,” Cooper said, laying out his plans to sign an executive order next month to extend the task force’s work into 2024.

The task force’s next phase of its work will focus on four areas: violence prevention including youth crime reduction and restorative justice; local law enforcement practices and accountability; judicial system policies and practices that result in equitable outcomes; and collection, analysis and dissemination of criminal justice system data.

Before the governor spoke. Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls noted that the task force could look at the Administrative Office of the Court’s decision to charge for criminal justice docket data that used to be free.

Cooper also mentioned President Joe Biden’s decision to pardon thousands who were convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law. The governor credited the task force for being ahead of the curve, recommending in its report that possession of a small amount of cannabis shouldn’t be a crime in North Carolina, a proposal he supports.

“Law enforcement and the criminal justice system are under-resourced right now, and they should be focused on stopping violent crime, drug trafficking and other threats to safe communities,” Cooper said. “We also know that a conviction of simple possession can mar people’s records for life, and maybe even prevent them from getting a job.”

The General Assembly didn’t heed the task force’s recommendations. Cooper said he asked his lawyers to look at state law regarding convictions for simple marijuana possession to assess whether there’s any action —like a pardon — he can take at the executive level.

“In the meantime, while we work to make sure our criminal justice system is fairer, we must be laser focused on stopping the true criminals, those who are committing violent crimes, and particularly gun violence in our communities,” said Cooper.

UPDATED: Biden to pardon all federal offenses for simple marijuana possession, review criminalization

NC Sheriffs’ Association joins NAACP in reacting to Columbus County sheriff’s racist rants

Sheriff Jody Greene – Photo: Columbus County Sheriff’s office

In an instance of unusual allies, both the North Carolina NAACP and the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association issued statements yesterday responding negatively to the racist rants of Columbus County sheriff, Jody Greene.

The statements were in response to to a Wednesday report by Wilmington’s WECT-TV that detailed several disturbing developments in what has been an ongoing saga involving Greene.

The report explains that Greene uttered multiple racist and hate-filled statements in the aftermath of a closely contested 2018 election in which his residency in the county — a requirement under state law — was questioned. Among other things, recorded statements made by Greene indicated that he intended to fire all Black members of his department because of his conclusion that they had been opposed to his candidacy and been supportive of his election opponent Lewis Hatcher, the former sheriff whom Greene had narrowly defeated in the election, and Melvin Campbell, a recently-fired sergeant. Both Hatcher and Campell are Black.

This is from the report:

“Tomorrow’s gonna be a new f**king day. I’m still the motherf**king sheriff, and I’ll go up and fire every godd**n [inaudible]. F**k them Black bastards. They think I’m scared? They’re stupid,” Greene said. “I don’t know what else to do it. So it’s just time to clean them out. There’s a snitch in there somewhere tellin’ what we are doing. And I’m not gonna have it. I’m not going to have it.”

In the recording, Greene can be heard saying he’s going to start firing people who are “guilty by f**king association” with Campbell and Hatcher.

“We’ll cut the snake’s head f**king off. Period. And Melvin Campbell is as big a snake as Lewis Hatcher ever dared to be. Every Black that I know, you need to fire him to start with, he’s a snake,” Greene says before ending the phone call.

In response to the report, the NAACP issued a formal call for Greene’s immediate resignation. Here’s an excerpt:

Sheriff Jody Greene must resign. His language is divisive, nasty, and offensive — his words are disparaging and hurtful to people of color. His actions have cast a cloud over his ability to execute the office with impartiality.

Columbus County, and in particular its Black residents, deserve better. We deserve accountability. To restore dignity and confidence in the office of the Columbus County Sheriff, we demand a thorough investigation of all activities conducted by this office since the beginning of Sheriff Greene’s tenure, by all relevant authorities — including the State Board of Investigation and the federal government.

Meanwhile, late yesterday, the Sheriffs’ Association issued a statement indicating Greene had resigned from the group in response to its stated intention to hold a hearing on possibly expelling from the organization:

Therefore, the Association’s Executive Committee (governing board) voted unanimously to hold a hearing to determine, pursuant to the Association’s Constitution and Bylaws, an “appropriate resolution for the matter,” up to and including expulsion of Sheriff Greene from membership in the Association.

The Executive Committee provided Sheriff Greene due notice of the hearing and the opportunity to be heard, likely to be held tomorrow, Friday, September 30 at a time selected by the Executive Committee.

Upon being notified this afternoon of the Executive Committee’s decision to schedule a hearing, Sheriff Greene resigned his membership in the Association to avoid causing any controversy for the Association

Policy Watch will continue to update this story as events warrant.

U.S. Senate Republicans pan Democrats on crime, say they’ll introduce their own bill

Durham hosting “ShotSpotter” community forums starting this weekend

Screen grab of Shotspotter technology (Video: Shotspotter.com)

This weekend the City of Durham will host the first of at least four community forums on the use of ShotSpotter technology to reduce crime.

ShotSpotter is a controversial tool used by police departments across the country to reduce gun violence. Sensors alert police when guns are fired, helping them respond faster. Microphones will be placed in a three-square-mile radius in Durham for the one-year pilot program. The first three months will be free. The next nine will cost $197,500.

The ShotSpotter website argues the sensors give police valuable data on how to manage their limited resources to deter crime and reduce violence. Critics, meanwhile, contend that the technology is often deployed in communities of color, which already are over-policed, and that program’s effectiveness is unknown and hasn’t been peer-reviewed.

Others have found serious issues with using ShotSpotter evidence in court, suggesting that innocent people can be sent to prison because of faulty technology or human bias overriding the gunshot detection algorithm.

The Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department chose not to renew its ShotSpotters contract in 2016, stating that the results didn’t justify the cost.

ShotSpotter is projected to go live in Durham on Nov. 15, joining other North Carolina cities like Fayetteville, Goldsboro and Winston-Salem that use the technology. Durham officials will hold several community forums on the technology before then, beginning this Saturday, Sept. 10, at 10:30 a.m. at Camps Hills Recreation Center.

Per the city website, the community forums are scheduled for:

DISTRICT 1 PAC– TBD

DISTRICT 2 PAC– September 12, 2022 @ 6:00PM, Edison Johnson Recreation Center, 500 W. Murray, Durham, NC 27704

DISTRICT 3 PAC– October 8, 2022 @ 9:30AM, Lyon Park Community & Recreation Center 1309 Halley Street, Durham, NC 27707

DISTRICT 4 & 5 PAC– September 10, 2022 @ 10:30AM, Campus Hills Recreation Center, 2000 South Alston Avenue, Durham, NC 27701

MCDOUGALD TERRACE COMMUNITY– September 16, 2022 @ 2:00PM, Location TBD

DURHAM BUSINESSES AGAINST CRIME (BAC)– TBD

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