Citizens sue to remove Iredell County Confederate Monument

The Confederate Monument outside the historic Iredell County Courthouse.

A coalition of religious leaders, activists and branches of the NAACP filed suit in Iredell County Tuesday, seeking to remove the Confederate monument in front of the historic county courthouse in Statesville.

The Iredell County Commissioners voted to remove the monument in March, but then reconsidered, prompting the lawsuit.

“A glorified symbol of White Supremacy stands guard over the Iredell County Government Center, a place where the government is supposed to serve all of Iredell County’s residents,” said Rev. Curtis Johnson, President of the South Iredell NAACP, in a statement on the suit Tuesday. “That is totally unacceptable, as the Commissioners recognized in their March Resolution. The Monument must go . . . peacefully, but it must go. The time is long overdue.”

Plaintiffs in the suit include  the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, the NAACP’s  Statesville  and South Iredell Branches and the Iredell Clergy for Healing and Justice, an alliance of Iredell County religious leaders. The suit argues that the statue threatens public safety and is in violation of the North Carolina constitution.

Another of the plaintiffs is Rev Reverend Robert Wright Lee IV, a white resident of Statesville who is a direct descendant of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In a Tuesday statement Lee said the monument is a celebration of white supremacy and racism of which he is embarrassed.

“It’s always hard to bring people to Statesville and then have to take them to the restaurants downtown that are right in view of the statue,” Lee said in the statment. “Especially if they are people of color, especially if they’re familiar with the history.”

Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, President of the State Conference of the NAACP said removing these monuments across the state is a necessary part of fighting racism in our communities.

“These monuments are forces of intimidation and magnets for extremists,” Spearman said in a Tuesday statement. “Iredell County’s monument is a powder keg, and it must be removed so that the County can move forward united, prosperous, and peaceful.”

The nationwide movement to remove Confederate statues picked up momentum after the murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin, the former police officer recently convicted for the the crime.  In North Carolina, activists had already been struggling for decades to have them legally removed from courthouses, parks and university campuses.

In 2017, protesters toppled a Confederate monument in front of the old Durham County Courthouse after their efforts to have the statue legally removed were stymied by the GOP-dominated legislature passing a law to protect such statues. A year later, protesters pulled down the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill.

Shortly thereafter, the State Historical Commission decided not to remove the three Confederate monuments on the Capitol grounds. The commissioners said at the time that they felt constrained by a 2015 monuments law to keep the statues in place.

In 2019, the City of Winston Salem succeeded in legally removing a Confederate monument from the site of a former courthouse downtown after years of legal struggles.

In June of last year, protesters tore down two bronze soldier statues from the 75-foot North Carolina Confederate monument at the State Capitol in downtown Raleigh, hanging one by its neck from a street light.

Gov. Roy Cooper ordered the remainder of the monument dismantled and removed for public safety, along with the Henry Lewis Wyatt and North Carolina Women of the Confederacy monuments, the two other Confederate statues on the Capitol grounds.

In November of last year, residents of Gaston County have filed a suit in state court to remove the towering “Confederate Heroes” monument in front of the county court house in Gastonia.

The Iredell County monument, like so many across the South, was financed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and erected in 1906. As Policy Watch has reported, the group helped pay for and erect such statues not in the direct aftermath of the Civil War but decades later in a wave of white supremacist sentiment that included a series of laws targeting and disenfranchising Black citizens.

Like many Confederate monuments, those who erected the Iredell statue were explicit in their racism and wish to preserve the system of slavery. During the dedication ceremony, Judge W.D. Turner said “the cause for which they [the South] fought was not lost.”

“This Monument in the heart of Statesville has continued to cause anguish in the lives of people of color and moral discomfort to many more, regardless of race and creed,” said Rev. Steve Shoemaker in a statement Tuesday for the group Iredell Clergy for Healing and Justice.  “Our faith traditions compel us ‘to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God,’ and ‘to love our neighbor as ourselves.’ Such neighborly love leads us to our support of the relocation of the Confederate monument.”

One of the suit’s plaintiffs, Christopher A. “Skip” McCall, is a Black veteran who recalled returning from his service in the war in Vietnam to be faced with the statue still standing in his hometown.

“I  almost broke down and cried,” McCall said in a statement Tuesday. “I had put my life on the line and had sacrificed to go fight for my country, and then when I come back home that statue is still there representing a concept, thought, and desire to keep my people in slavery.”

Read the full lawsuit here.

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.

New Georgia senator works to remedy decades of USDA discrimination against Black farmers

Gov. Cooper emphasizes bipartisanship in his State of the State speech

Gov. Roy Cooper mixed some of the resiliency themes he introduced in his inaugural address with promotion of his budget priorities and hopes for bipartisan agreement in his State of the State address Monday night.

Cooper, a Democrat, fist-bumped with legislators as he made his way down the center aisle of the House chamber before and after his address to state representatives and senators.

Cooper heaped praise on the generosity and ingenuity of residents and businesses the pandemic as he urged more bipartisan agreement in state government.

“North Carolinians want us to work together like they have had to,” he said.  “Members of the legislature, we know we can find common ground because we have done it before.”

In the Republican response, House Speaker Tim Moore said Republicans and Cooper have many of the same goals, but different ideas for reaching them. The state should “stay the course” with “smart budgeting, regulatory reforms, and tax cuts,” Moore said.

Even as he stressed bipartisanship and talked about passing a budget that both he and Republican legislative leaders could sign, Cooper again emphasized his support for Medicaid expansion, one of the sticking points that has prevented adoption of a comprehensive state budget since 2018.

North Carolina is one of a dozen states that has not adopted Medicaid expansion.  An expansion-like bill sponsored by House Republicans never made it out of that  chamber last session, and leading Senate Republicans have repeatedly rejected the idea.

Cooper said the landscape has changed in the last year – the federal government is offering financial incentives to states that have yet expanded, more people are without health insurance due to pandemic-related job losses, and the state will move to Medicaid managed care in two months.

A bipartisan group of businesspeople, health care providers, legislators and others met last winter to develop principles for insuring more residents.

“Expanding Medicaid does all the things we agreed on in our bipartisan council meetings,” Cooper said. “It gets more people covered. It makes people healthier. It uses tax dollars wisely and reduces health care costs for businesses. It makes health care more fair. It reaches rural areas. Let’s make a deal. Let’s get this done.”

Affordable higher education and greater investments in education will make North Carolinians prepared for the jobs the state is attracting, Cooper said.

Both Cooper and Moore referenced Apple’s decision to build a $1 billion campus in Research Triangle Park and bring 3,000 jobs to the state.

Cooper also pushed for direct aid to businesses hit hardest in the pandemic – restaurants, hotels, and tourism, for his proposed school construction bond, clean energy jobs, and broadband expansion.

“We have a plan and the money to stretch high-speed internet to our state’s farthest corners,” he said.  “And we should use them both to get this done.”

Cooper called on the state to end racial injustice.

Black and Latinx communities have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2020 was a summer of nationwide protests against law enforcement officers killing unarmed Black people.

While  Cooper was speaking Monday, protesters gathered in Elizabeth City over a county deputy shooting Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man, last week. The shooting has drawn national attention.

“We must face head on the stark reality of systemic racism, and how it hurts people and leaves them behind—who gets to see a doctor, who gets hired for a job, who gets charged with a crime, who gets prison time, who gets killed,” Cooper said.

“Over the past year, and just in the past week, we’ve seen the harm suffered by too many people of color in our state and across the country. And I want to say clearly: We must all stand together to stop racial injustice in North Carolina. Everyone should have opportunity and everyone should be able to feel safe in their own homes and communities without fear of authority who should be there to protect them.”

The state has about $5 billion in unreserved cash in its general fund because it has not had a new all-round budget since 2018.

Moore said Cooper would push for increases in state programs, bureaucracy and spending, while Republicans “will use this one-time surplus of funds on capital projects and sectors to invest in our state.”

Moore talked about a law passed this year requiring school districts to offer summer school, a House bill that would give tax breaks to the businesses that received PPP loans, and voter ID.

Legislators are working on bipartisan criminal justice laws that would “end disparities while continuing to respect our law enforcement officers,” he said.

A bipartisan House bill would require a law enforcement officer to intervene when another officer is using excessive force.

A Senate Republican bill would increase penalties on people who “engage in a riot.”

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 WRAL.com:

Radio traffic from Broadcastify.com 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.”