U.S. House votes to decriminalize marijuana in federal law

Biden lays out a ‘fund the police’ budget plan

Poverty, gun accessibility looms large in congressional effort to reimagine public safety in the COVID era

Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry

North Carolina has experienced “a perfect storm of challenges” over the past two years of the pandemic.

Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry told members of a U.S. House Judiciary subcommittee Tuesday that rising poverty and increased access to firearms has led to a devastating rise in violence.

“Increases in poverty are closely linked to increases in crime as stress and desperation make people more likely to see crime as their best or only option,” Deberry testified. “At the same time, Americans purchased guns in record numbers — more than 40 million over that last two years, worsening this nation’s gun epidemic.”

Deberry said that even as newly purchased firearms were used in more crimes, many states eased access to and regulation of guns.

At the same time, the Durham DA told the congressional panel that there has been an erosion of trust and confidence in the criminal legal system, particularly between law enforcement and people of color.

“We have to stop pretending reform is the real threat to public safety and recognize how over-reliance on prosecution and incarceration may make us less safe. We do not need to “choose” between reform and public safety – those two objectives are inherently linked,” Deberry said.

Charles Lehman of the Manhattan Institute

Charles Lehman of the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research challenged the idea of reimagining public safety.

“My case is a simple one: Police are an effective means for controlling crime,” Lehman said. “Any significant reduction in their number or responsibilities would come at substantial loss to public safety.”

“We have never defunded.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told the subcommittee that even with increased funding for police, his city has seen an uptick in violent crime coming out of the pandemic.

“We have increased the police budget in 2020 as well as in 2021 and at the same time we have seen rising crime. We have never defunded,” said Turner. “What we are seeing is a huge criminal case backlog. Because during Hurricane Harvey many of our courts were taken offline, then of course during COVID many of our courts were taken offline, and now we’re seeing a proliferation of guns all over the place.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner

Add all of those elements together, even with increasing the police budget, and crime has gone up, Turner explained.

“So gun reform would be helpful?” Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA.) asked.

“Absolutely,” responded the mayor of the nation’s 4th largest city.

Turner said his city is investing $45 million in American Rescue Plan funding to focus on crisis intervention, crime prevention, re-entry efforts, youth outreach opportunities, and key community partnerships.

Even with 5,100 officers patrolling Houston streets, Turner said the city could use more federal help.

He said in the last legislative session the state of Texas passed legislation (HB 1927) allowing unlicensed, or permit-less carry of a firearm—bypassing all training and safety precautions previously required to carry a concealed weapon. Read more

GOP turns U.S. House hearing on extremism toward minorities into ‘defund the police’ debate

Charlotte PD settles civil rights suit, promises to stop using tear gas on protesters

Law enforcement officers deployed pepper spray to block protesters off the Historic Alamance County Courthouse Square where a Confederate statue stands. Photo: Anthony Crider, licensed under Creative Commons

In a settlement with civil rights groups, the city of Charlotte and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department agreed to abide by directives geared toward a more peaceful response to protests, including a ban on the use of tear gas and the practice of corralling crowds, according to a press release distributed Friday by legal groups representing the plaintiffs.

The police department used chemical weapons, including tear gas on protesters around June 2, then trapped them by blocking their exits, the lawsuit filed in Mecklenburg County Superior Court alleged. The police conduct “violated the protesters’ rights to assemble, to freedom of speech and to due process under the North Carolina Constitution,” the lawsuit claimed.

The plaintiffs included the the NAACP, Charlotte Uprising, Team TruBlue, Southeast Asian Coalition Village (SEAC), the ACLU of North Carolina, and four Charlotte residents.

“We must not forget that people were protesting police violence and the police brutally proved the point of the protesters with their violent actions,” said Chantal Stevens, executive director of the ACLU of NC in a press release Friday. “We will continue to support protesters in their demands for justice and police accountability.”

The plaintiffs described the police response as “a premeditated and violent attack on peaceful demonstrators,” the press release stated.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said the lawful protests escalated into assaults on more than 50 police officers on June 2, 2020, WCNC reported. Officers from the department arrested 16, according to the report.

According to the settlement, the city and CMPD have added crowd control measures to policies and directives following the filing of the lawsuits — including banning the use of tear gas and from kettling, a military-style tactic of forming lines around protests to prevent them from leaving. The directives also require officers to give clear dispersal orders in both English and Spanish, with clear instructions on dispersal routes and time frame in their commands.

In addition, the city agreed to amend operating procedures to mandate pre-planning and pre-approval for the use of chemicals intended for riot control.

The settlement binds law enforcement officers to the newly developed rules and standards for four years.

ACLU of North Carolina, the Charlotte Chapter of the NAACP, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and several civil rights attorneys in Mecklenburg County represented the plaintiffs.