Advocates for the formerly incarcerated tout reform agenda to state lawmakers

The North Carolina Second Chance Alliance, a criminal justice reform group, held a virtual day of advocacy on Tuesday, with attendees proposing a ten point policy agenda aimed at improving conditions for recently-incarcerated people.

Organizers screened a video with testimonies from members describing their experiences with reentry post-incarceration. Speakers discussed difficulty finding employment, being denied housing and the looming worry of court fines and fees.

“Just because you have an experience that might be a bad decision you may have made, you shouldn’t be punished for the rest of your life for that,” Alexander Williams, an organizer with the Second Chance Alliance said. “You deserve opportunities, you deserve equal access,  the quality of life that everybody else does.”

The group’s 2021 advocacy agenda includes a variety of policy initiatives, from increasing eligibility for criminal record expungements to reinstating voting rights for those with felony convictions.

Last year, the organization successfully championed the Second Chance Act, a reform bill automating the expungement of certain dismissed or “not guilty” criminal charges. The bill made it through the General Assembly with unanimous support and was signed by Governor Roy Cooper last June.

“Once a person has been entangled in that system and feels like they still have that target on their back, like they cannot move freely through life — that’s a burden,” Diana Powell, an organizer with Second Chance Alliance said. “And so I believe that a person that has an opportunity to have their record expunged… I feel like they have a new lease on life.”

Organizers of Tuesday’s event say the state still has a long way to go on reform — with laws like the North Carolina Drug Tax and the ban on SNAP (Food Stamp) benefits for people with felony convictions still on the books.

Sangria Noble, coordinator for Second Chance Alliance, described her own struggle finding work as a peer support specialist post-incarceration. Despite her degree and experience, Noble found herself routinely turned down for jobs.

“Once you get to my record,” she said. “I’m out the door.”

The Second Chance Alliance’s policy recommendations on employment include delaying or eliminating questions about criminal background until a job offer is given.

The event also highlighted the disproportionate impact that the criminal justice system has on Black and Brown Americans. Keith Rivers, the president of the Pasquotank County NAACP spoke about the recent police shooting of Andrew Brown Jr., an unarmed Black man, in Elizabeth City.

“We are demanding justice through transparency, trust [and] accountability,” Rivers said. “Because we know when those three things are done, then justice will be served for Andrew Brown Jr. and his family.”

Another part of the Second Chance Alliance’s policy agenda would require the release of police body camera footage upon request, within 48 hours of the recording. They also advocate for the use of citizen’s review boards to investigate allegations of police misconduct.

The event ended with a musical performance from some of the groups members after speakers shared their final thoughts on reforming the justice system.

“People should be granted second chances,” Williams said. “Because you’re not the sum of your mistakes.”

Kyle Ingram is a student at UNC-Chapel Hill and a summer intern at NC Policy Watch.

Gene Nichol provides a helpful refresher course on NC’s restrictive body cam law

A lot of North Carolinians have been wondering lately (with much justification) what the deal is with police body camera recordings. If the recordings are made by public employees and paid for with public tax dollars, why in the heck can’t the public see what the videos show? It’s ours, after all. And don’t virtually all other states readily release such footage?

As Prof. Gene Nichol of the UNC School of Law (pictured at left) explains this morning in an op-ed for Raleigh’s News & Observer, the simple and disturbing answer is that our state legislators recently acted to make the videos hard to get. Here’s Nichol:

Tar Heels and the rest of the country have learned, of late, that it’s complicated to get police body-cam footage released here. National news outlets have echoed that, under North Carolina law, a judge’s approval must be secured before such video can be seen and distributed.

But this is not a legal marker fixed from the days of yore. In 2016, after Black Lives Matter protests had for years roiled the nation, often triggered by stunning video records of brutality, our General Assembly chose to impose new and singular hurdles on body-cam disclosure. The statute is recent work, and it had a good deal of now embarrassed Democratic support.

And, of course, as Nichol also explains, the legislature’s decision was not made in isolation; it’s part of a long and blatant pattern of what he rightfully characterizes as “anti-racial equality moves.”

This list includes, Nichol notes, the decisions of Republican legislators to: repeal the Racial Justice Act, enact a law to protect Confederate monuments and racially gerrymander legislative maps with what a federal court described as “surgical precision.”

One could easily add more items to Nichol’s list in such varied areas as healthcare, environmental protection and state tax policy, but you get the idea.

The bottom line: the defenders of restrictive body cam law claim it is necessary in order to keep the politics out of such matters, but as Nichol notes ruefully in conclusion:

Still, I’m inclined to think a larger politics might have been in play. If a massive Black Lives Matter movement sweeps the country, often triggered by brutal photography, make it hard as you can to get the pictures. There will be no racial reckoning here. This is North Carolina.

Click here to read the entire op-ed.

County judge refuses to release body camera footage of Andrew Brown Jr. killing

A judge in Pasquotank County has denied a petition from several media outlets to release to the public the body camera footage related to the shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. Brown was shot dead by Pasquotank County sheriff deputies when they were serving a warrant on April 21.

Superior Court Judge Jeff Foster said that the videos are of public interest, but contended that they contain sensitive information and risk jeopardizing the safety and reputation of individuals involved in the video. He also cited ongoing investigation and court proceedings for his decision, saying, “The release at this time will create a serious threat to the fair and impartial and orderly administration of justice.”

However, the court did rule that the five videos must be disclosed to Brown’s immediate family and one lawyer within 10 days. The Pasquotank sheriff’s office will be able to redact and blur any identifying information including facial features and name tags under the judge’s order.

The judge said he will consider the time frame of the video to be disclosed. “There were certain portions in the video that were conversations between officers, between superiors,” Foster said. “I’m going to evaluate those videos to determine which portions were appropriate to … disclose.”

In terms of public viewing, the judge ruled the video must be held from release for at least 30 days from now but no more than 45 days, pending completion of investigation. Currently, the office of local District Attorney Andrew Womble and the state Bureau of Investigation are investigating, as well as the FBI.

“I want to confirm that Special Agents of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) are continuing to conduct a comprehensive, objective, and thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the death of Andrew Brown, Jr,” Robert L. Schurmeier, the director of North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation wrote in a news release earlier in the morning.

Schurmeier, however, said the bureau deferred to local courts concerning the release of any video.

The judge said that the state should notify the court when the investigation is complete. By then, the court will consider then whether to order the release of the video.

Brown’s death has led to multiple protests. Brown’s family members were shown a 20-second clip of the video on Monday. The mayor of Elizabeth City Bettie Parker declared a state of emergency the same day. Parker imposed an 8:00 pm curfew on Tuesday, and at least six protesters were arrested for violating the curfew later Tuesday night, Raleigh’s News & Observer reported.

WAVY News reported that Brown’s family watched the video between 10 and 20 times, saying that Brown was driving away with his hands on the wheel when deputies approached him opened fire. The family called the shooting an “execution.”

The Pasquotank sheriff’s office has not responded to a public records request by Policy Watch seeking names of the deputies involved in the shooting and any change of position after the shooting.

The full oral ruling can be viewed here and the hearing here.

NC Democrats want a law making it easier to get police body camera footage released to the public

Sen. Mujtaba A. Mohammed

Democratic legislators pressed for passage of a bill requiring footage from police body cameras to be released 48 hours after it is recorded, unless a judge orders a delay.

In a news conference, sponsors of Senate bill 510 and its companion,  House bill 698,   said the proposal would improve transparency.

A 2016 law requires a judge to allow the public release of police body camera or dash camera footage. The 2016 bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, but Democrats who spoke Tuesday said the law enforcement shooting last week in Elizabeth City showed its inadequacies.

“Accountability requires transparency and the law as currently written delays that transparency,” said Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed, a Mecklenburg County Democrat.

Instead of requiring a court petition to get footage released, the bills would require release 48 hours after footage was recorded if someone requests it. If a law enforcement agency doesn’t want to release the recording, it would have to go to a judge and say why the video should not be disclosed for a certain period of time.

The obstacles to public release of footage are highlighted by the Pasquotank deputy shooting of Andrew Brown Jr.

Brown was shot as deputies were attempting to serve a warrant.

State and local officials, including Gov. Roy Cooper, Attorney General Josh Stein, the Elizabeth City Council, and civil rights groups have called

for the video recordings to be released.

Protesters in Elizabeth City have called for release of the footage.

The 2016 law allows family members to view footage without a court order. Brown family members and one of their lawyers said yesterday they were shown a 20-second clip from one camera on Monday. More than one deputy was at the scene.

“To think that it’s okay to show a grieving family 20 seconds of heavily-redacted body cam footage after their loved one has been killed by government officials is just plain wrong,” said Rep. Amos Quick III, a Guilford County Democrat.

The law has resulted in “a grieving family and a state with more questions than answers as this family prepares to bury the remains of a loved one and a promise of transparency remains unfulfilled,” he said.

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat, said the changes would establish certainty about releasing body cam footage, build trust between law enforcement agencies and the public, and protect law enforcement officers from unfounded accusations.

Chantal Stevens, ACLU North Carolina executive director, said the burden should be on law enforcement to show why footage shouldn’t be public. She said bill should go further to disallow the rationale that video is part of an ongoing investigation as a reason for not releasing it.

The NC Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice that Gov. Roy Cooper created last year recommended that footage be released after 45 days.

Senate bill 510 was assigned to the Rules Committee, a holding tank for many bills that don’t have a chance at passage.

Rep. James Gailliard, a Rocky Mount Democrat, said that as legislators have begun to file bills based on the task force recommendations “they have pretty much been placed in the trash can.”

“In order to fix this problem, no one party has all the answers,” he said.

Andrew Brown was just one the many people of color shot by U.S. police in the past two months

Multiple news agencies are reporting today that radio traffic from Wednesday’s Elizabeth City police shooting of Andrew Brown, Jr. indicates Brown was killed after being shot in the back. This is from

Radio traffic from indicates that Andrew Brown Jr. was shot in the back Wednesday as deputies tried to serve him drug-related search and arrest warrants.

Brown, a 42-year-old Black man from Elizabeth City, had several children and died in the shooting.

In the recorded radio traffic, officers can be heard saying, “We have shots fired. 421 Perry Street. EMS and Fire en route … Law enforcement on scene advising shots fired and need EMS. We’ve got one male 42 years of age … gun shot to the back … we do have a viable pulse at this time.”

Tragically, of course, Brown is just the latest in a long line of adults and children of color that have been fatally shot by U.S. law enforcement officers.

On Wednesday, the ACLU of North Carolina released the following statement that listed 28 of those people :

According to multiple news reports, Andrew Brown was shot and killed by police in Elizabeth City, N.C., as he drove away. The police killing occurred less than 24 hours after Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd.

Yesterday, sixteen-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio. Ms. Bryant was a Black child.

Anthony J. Thompson Jr., 17, was shot and killed by police at his school in Knoxville, Tenn., on April 12, 2021. Mr. Thompson was a Black child.

Daunte Wright, 20, was shot and killed by police in Brooklyn Center, Minn., on April 11, 2021. Mr. Wright was a Black man.

James Alexander, 24, was shot and killed by police during a traffic stop in Logan, Pa., on April 7, 2021. Mr. Alexander was a Black man.

Larry Jenkins, 52, was shot and killed by police in Winter Haven, Fla., on April 17, 2021. Mr. Jenkins was a Black man.

Donovon Lynch, 25, of Virginia Beach, Va., was shot and killed by police on March 26, 2021. Mr. Lynch was a Black man.

Ivan Cuevas, 27, was shot and killed by police in Visalia, Calif., on March 31, 2021. Mr. Cuevas was a Hispanic man.

Michael Leon Hughes, 32, was shot and killed by police in Jacksonville, Fla, on March 30, 2021. Mr. Hughes was a Black man.

Adam Toledo, 13, was shot and killed by police in Chicago, Ill., on March 29, 2021. Adam Toledo was a Hispanic child.

Matthew Blaylock, 38, was shot and killed by police in Los Angeles, Calif., on March 29, 2021. Mr. Blaylock was a Black man.

Krys Ruiz, 26, was shot and killed by police in Lompoc, Calif., on March 28, 2021. Mr. Ruiz was a Hispanic man.

Eduardo Parra, 24, was shot and killed by police in Sylvania Township, Ohio, on March 21, 2021. Mr. Parra was a Hispanic man.

Daryl Jordan, 50, was shot and killed by police in Miami, Fla., on March 18, 2021. Mr. Jordan was a Black man.

David Suarez, 44, was shot and killed by police during a traffic stop in Devils Lake, N.D., on March 17, 2021. Mr. Suarez was a Native American man.

Angel Degollado, 21, was shot and killed by police in Laredo, Texas, on March 14, 2021. Mr. Degollado was a Hispanic man.

David Ordaz, 34, was shot and killed by police in Los Angeles, Calif., on March 14, 2021. Mr. Ordaz was a Hispanic man.

Ryan White Mountain-Soft, 30, was shot and killed by police in McLaughlin, S.D., on March 14, 2021. Mr. Mountain-Soft was a Native American man.

Christopher Ruffin, 28, was shot and killed by police in Palm Bay, Fla., on March 14, 2021. Mr. Ruffin was a Black man.

Nika Holbert, 31, was shot and killed by police in Memphis, Tenn., on March 12, 2021. Ms. Holbert was a Black woman.

Tyrell Wilson, 32, was shot and killed by police in Danville, Calif., on March 11, 2021. Mr. Wilson was a Black man.

Tyshon Jones, 29, was shot and killed by police in Rochester, N.Y., on March 10, 2021. Mr. Jones was a Black man.

Howayne Gayle, 35, was shot and killed by police in Lakeland, Fla., on March 7, 2021. Mr. Gayle was a Black man.

Andrew Teague, 43, was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio, on March 5, 2021. Mr. Teague was a Black man.

Dwight Brown, 41, was shot and killed by police in Abbeville, La., on March 3, 2021. Mr. Brown was a Black man.

Rudy Duvivier, 32, was shot and killed by police in Clay County, Fla., on February 27, 2021. Mr. Duvivier was a Black man.

Juan Hernandez, 33, was shot and killed by police in New Wilmington, Pa., on February 25. Mr. Hernandez was a Hispanic man.

Donald Hairston, 44, was shot and killed by police in Culpepper, Va., on February 25, 2021. Mr. Hairston was a Black man.

The Washington Post reports that at least 984 people have been shot and killed by police in the United States in the past year, averaging 2.7 people per day. Many of the people killed by police are white. However, The Washington Post’s data analysis notes that Black Americans account for “less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of white Americans.”