Jose Charles case in Greensboro latest NC police/community flash point

If you haven’t been following the case of Jose Charles in Greensboro, it’s time to start paying attention.

The story of the altercation between a 16-year-old Charles and police goes back to last year’s July 4th celebrations in downtown Greensboro.

From a story in Greensboro’s News & Record:

Charles was 15 when he was arrested and charged with malicious assault on an officer, disorderly conduct, simple affray and resisting arrest, according to Figueroa. The teen also is accused of spitting blood on an officer’s face.

Figueroa and several community organizations said Charles was attacked by a group of kids, then grabbed by an officer near Friendly Avenue. He spit blood because he was coughing and couldn’t breathe, witnesses said.

This week, after months of tensions over access to the police video of the incident, protesters disrupted a Greensboro City Council meeting and staged a protest in the street outside where 8 were arrested for impeding the flow of traffic.

From Triad City Beat’s coverage of the protest:

The tone was set early in the meeting when, in the midst of a discussion about a downtown parking deck, protesters scattered throughout the capacity crowd raised pink signs reading “Justice for Jose,” “City council take action” and “We believe the PCRB.”

The protest came on the heels of city council watching restricted police body camera video showing the July 4, 2016 incident involving the police and the then-15-year-old on Monday night, with discussion in closed session bleeding into the next day. Council members have made no comment about the video, citing a superior court judge’s order prohibiting them from discussing it.

Also precipitating the protest was the resignation of three members of the police complaint review board. Lindy Garnette, the first to resign, was pressured by the city attorney and chair of the human relations chair after she spoke publicly about the board’s disagreement with the police department’s decision to clear itself of wrongdoing in a complaint filed on his behalf by Jose Charles’ mother, Tamara Figueroa.

The Charles case is just the latest in a series of incidents that have heightened tension between police and the communities they serve. Last year’s fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte led to large scale protests and rioting.

The case is also the latest in which access to police video – and whether public officials can comment on it – has been central to the controversy.

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Vaccine opponents scatter the herd

Is there anything more predictable than the hue and cry from committed anti-COVID vaxxers that, pandemic or no, they have the right to make their own immunization decisions and it’s none of the government’s business?

(More predictable, that is, than my admittedly shallow wish every Oscar night Frances McDormand would, just once, put a little color on.)

Yes, yes, anti-COVID vaxxers; we hear you. Your body, your choice. Talk about your strange bedfellows…Calm down. No one is going to hold you down and try to dab just a little Papaya Pop by Clinique on your naked lips. Sorry, that was about Frances again. No, what I meant to say was, if you insist on not getting vaccinated, you don’t get to say you’re “waiting for herd immunity to kick in” because, uhhhhhh, without you that will never happen. I mean, frankly, at this point, we’re not all that crazy about y’all coming along but we have no choice. Just sit in the back seat and try not to talk.

Objections to getting jabbed include deep concerns about “just what exactly is in that vaccine.”

This has led to some pretty funny memes about how these “my body is a temple” folk question the vaccine while happily noshing on fast food “chicken” and washing it down with “red” soda containing approximately 4,786 “ingredients.”

If you really want to see the hair-on-fire anti-vaccine crowd get worked up, start talking about “digital health passes” which used to be called “vaccine passports” but that seemed too elitist and apparently called to mind priority gold boarding and liberals in first class with their support parakeets and whatnot. The objection seems to be you can’t have the guvmint having access to your health information. (Note: It already has all that stuff, ya big silly.)

I don’t mind the notion of a digital health pass if it means I no longer have to keep up with my flimsy paper vaccine record. It already has ketchup stains from an unfortunate proximity to a delectable platter of tots. First world problems, amiright?

I’m always amused at how vaccine critics carp about erry little thing with the rollout when you consider how much has been accomplished by the scientists in just one year. It’s almost unfathomable, like Frances McDormand’s prison matron gown. Honestly, what was she THINKING?

This is like whining to God about the degree of lushness in the Garden of Eden: “Frankly, big guy, you could’ve added more mandevilla because pops of color are super important. (Are you listening, Frances??) and all these waterfalls? Too noisy. Honestly, I hate to denigrate your handiwork, but it just seems like you could’ve done more in a WEEK.”

And like the “I don’t know what’s in it” argument, the objection to having privacy compromised by digital health passes seems a tad ironic considering all the bloviating is happening via the super private, absolutely tamper-proof environment of… social media. What could go wrong?

But back, for a sec, to the notion of herd immunity. The thinking here seems to be when those of us who are vaccinated wake up in a few months with a baby arm jutting from our foreheads, the unvaccinated will be juuuuust fine. Also mildly amused because, well, baby arm.

Like I said, without y’all, it’s going to be impossible to get to herd levels. You’re like the bandits hiding behind the rocks in an old Western. You try to steal the cattle, but you shoot your guns, spook them til they scatter and everybody loses.

Now we learn some anti-vaccine folks are buying fake vaccination cards online. Look, it’s one thing to refuse the vaccine because you fear for your health, safety, privacy…whatever. But PRETENDING you’re vaccinated so you can travel, etc.? Man, that’s some serious bottom-feeding right there.

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].

NC’s governor lifts most statewide pandemic restrictions

Governor Roy Cooper

After months of reminding the public to mask-up and keep their distance, Governor Roy Cooper announced Friday that North Carolina would be lifting its gathering limits, social distancing requirements, and indoor mask mandate in most circumstances.

The news comes one day after the Centers for Disease Control announced Thursday a shift in federal guidelines, allowing fully-vaccinated Americans to shed their masks both indoors and outdoors.

“This is a big step forward in living our lives the way they were before the pandemic,” Gov. Cooper said.

There will continue to be an indoor mask requirement on public transportation, in childcare settings, schools, camps and in certain public health settings.

Just over 51% of the state is now partially vaccinated  and 45.5% are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Click below to listen to the governor explain why they are making this change now:

The governor acknowledged that there are those who are unvaccinated who may use this as an excuse to stop taking safety precautions.

“Get vaccinated now. And if you won’t listen to me, ask your doctor. Do what your doctor tells you,” the governor urged.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said her department remains committed to its expansion strategy — making the vaccines readily available statewide.

State officials had hoped to lift the restrictions when 66% of North Carolinians had been partially vaccinated.

And while that milestone is still a long ways off, Cohen believes the state can reach its goal with the help of the business community.

HHS Sec, Mandy Cohen

“Some are offering incentives to their own employees to get vaccinated – time off, some are offering bonus pay,” said Dr. Cohen. “We’ve already heard about free donuts, free beer. I really appreciate businesses stepping forward and helping us raise awareness and incentivize folks getting a vaccine.”

Even with today’s shift, NCDHHS is recommending businesses post signage reminding guests to socially distance and wear a face covering if they are not fully vaccinated, and remind employees to self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.

It’s worth noting that businesses may choose to continue to require that their customers wear masks.

Masks will still be strongly recommended by the state for everyone at large crowded indoor gatherings such as sporting events and live performances.

And for the time being masks will be mandatory in schools.

“Just starting yesterday (Thursday) our 12-15 years are now eligible. They are starting to get vaccinated, but we know it is going to take some time. That still leaves a large population of our student body unvaccinated.”

Cohen said the state will follow the CDC’s guidance while working to get as many shots in arms as possible.

“This is a virus that has been with us for over a year now. It is going to continue to be with us,” she cautioned.

Click here to read Gov. Cooper’s Executive Order 215 lifting many of the COVID mandates.

State Board of Elections votes to reappoint executive director Karen Brinson Bell to new two-year term

The North Carolina State Board of Elections reappointed executive director Karen Brinson Bell for another two-year term, on a party-line 3–2 vote at a meeting Friday. She has served as the head of the state agency tasked with administering elections and campaign finance compliance since June 1, 2019.

North Carolina experienced historic levels of voter turnout during Brinson Bell’s tenure. More than 5.5 million voted out of 7.3 million registered in the 2020 election, marking a 75% turnout rate. This made North Carolina one of the leading states in voter turnout, according to the United States Elections Project. More than 1.3 million individuals in the state requested absentee ballots and the number of ballots cast by mail exceeded one million, another state record, data from the board show.

Karen Brinson Bell

“It is not lost on me what a privilege and responsibility it is to ensure all North Carolinians are able to exercise their right to vote,” Brinson Bell said in a statement. “I will continue to work with State Board staff and the 100 county boards of elections to conduct secure, accessible, and fair elections for all eligible voters.”

However, Brinson Bell came under attack by Republican legislators at a Senate committee hearing in March over the board’s settlement of a lawsuit brought by voting rights groups. One of the main changes that resulted from the settlement was an extension of the absentee mail-in deadline from three days past Election Day to nine. The board also sought to modify rules last year to eliminate the witness requirement on absentee ballots as a means of preventing the spread of COVID-19, but ultimately reversed the change after a federal judge upheld the requirement.

At the time, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a statement the board “colluded with the ‘opposing’ side of a lawsuit funded by national Democrats and agreed to a consent order that violates North Carolina election laws.”

As Policy Watch reported previously, state House and Senate Republicans have filed two bills this session that would require House and Senate leaders to sign off on settlements negotiated by the Attorney General. The Senate voted 28-21 along party lines to approve SB 360. The bill was sponsored by the three co-chairs of the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee, including Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke and Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, who questioned and pressured Brinson Bell at the committee’s meeting. The House version HB 606 was passed 60-48 in a partisan split vote earlier this month and referred to Senate Rules.

Brinson Bell served as director for the Transylvania County Board of Elections from 2011 to 2015. Prior to that, she was a district elections technician for the board, according to a press release from the board.

Brinson Bell was appointed to the directorship in 2019 in a similar partisan 3-2 vote not long after the board went through a series of restructurings as a result of litigation between Gov. Roy Cooper and the legislature. The five members of the board are appointed by the Governor.

Brinson Bell’s new term will end May 15, 2023.

NC needs to invest in child care assistance if we want to get people back to work

The COVID-19 pandemic has put child care access and affordability front and center. Working parents and early childhood educators have always known how important child care is, but now the need to shore up and transform our early childhood education system is front page news. On Mother’s Day weekend, an op-ed in Raleigh’s News & Observer argued persuasively that if our state really wants to recognize and support North Carolina moms, we need to expand access to child care subsidies.

A look at the data shows just how far North Carolina has to go in order to support eligible families with young children. The average annual cost of care for an infant attending a child care center in the state is $9,650, over $600 more than the current in-state tuition at the University of North Carolina. That’s more than one-third of the state median income for a single mother.

The state’s child care subsidy program uses state and federal funds to cover most of these costs for eligible families, and is a lifeline for working parents who are lucky enough to receive it. But low levels of investment in the subsidy program mean the vast majority of eligible families don’t get access. Generally, children under six are eligible for assistance if their parents are working and their family’s annual income is under 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($53,000 for a family of four). An estimated 226,000 of North Carolina’s children under six are eligible, but the most recent data show only about 38,000 — or 17 percent — received assistance in February 2021. (Another 22,000 school-age children, who are subject to different eligibility rules, also received assistance.)

As the map below shows, the number of eligible children under 6 served varies widely by county. It ranges from just 2% of about 100 eligible children in Hyde County to 37% in Washington County.

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