Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


BLACK WOMEN ARE NOT ANGRY. THEY JUST WANT YOU TO LISTEN: Listening is an important communication skill with the power to build deep and meaningful human connections. It is valuable when working with marginalized communities, particularly those that have been historically excluded from adequate healthcare. I like the Merriam Webster definition of listening as an intransitive verb: "to hear something with thoughtful attention." To hear and understand Black patients requires listening with thoughtful attention. This allows for the building of trust and stronger relationships, which is important for a population with a high historical level of mistrust in the healthcare system. By listening thoughtfully, a healthcare worker demonstrates respect to the patient. It creates a safe space that empowers patients to share without fear of judgment or neglect. Listening with thoughtful attention makes room for empathy and a better understanding of the context in which those words are shared. It helps us act according to the needs of our patients. It makes room for cultural humility and combats the harmful stereotypes that Black women are angry, crazy, or aggressive. And considering pregnant Black women are 2.5 times more likely to die (than white women) from complications related to their pregnancy in the U.S., their concerns are justified.

NC COURTS NOW HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO END JURY DISCRIMINATION, THEY SHOULD DO SO: Last month, the North Carolina Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Christopher Clegg because a Wake County assistant district attorney engaged in race discrimination when selecting the jury. This was a historic moment. Although studies show that prosecutors are much more likely to remove Black citizens from juries, Clegg’s case is the first time our state Supreme Court has ever overturned a conviction on that basis. Since then, many people have asked me what the decision means. Will it lead to real change? Or is it just a token acknowledgment of a longstanding problem, soon to be overshadowed by an intractable status quo? Race discrimination is baked into the American jury. All-white juries were a given during Jim Crow, with disastrous results for Black defendants and Black victims alike. After the civil rights movement made explicit racism taboo, prosecutors turned to the peremptory strike to weed Black citizens off juries. Peremptories traditionally give lawyers the ability to strike a certain number of jurors for any reason or no reason at all. In the 1986 case Batson v. Kentucky, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the reason cannot be a juror’s race. But until Clegg N.C. appellate courts had accepted any reason a prosecutor could come up with to justify excluding jurors of color, no matter how ridiculous or unfounded. By reversing Clegg’s conviction, our state’s highest court sent the strongest message an appellate court can send. Trial prosecutors and judges should take notice or risk more convictions being overturned. Aside from this being horrifically unjust, it's also reductive as hell. Your intellect and morality, your very value to society, reduced to the color of your skin. It's beyond shameful.

LESSONS FROM RESISTING A RUSSIAN INVASION...82 YEARS AGO: My father celebrated his 18th birthday in Warsaw Poland, August of 1939. A few weeks later German troops rolled into his country from the west and 16 days after that, the Russians invaded from the east. We now know that the two men behind the invasion; Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, had formed a secret pact a week before, pledging non-aggression toward one another and carving up Poland into German and Soviet territories. After a month of military operations, the two ruthless dictators declared victory and the stage was set for World War II. When word made it to Warsaw of the invasion, my father and his brother set off to fight the invaders, in a fashion eerily reminiscent of the brave resistance we now see in Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of young men rushed to the western border to defend their country. They were met by a large, well-prepared Red Army and, despite their bravery, some 7,000 of them died in the fighting. He spent nearly three years in a Russian prisoner of war camp enduring brutal, tortuous conditions. Many prisoners died of starvation or were killed. Famously thousands of Polish officers were murdered by the Soviet Politburo and dumped into a mass grave in the Katyn Forest. Within months, Stalin had annexed his newly occupied Poland and more than 13 million Polish citizens found themselves, unwilling and terrified, new subjects of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Then as narcissistic despots often do, Hitler broke his promise and in 1941 invaded Russia. It may be tempting to dismiss this analogy because of the differences between Soviet government and today's Russia, but dictators are dictators. Megalomania doesn't look forward for guidance, it looks back.

PUTIN'S WAR ON UKRAINE SHOWS AMERICANS MAY NOT BE AS DIVIDED AS WE THOUGHT: Like others around the world, Putin was watching carefully on Jan. 6, 2021, as American democracy appeared to teeter for a moment on the apex of the Washington Monument. He’s seen how the COVID-19 pandemic helped deepen the fractures in our already divided nation. He was fully aware of the way the U.S. has disengaged in recent years from its traditional post-World War II European friendships. And you can bet your bottom dollar that he’s also been aware of the way a certain former U.S. president and some of his noisiest sycophants have consistently voiced admiration for his ruthless tactics, while doing everything within their power to undermine the current inhabitant of the White House. In Putin’s deeply twisted mind, it probably seemed like the optimal time to do the thing he’s always done – violently bully other humans he perceives as weaker in order to accumulate more power. A funny thing has happened, however, in the days since Putin launched his brutal and unprovoked blitzkrieg. Contrary to what had seemed to be the case, the Kremlin despot’s principal adversaries have shown themselves to be not that divided or dysfunctional. Donald Trump and a few genuine extremists may harbor, or even express, a deeply troubling admiration for Putin’s murderous machismo, but most Americans – right and left – passionately hate what Putin stands for. We look around and see what we have and the life we enjoy or aspire to (and that which is being brutally stolen from the courageous people of Ukraine, and put at risk in other Eastern European countries) and agree that, for all its flaws, the U.S. has always stood, and should always stand, for something different and better. Americans have many, many monumental challenges to tackle and difficult debates in which they must engage going forward, but it’s also clear that we are broadly and strongly united in our opposition to Putinism. Much as was the case prior to World War II, many have been slow to this recognition and inexcusably blind to other crises around the world in which other peoples have been the victims of similarly horrific wars of aggression. Now, however, that circumstances have awakened us, it seems there is at least a better-late-than-never chance for us to recognize that we have a lot more in common – with each other and all others who oppose despotism – than we had previously imagined. The world looks on anxiously to see if our national light bulb clicks on. The truth and validity of this will be tested very shortly in the GOP Primaries. Hopefully we'll see an end to Madison Cawthorn and others who have forgotten (if they ever knew) what it means to be an American.

THE SAD, STRANGE SAGA OF MARK MEADOWS' DREAM HOME: At long last, ladies and gentlemen, we may finally have evidence of voter fraud in America — and it comes from the Trump White House, of all places. For the past two years, Meadows has echoed Trump’s assertions that the 2020 election was fraudulent and has spoken richly about voter corruption caused by “people just moving around.” You mean, like Mr. and Mrs. Meadows did? Records show a pattern of their house-selling and house-buying along an electoral timeline that ought to raise an eyebrow at least. In March 2020, the couple sold a house in Sapphire, N.C., for $370,000. That September, they claimed to have moved to Scaly Mountain to live in a 14-by-62-foot mobile home that sold for $105,000 in 2021. One can fairly wonder: Why? In previous years, they owned a 6,000-square-foot house in Jackson County, N.C. And in 2021, the couple bought a South Carolina home for close to $1.6 million. The home’s former owner told the magazine that Meadows’s wife, Debra, had rented the property for a couple of months but that Meadows himself had “never spent a night.” The owner, who wasn’t identified in the story, also told the New Yorker that the home, despite improvements, “was not the kind of place you’d think the chief of staff of the president would be staying.” On voter registration forms, a residential address is “where you physically live,” which one signs “under penalty of perjury.” But at the time of his registration, Meadows also had a home near Washington, D.C., and perhaps needed a North Carolina residence so he could vote there. The rules seem clear enough even for Meadows, a man known for working harder to secure television appearances than governing. Perhaps he was overbooked and couldn’t make it “home” to Scaly Mountain — except to vote. If he’s charged with perjury and/or voter fraud, it may not be Meadows’s only rendezvous with justice. The House voted late last year to hold Meadows in contempt of Congress and to refer him to the Justice Department for a possible criminal charge over his refusal to respond to questions about the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. If Meadows never spent the night at his pretend home up a mountain in North Carolina, he might have done more to obstruct election integrity than to correct the slack in the system and the gaps in the laws. Hell, even if he did spend a night or two there it doesn't qualify as a change of residence. He's guilty of voter fraud, and should pay whatever price that entails. Maybe like the Black mom in Texas who got five years in prison for lying about her address so her son could attend a different school? Just spitballing here...


SARAH CLEMENTS: BURR AND TILLIS VOTE TO RESTRICT WOMEN'S FREEDOM: On Feb. 28, Republicans in the U.S. Senate unsurprisingly struck down the Women’s Health Protection Act. The U.S. House had passed the bill, which would have preserved access to abortion nationwide. So now, Congress — the body of officials meant to serve as a voice of the people within the federal government — has refused to protect the right of an individual to control their own body. Instead of serving the needs of constituents and working towards progress, politicians opposed to abortion insist on going backwards. “First in Freedom’‘ is posted on many license plates across my home state of North Carolina. N.C. Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis have voted against the Women’s Health Protection Act. Instead of advancing freedom, they have voted to take it away. How is one’s body being controlled by the government consistent with these ideals in any way? How is it democratic to take away the right to make important healthcare decisions that could impact someone’s entire future? A patient’s health, not a politician’s beliefs — and certainly not the beliefs of complete strangers — should drive important medical decisions. This decision was made in a single vote in one short moment, but its impacts will be felt for years to come. Some members in the House and Senate voted against protecting the right to an abortion, and in doing so, voted against freedom. They voted against the futures of young adults in high school and college. They have voted to force pregnant teens to endure giving birth. They have voted for back-alley abortions and the deaths that will result from them. This decision is a direct contrast from the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and is not in any way acceptable. This is not democracy. This decision affects all of us. And with the Supreme Court about to consider a case that could gut Roe v. Wade, it’s high time for North Carolina to ensure that abortion is accessible for our residents and for those who will look to our state for the care they need. It's time for women to exercise their voting power, and get rid of politicians who treat them like chattel.

KATHY RONDON: IT'S NOT EQUITY THAT'S THE PROBLEM: As a resident of Virginia, I was greatly concerned by the March 6 Metro article “Youngkin removes references to ‘equity.’ ” The Office of the Governor and supporting legislators seem to believe that “equity” is a bad thing, because it actually justifies discrimination and eradicates the value of pulling oneself up by their bootstraps. If a person thinks it’s okay to build wheelchair ramps — even require them for government buildings and certain businesses — they have no problem with equity. If a person has no problem with accessibility requirements such as larger type and subtitles for websites, documents and videos to accommodate the elderly, they have no problem with equity. If a person supports and takes advantage of non-merit-based, purely need-based college financial aid, they have no problem with equity. If that same person is okay with all of that but has a problem putting resources toward closing racial performance gaps in schools, then that person doesn’t have a problem with equity. That person has a problem with race. Everything else is just rationalization. What Kathy said. We can't let the right vilify the term "equity" like they've done with so many other progressive terms. Line in the sand.

MELISSA YORKS: WE NEED MORE TRAINS, NOT MORE LANES: The Feb. 27 Local Opinions essay “Maryland can’t wait for traffic relief” said Maryland desperately needed to add more lanes to Interstates 270 and 495 because that is the only possible way to relieve traffic congestion and quoted an environmental-impact statement that said the added lanes would reduce delays by 18 percent and 32 percent in the morning and evening peak periods, respectively. The essay also said those who oppose the lane additions are making “wild and nonsensical claims about the project.” When I moved here in 1979, I-270 was only two to three lanes in each direction. It got jampacked during commute times, so lanes were added. Within a few years, it got jampacked again, so more lanes were added. Again, that helped only for a few years. Obviously, continuing to add lanes is not the solution. Studies also claimed that the Intercounty Connector would take enough cars off the Beltway to relieve the congestion between Silver Spring and Bethesda. After it was completed, I saw the same red taillights and congestion. Adding lanes won’t work if more houses and apartments are built to house people who will end up driving on I-270 and the Beltway without increasing access to public transportation. The true solution to the traffic problem is to get people onto trains and buses — and continue working from home, which has reduced the number of commuters no matter what form of transportation they were taking before the pandemic. As I may have mentioned, I serve on Alamance County's PTAC (Public Transit Advisory Commission), and increasing ridership is a constant goal and concern. The future of transportation is public transit, and the time to build that infrastructure is now, not some vague future date when people come to their senses and demand it.



Skepticism is healthy, until it's not

Somebody at work asked me about Global Warming the other day, and our conversation deteriorated shortly thereafter into the realm of conspiracy theories. Understand, the individual in question knew more than the average person about many of the factors that have led to our climate crisis, so I was both surprised and concerned at the turn towards the dark side.

But it did help expose another issue that deserves more than just a passing reference, the deterioration of trust in our society. And I'm not (necessarily) talking about trust on an individual basis (I trust you will not betray me), I'm talking about trust based on qualifications; learning, experience, and other attributes we associate with those who specialize. Those who have dedicated years of their lives to a certain subject. This is how civilized society has evolved, by learning from the experiences of others. And losing that is how our society may end up devolving.

In philosophy, skepticism is rooted in the belief that we can't know, for certain, if something is true or not. That's fine, I'm not a big fan of absolutism anyway. But it's the real-world application of that skepticism that bothers me, and should bother you. To avoid corrective action based on the minute possibility that that something (especially something important) is not true is reckless.

We see that clearly in the climate change conundrum, and it really doesn't matter if the small subset of scientists who are skeptical of the problem got that way because they were unduly influenced by the fossil fuel industry or if they arrived at that surmission on their own, the end result is the same. The preponderance of evidence does not support their position.

But let's set aside professionals for a moment, and consider the general public. They are the ones that have to be convinced of a problem before meaningful action can take place. But if they have lost trust in our institutions, in our journalists who investigate and report on those institutions, and (possibly worse) their own ability to exercise discretion in evaluating the information that is presented to them, solutions to our problems will remain out of reach. Consensus is unattainable. Collective action will constantly get bogged down, and the lack of progress will further deteriorate our trust in the very institutions that can help us.

Do you see the vicious circle?

The next time you are tempted to verbally attack legitimate media entities because of an op-ed they published, remember that circle. The next time you are tempted to classify all politicians as corrupt, and only driven by avarice, remember that circle. I am not advocating for blind faith, I'm advocating for just the opposite. Keep your eyes open, and let your discretion do its job properly.