Racist jury strikes go on trial at the NC Supreme Court

The North Carolina Supreme Court building in Raleigh

Russell Tucker was a Black man facing the death penalty in the South in the “tough-on-crime” 1990s. He deserved the chance to be tried by a jury of his peers — people who might have had similar life experiences and been able to see him as something other than a one-dimensional “monster.” However, a Forsyth County prosecutor stole that chance at justice, which is supposed to be guaranteed by law.

The prosecutor came up with reason after reason why Black people could not remain on the jury. They were “monosyllabic.” They “didn’t make eye contact.” They “lacked a stake in the community.” One by one, the court allowed the prosecutor to send all the Black jurors home. Russell Tucker ended up with an all-white jury that did exactly as the prosecution asked: They deemed a young Black man unworthy of life.

Mr. Tucker, who has been on North Carolina’s death row since 1996, is represented by CDPL Senior Attorney Elizabeth Hambourger, along with co-counsel Tom Maher. On Feb. 8, Ms. Hambourger will argue before the North Carolina Supreme Court that racism illegally shaped Mr. Tucker’s jury. Details about how to attend or watch the arguments are here.

The issue before the court is not whether Mr. Tucker committed a terrible crime; he has admitted to killing a security guard outside a Kmart during a desperate and drug-fueled time in his life. Instead, the issue is whether our state will allow brazen racism in death penalty trials.

The racism we’re talking about doesn’t just affect people on trial for their lives, though all-white juries have been shown to convict more easily, even when defendants are innocent, and to sentence more people to death. Jury discrimination also deprives citizens of their Constitutional right to wield power in our democratic system. Read more

Days after Indiana attack, White House vows to fight hate against Asian Americans

Jody Greene’s racist comments cost Columbus County Sheriff’s Office military equipment

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

The Department of Public Safety has suspended the Columbus County Sheriff’s Department from participating in a program that allows law enforcement agencies to acquire surplus military equipment.

The suspension is the latest development for Jody Greene, the Columbus County sheriff who resigned, and then was re-elected, after making racist comments about his Black employees. Greene has obtained $3.8 million in surplus military equipment since he took office in 2018.

Those who participate in the Department of Defense Law Enforcement Support Program must abide by certain terms, Gregory Weavil, state coordinator with the Department of Public Safety’s Law Enforcement Support Services (LESS), wrote in a letter to the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office dated Dec. 16.

“One of those conditions is to comply with anti-discrimination laws and regulations, such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Weavil wrote, suspending the sheriff’s office from requesting or receiving military equipment for at least 60 days, giving time for the local district attorney’s petition to remove Greene as sheriff to play out in court.

“Depending on the outcome of that petition and other ongoing investigations, the LESS Office may require additional corrective actions to be taken prior to reinstatement,” Weavil wrote. “Ultimately, if the LESS Office determines that reinstatement is not appropriate, it may result in the agency’s termination from the program and the transfer or return of all previously-issued equipment at the expense of the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office.”

Serena Sebring, executive director of Blueprint NC, sent a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper, an employee with the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of Public Safety on Nov. 29 requesting an investigation into Greene’s actions for potentially violating the agreements between the county, federal government and the state for the oversight of military surplus equipment.

Sebring mentioned the petition District Attorney Jon David filed in October to remove Greene from office, arguing that his behavior constituted “willful misconduct or maladministration in office” and that he was violating the Constitution by remaining in power.

“Such actions by high-ranking court officials against a sitting Sheriff are unprecedented in North Carolina — especially striking given that all three officials are Republicans,” Sebring wrote. “These serious charges by other public officials in themselves should disqualify his office from oversight of [Defense Logistics Agency, within the Department of Defense] DLA’s substantial grant of materials.”

In addition to calling his employees “Black bastards,” the transcripts of Greene’s phone conversations illustrate that he used military materials acquired through the program to, in Sebring’s words, “intimidate and threaten county officials,” including removing sheriff’s office equipment from a school campus that had been converted to serve as a courtroom during the height of the pandemic.

“…Those air conditioners we have over there with the court, we are going to get them tomorrow,” Greene said. “If the County Commissioners don’t think no more of us and we’re saving them $90,000 we gonna get our stuff back.”

In the phone call Greene called the air conditioning units “mine” and acknowledged that they came from the military. Sebring alleged that Greene used the equipment to “discipline a Commission that bravely turned down his early request for raises in salary and for $87,000 in riot shields at the time of protests against George Floyd’s homicide at the hands of police.”

Laura Howard, general counsel with the Department of Public Safety, sent a letter to Sebring on Dec. 19 acknowledging her request and informing her that the state had suspended the sheriff’s office from participating in the surplus military equipment program.

“NCDPS takes very seriously the allegations against Sheriff Jody Greene,” Howard wrote. “As an agency we do not condone discrimination of any kind, and we are committed to ensuring our partners uphold then highest standards of professionalism and integrity.”

In his letter to the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office, Weavil, who in mid-November said the office had been in compliance with the terms of the program, also said he would conduct a Program Compliance Review on Jan. 23, 2023.

Rev. William Barber to lead new center at Yale Divinity School

Rev. William Barber, former head of the N.C. NAACP, will lead a new center at the Yale Divinity School.

Barber announced the creation of the Center for Public Theology & Public Policy in a Twitter post Monday, saying it will “prepare a new generation of moral leaders to be active participants in creating a just society.”

Barber plans to step down from his leadership of Greenleaf  Christian Church in Goldsboro, which he has led for 30 years, an

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II

d begin teaching classes at Yale’s campus in New Haven, Connecticut, beginning with the new semester in January.

“I’ve been a pastor & moral activist for 35 yrs,” Barber wrote in a thread of posts. “I want to share what I’ve learned & lead research on the deep connection between theology & just policies.”

“Our work will engage people in critical reflection on our society,” Barber wrote. “Not limited to a partisan analysis, but based on the possibility of a moral grounding of public policy in America. The future of our nation, the well-being of its people, is not about left vs. right or Democrat vs. Republican; it is about right vs. wrong. We need leaders who are rooted in our deepest moral values.”

Barber rose to national fame after leading “Moral Monday” protest marches at the N.C. State Legislative Building in Raleigh beginning in 2013, drawing the ire of conservative state leaders and leading a conviction for trespassing after refusing to leave the building during a 2017 protest at the building. He spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, was awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2018 and delivered the sermon at President Joe Biden’s inaugural prayer service last year. He has served on the  NAACP’s National Board of Directors and chaired its Legislative Political Action Committee.

The new center at Yale will focus on teaching, research, social justice advocacy and training young people to do theology-informed social justice work. It will also work with historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) in the South to “build pathways for HBCU students to meaningfully engage in the Center’s work and connect its programs to the history and work of southern freedom movements and institutions.”

Barber’s work with his church, the NAACP and the Poor People’s Campaign – a modern renewal of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last social campaign – makes him uniquely suited to lead the new center, said Yale Divinity School Dean Greg Sterling in a statement Monday.

“Dr. Barber’s work and service is in the tradition of public witness that produced Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, Walter Rauschenbusch and Howard Thurman, Ida B. Wells and Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ella Baker, and Abraham Joshua Heschel,” Sterling said. “Establishment of the Center at YDS is an opportunity to deepen our relationship to a historical movement that revives nearly two centuries of social justice tradition to meet the complex social realities of our time.”

Yale University President Peter Salovey also praised Barber in a Monday statement

“Dr. Barber is a principled leader whose religious convictions and theological insights compel him to serve those who are most vulnerable and to create a more just and equitable world,” Salovey said. “I look forward to working with Dr. Barber, Dean Sterling, and other colleagues at the Divinity School to understand pressing moral challenges and to introduce solutions that will transform society.”

Biden signs law extending marriage protections to same-sex and interracial couples