Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


FOR THE SAKE OF OUR CITIES, PASS THE RESCUE ACT: We understand the need for fiscal responsibility. State law requires balanced budgets. Despite our best efforts, the fiscal challenges the pandemic has caused for local governments are unprecedented. The American Rescue Plan will give our cities the resources we need to fund our essential services — such as keeping our police and firefighters on the job. It’ll fund a vaccination program of the scope we need to end this pandemic. It’ll provide economic relief to North Carolinians facing economic desperation — through $1,400 checks, extended unemployment insurance benefits, rental and utility assistance, affordable child care, and emergency food and nutrition assistance — the kind of help we know can make a difference. We need more tools to rescue North Carolina’s small businesses from further pain through flexible grants and low-cost capital.

NC LAWMAKERS DILUTE TRANSPARENCY WITH A MANEUVER THAT SHOWS WHY WE NEED IT: For more than a decade, N.C. lawmakers have tried to pass legislation that would allow local governments to move legal and public notices out of newspapers. Those notices often contain vital information — a zoning change in your neighborhood, an important public meeting — and they are required to appear in newspapers because more people will see them there. That’s part of the reason such bills have failed in North Carolina, with a notable exception: In 2017, lawmakers changed public notice requirements in Guilford County in a local bill that Gov. Roy Cooper couldn’t veto. Now Republicans want to do the same for dozens more counties using a sneaky legislative maneuver. By splitting the counties, each bill is considered a local bill — affecting fewer than 15 counties — and therefore not subject to the governor’s veto under North Carolina law. But if you’re accomplishing the same larger purpose in two separate measures, they’re not really local bills. Legislators know it, and they should stop trying to skirt the law.

NO MORE EXCUSES. EXPAND MEDICAID IN NC NOW: In the last 11 months, the General Assembly has gladly accepted billions in federal COVID-19 federal relief dollars to spend in North Carolina. Yet, these same legislators refuse to accept a penny in federal money to expand Medicaid. That refusal, which has been unrelenting for the last eight years, has quite literally cost people their lives especially during this pandemic. It continues to prevent as many as 650,000 residents from accessing needed health care services. It is inexplicable that reflexive partisan prejudice toward former President Barack Obama blocks the common-sense action that 39 other states – those dominated by Republicans and Democrats – have taken. This isn’t a matter of affordability. The federal government picks up to 90 percent of the costs. The state’s major healthcare and hospital organizations have agreed to fund the rest. There remain NO good reasons why the General Assembly bans expansion of Medicaid healthcare coverage.

WE CAN'T LET THE GUN IMPERIALISTS WIN AGAIN: Trump himself has long trafficked in “Second Amendment” threats of violence. “Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment,” Trump said at an August 2016 rally. “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.” (I confess it still enrages me how many people were ready to write off Trump back then as merely “entertaining.”) And have we forgotten the rally in Lansing, Mich., last April? During protests against Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders in response to the pandemic, dozens, including some carrying firearms, entered the state Capitol building and demanded entry into the House chamber. Whitmer was later the object of a failed kidnapping plot, organized by a group allegedly involved in those protests. “Protesters who strap rifles to their chests and show up to rallies wearing tactical gear but not masks are not defending themselves against any actual, credible threats,” wrote Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “What they are doing is chilling free speech, and . . . endangering the lives of everyone in their communities.” Chilling free speech. That’s exactly what the gun imperialists are trying to do. They have enjoyed enormous success in intimidating politicians who should know better — in the wake of one massacre of innocents after another — into opposing even modest enhancements of our gun regulations. It’s dispiriting that the slaughter of students couldn’t galvanize the political class to action. But perhaps the violence and intimidation we have seen over the past year has finally unmasked the extremists for who they are. It’s time for rationality and democracy to prevail.

DON'T GO DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE: Misinformation rides the greased algorithmic rails of powerful social media platforms and travels at velocities and in volumes that make it nearly impossible to stop. That alone makes information warfare an unfair fight for the average internet user. But Mr. Caulfield argues that the deck is stacked even further against us. That the way we’re taught from a young age to evaluate and think critically about information is fundamentally flawed and out of step with the chaos of the current internet. “We’re taught that, in order to protect ourselves from bad information, we need to deeply engage with the stuff that washes up in front of us,” Mr. Caulfield told me recently. He suggested that the dominant mode of media literacy (if kids get taught any at all) is that “you’ll get imperfect information and then use reasoning to fix that somehow. But in reality, that strategy can completely backfire.” It’s often counterproductive to engage directly with content from an unknown source, and people can be led astray by false information. Influenced by the research of Sam Wineburg, a professor at Stanford, and Sarah McGrew, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, Mr. Caulfield argued that the best way to learn about a source of information is to leave it and look elsewhere, a concept called lateral reading. For instance, imagine you were to visit Stormfront, a white supremacist message board, to try to understand racist claims in order to debunk them. “Even if you see through the horrible rhetoric, at the end of the day you gave that place however many minutes of your time,” Mr. Caulfield said. “Even with good intentions, you run the risk of misunderstanding something, because Stormfront users are way better at propaganda than you. You won’t get less racist reading Stormfront critically, but you might be overloaded by information and overwhelmed.”


MICHAEL LINDSAY: WHY I BECAME A DEMOCRAT: I’ve been an unaffiliated voter since registering to vote at 18 and have voted in every election since. I’m 62 and just switched to the Democratic Party. Here’s why: The Republican Party under Trump has proven to me that they love their party more than our country. Trump’s behavior and the Republicans’ support of him prove they have no family values or American values. I consider Trump the most immoral and lawless president in American history. The Republican claim to be for law and order is a joke. Their claim to be for balanced budgets is a joke. Their claim to be for family or Christian values is a joke. So is their claim to put America first.

FELICIA SHEPHERD: OUR COUNTRY IS AT A HUMAN RIGHTS CROSSROADS: Human rights are supposed to entitle all people to life, liberty, and security without regard to race, sex, religion, or national origin. For Blacks and people of color that is an elusive ideal. The U.S. government has ignored harms that have left our communities woefully neglected and created inequalities so stark that when a tragedy occurs, like Hurricane Katrina or a pandemic, the disparities are glaring. We are at a human rights crossroads. I hope the current administration and the attitude of true Christianity will remove the hate of racism and provide a road map that includes rethinking oppressive policing tactics that lead to mass incarceration and address economic reinvestment of our communities. Doing so would elicit a different outcome for the humane existence we’re all promised.

JAMES E. COLEMAN, JR: MARK MARTIN NEEDS TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE: There is an open secret in this country that prominent white men often are not held accountable for the questionable things they do and rarely have to explain their actions. A recent example of this is Mark Martin, former chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court. There was no good faith legal argument that Donald Trump was re-elected or that Vice President Mike Pence had the authority to keep him in office. But those two lies incited a mob to storm the Capitol. Some Americans undoubtedly were persuaded upon hearing that Martin had advised Trump there was a constitutional basis for his lies. Yet, as so often happens when a prominent white man such as Martin engages in questionable professional conduct, other prominent white men circle the wagons and defend him, effectively immunizing him from public accountability. This instinct erodes respect for law and ultimately the rule of law itself. The fact that Martin is a former chief justice should not excuse him. Rather, it is the reason we should hold him accountable.



More nuance needed in police debate

First let me say, most law enforcement agencies have done an extremely poor job of policing their own ranks; of filtering out racists, sexists, and borderline sociopaths who thrive on escalating violence as opposed to cooling things down. There needs to be a fundamental shift in recruitment and training at entry level, and a harsh, bright spotlight on leadership.

I'll get back to those two things in a minute, after we talk about how we talk about law enforcement.

I recently posted in a Facebook group about the former High Point police officer arrested for her involvement in the Jan 6 insurrection. One commenter said, "Police have been the enemy of the working class since America (was founded)."

I'm not a big fan of broad-sweeping declarations like this, and even less so when they are not historically accurate. Corporations hired the Pinkertons to go after strikers because (in many cases) legitimate law enforcement refused to take sides. Federal (and state) military units were deployed several times to protect non-union workers (scabs), and many strikers died. But again, local law enforcement was not "automatically" on the side of management.

But even if they had been, using evidence from a century ago to broad-brush classify today's law enforcement is pointless and reductive. And it will do nothing to solve our current problems.

Psychological screening of new recruits is a critical first step. And that needs to begin as early as possible. Many of these folks begin the process at community colleges, pursuing an associate degree in criminal justice. A psychological assessment during that time should be mandatory, and said degree should *not* be granted if there are any major concerns. But passing that should not take the place of a police department's own psychological assessment, and those need to be rigorous and final. You shouldn't be able to try again in six months, or go somewhere else with a easier assessment process. And it goes without saying that somebody fired from a police department should not be able to jump right to another one a few miles (or states) away.

As to focusing that bright light on leadership, elected officials need to stop passing the buck. They hire a manager who (supposedly) oversees police chiefs, and those chiefs (supposedly) oversee deputy chiefs, etc. But city managers have a pretty full plate, and that oversight is seldom what it should be. Elected officials need to make sure proper procedures are put in place to monitor and regulate the behavior of law enforcement, from the top to the very bottom. Because self-regulating isn't working, even in the seemingly "best" ran departments.

In closing, I will say: We do need the police. Our society can't function without law enforcement. Trust me, I've seen it. The gun-nuts would have you believe they aren't necessary, that you can protect your own. But you can't. Yeah, you can protect your house from invaders. But your neighborhood? Your community? No. Law enforcement is a critical part of civil society, but that society needs to manage it better.