CHIEF DONNIE WILLIAMS
JUDGE BANS RELEASE
OF “RACE WAR’ POLICE TAPE
By Cash Michaels
Unless either the city of Wilmington appeals, or someone else comes up with a novel legal approach, the “race war” tapes - Wilmington police car recordings of three white fired officers talking among themselves using racial slurs about African-Americans, and possibly starting an armed conflict between Blacks and Whites in the Port City - will not be released to the public for them to hear for themselves.
A New Hanover County Superior Court judge August 27th ruled that despite the Wilmington Police Dept.’s intention of being transparent by releasing a transcript of what was said on the tape, and wanting to release the tapes themselves (police recordings in North Carolina are not considered public record, so only a court can release them), the tapes will remain out of the public domain.
In his ruling to withhold release of the tapes, Judge Josh Wiley remarked that the tapes were “…much more inflammatory when you listen to [them].”
Wiley was apparently agreeing with attorney Michael McGuinness, who was representing two of the three former officers. Using civil unrest in the aftermath of the George Floyd police killing, and the more recent police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, McGuinness painted a picture of citywide chaos in the streets, with WPD officers being targeted for retribution if the tapes were released.
Asst. City Attorney Daniel Thurston, on behalf the Wilmington Police Dept, argued that releasing the racist police conversations was important to “the healing process” in the city so that all could move on and citizens would have renewed trust in the WPD.
Officer James Gilmore, Cpl. Jesse Moore II and Officer Kevin Piner were all fired in June by Chief Donnie Williams after a police supervisor who routinely audited police vehicle recordings, came across their conversations and reported them to higher-ups.
All of the former officers admitted to what was documented on the tapes, but maintained that they were not racists.
Chief Donnie Williams issued a statement, accepting the court’s final decision:
“We petitioned the court to release this video in an effort to be transparent; however, we understand and support the judge’s decision. As I said in my statement on June 24: Please do not judge our agency based on the conduct of a few. We have great officers who go above and beyond to do what’s right, and I proudly stand with them and beside them.
We are all hurt by this incident. We are all angry. Let this be an opportunity for us to come together as a community and heal.
We will be stronger for it.
STATE NEWS BRIEFS for 09-03-20
GROUP SEEKING ARTISTS TO CREATE “BLACK LIVES DO MATTER” MURAL
[WILMINGTON] The artistic group Eighteen Forward is soliciting local artists to help create the “BLACK LIVES DO MATTER - END RACISM NOW” mural in Jervay Memorial Park that was recently approved by the Wilmington City Council. Applicants have until Friday, Sept. 4th at 5 p.m. to submit their concepts to Eighteen Forward. Letter assignments will be made September 8th, and must be completed by Sept. 26th. Al submissions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by Sept. 4th at 5 p.m.
GOV. COOPER EASES PANDEMIC RESTRICTIONS
[RALEIGH] Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday relaxed many of the Phase 2 COVID-19 restrictions he ordered in place tp limit the spread of the pandemic three months ago. As of 5 p.m. on Friday, outdoor playgrounds can reopen, museums and aquariums can operate at 50 percent capacity, gyms, bowling alleys and other indoor facilities can reopen at 30 percent capacity. Barfs will remain closed and masks will be required for anyone five or older.
VOTERS CAN NOW REQUEST AN ABSENTEE BALLOT
[GREENSBORO] With the Nov. 3rd election just over two months away, North Carolinians may now request an absentee ballot online. Registered voters can go to votebymail.ncsbe.gov to make their request.The ballots will be sent to voters as of Friday to fill out and send back. North Carolina is the first state in the nation to do so. Make sure you send yours back in plenty of time before the Nov. 3rd Election Day. Early voting in North Carolina is Oct. 15 to Oct. 31st.
(UPDATED) WILMINGTON DEALS WITH
TURMOIL AND HOPE
By Cash Michaels
Special to the NCPA
[WILMINGTON] From even before North Carolina native George Floyd was coldbloodedly killed by a Minneapolis police officer with a knee to his neck, the coastal port city of Wilmington - a place where raging white supremacists violently overthrew elected black control in 1898 - was dealing with extraordinary racism, and clear evidence that black lives really didn’t matter.
But few knew that, even in the midst of a deadly pandemic, that would dramatically have to change.
It was May 3rd when an angry white mob with guns, led by an off-duty New Hanover County sheriff’s duty, would allegedly assault the home of a black family demanding entry in neighboring Pender County under the premise of searching for a missing girl. No one was hurt, but the incident deeply disturbed African-Americans who felt threatened in a national atmosphere where angry whites felt free to falsely and verbally attack blacks for exercising their constitutional rights.
May 25th - the day that would literally rock the world when George Floyd fatally fell victim to outrageous police abuse in a disturbing video, igniting massive protests and demonstrations in cities all over the nation, including Wilmington.
Police chiefs across the state join demonstrators in decrying the death of Floyd, and in some cases, as with then interim Wilmington Police Chief Donny Williams, marched with them.
Black Lives Matter protesters took to the streets, taking up the rallying cry heard all over to end police violence, remove confederate statues that honored white supremacist legacies, and “defund the police”- a cry to take funding from the local law enforcement budget, and transfer it to more social service programs for the poor.
BLM protesters in Wilmington also demanded the establishment of a civilian police review board, and the permanent appointment of Interim Chief Williams to head Wilmington law enforcement.
On the night of June 24th, two confederate statues were removed from the downtown Wilmington area by order of city government, per the demands of many in the African-American community who complained that they were reminders of past white racism and oppression that still plagued black people in the Port City.
That stunning news was then immediately followed by the welcomed announcement that Interim Chief Williams had indeed been made permanent to lead the police department, becoming the first African-American ever to do so.
But then the shocker. On his first day as the permanent chief, Williams announced the termination of three veteran white Wilmington police officers who were unknowingly caught on a police vehicle recording using racial slurs to describe Black Lives Matter demonstrators, black police officers, a black magistrate, and even their new black police chief.
And the officers were also caught using hate-filled speech, discussing starting a racial “civil war” to wipe blacks “off the f——-g map.”
The New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David announced that after reviewing the tapes, he couldn’t find evidence of the officers breaking any state law, but he did call for s federal Justice Department investigation. He also made sure the former officers could not serve as witnesses in any of the 70 cases they were involved in.
Chief Williams ensured that they could never work for the city of Wilmington again, and would be blackballed to ever work in any other North Carolina law enforcement agency. He also vowed that as long as he was police chief in Wilmington, he would not tolerate racist attitudes among his officers on the force.
Recently it was reported that one of the former officers, James “Brian” Gilmore, is appealing his termination, claiming that the remarks he was fired for, about whites “worshipping” black protesters, were actually constitutionally “protected” religious speech, not racial. Gilmore wants his job back.
Then on July 6th, the NC Clergy Truth and Reconciliation Mission filed a federal complaint against the ousted white officers with the Community Relations Service of the U.S. Justice Dept., seeking an investigation.
Finally, on Monday, July 13th, the New Hanover Board of Commissioners, by a 3-2 vote, passed a resolution that was simply unthinkable before the death of George Floyd - declaring racism a “public health crisis.”
“Racism has formed the basis for a public health crisis affecting our entire County and should be treated with urgency,” read the resolution in part. “This resolution calls upon legislators, health officials and others in our community to research and analyze data, and make meaningful changes to dismantle systemic racism. New Hanover County will seek to promote Racial equity….”
And at that same meeting, the NHC Commission Board voted to change the name of Hugh McRae Park - originally named after a prominent white supremacist in Wilmington’s past - to Long Leaf Park. The sign was immediately dismantled the day after.
On August 18th, after several weeks of explosive controversy, the Wilmington City Council voted 5-2 to adopt a one-year pilot project sponsoring a donated art installation in it’s downtown area that says, “BLACK LIVES DO MATTER - END RACISM NOW.”
Days later, a New Hanover County judge ruled not to release video/audio recordings of three white former Wilmington police officers racially disparaging African-Americans, and arming themselves for a race war.
In the span of just four months, Wilmington, given it’s torrid racial history, has seen the kind of transformative change no one could have imagined.
The question now, and for the future, is, can it last?
NC HBCUs PRESS ON
DURING COVIS-19 CRISIS
By Cash Michaels
In the midst of the nation surpassing over six million cases of COVID-19, North Carolina over 167,000, and major universities like UNC, Duke and NC State having to wrestle with growing clusters of infected students forcing them to rethink strategies since reopening, HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) across the state have had to manage.
How have they managed?
Most of North Carolina’s eleven HBCUs have strict health protocols for students and staff for in-person instruction, if they’re open at all. Masks and social distancing are required. International study has been suspended, and where online instruction can be implemented for at least part of the fall semester, it is.
These schools are forced to operate amid unstable health environments in cities and counties that are themselves struggling to stem the spread. Why open at all? Because many of the small private institutions were in desperate need of revenue that only maximum student enrollments could bring them even before the pandemic. Not having students on campus now threatens that prospect - not being able to charge for dorm rooms, activities, sports, books , food etc. - thus forcing these schools to manage the best way they can during a unforeseen health crisis none of them were prepared for.
Thus, for HBCUs like Livingstone, Shaw, and St. Augustine’s, the availability of coronavirus testing; PPE (personal protective equipment); proper personal hygiene practices are heavily promoted; available space for quarantining students and staff who may have been exposed; appropriate cleaning and sterilization of facilities; and adequate medical resources to accurately assess the level of on-campus infection, have become musts until the pandemic is officially deemed to be under control in the larger local community.
Add to that the fact that African-Americans have a disproportionate prevalence to COVID-19 infection (blacks are 24% of NC cases), and it is not at all beyond possibility that several small black institutions may, in fact, not survive the pandemic due to economic pressures, say education experts.
And yet, as of Monday, the number of cases on North Carolina HBCU campuses have been relatively few compared to their larger counterparts.
Barber-Scotia College in Concord had a stark message on it’s website for this semester from it’s president, Melvin Douglass.
At this time the Barber-Scotia College's administrative team is requesting that faculty, students and staff, with the exception of essential staff, refrain from visiting the campus unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. We will continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments as needed. Thanks for understanding our desire to safeguard your health and comply with the state of emergency plan.
Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte has adopted remote online instruction for the fall semester. The school had originally planned to reopen campus after it shutdown in the spring.
Bennett College for Women in Greensboro has also decided not to reopen campus.
Larger state-supported HBCUs like NCCU, Winston-Salem State University, NC A&T, Fayetteville State and Elizabeth City State University, face many of the same COVID-19 pressures as do their smaller counterparts, and by order of the UNC Board of Governors, have had to drastically cut their budgets because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At NC A&T University in Greensboro, rapid testing is now available for students as they become better oriented to the new safety requirements of living and learning on-campus. A new app to track and trace COVID-19 is supposed to be ready via the NC Dept, of Health this month.
And if the pandemic spread becomes chronic on campus?
“We have policies that would allow us to refund student’s tuition, fees, housing, and dining within the normal policies of our university,” Chancellor Harold Martin told a local television station.
NC A&T University has 16 reported cases.
At NCCU in Durham, the football team is where COVID-19 has reared it’s head. Officials have isolated infected students, and is working with the local county health department to confirm the cluster (defined as at least five cases). All students who live in residence halls continue to be tested. And the university contracts with a local third-party vendors to other institutions, for all of it’s testing, tracing and consultation needs.
NCNAACP TO COOPER:
By Cash Michaels
Poor and low-income North Carolinians are still at risk of having their electric and water cut off in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, says NCNAACP Pres. Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, and that’s why he asked Gov. Roy Cooper this week to “…protect those low-income households most at risk of losing essential utility services.”
In an August 29th letter to the governor, Rev. Dr. Spearman warns that an earlier executive order protecting those seat able to pay for those utility services is running out.
“Over a million residential households that owed well over $200 million in unpaid utility bills as of the end of July are now at risk,” Dr. Spearman wrote. This is over doublet reports number of households that were unable to pay they rent bills from when I called on you to extend the moratorium at the end of May. And this number far exceeds the money currently available for utility bill payment assistance.”
“We must do more,” Spearman insists.
The NCNAACP leader maintains that despite previous executive orders from the governor seeking to help the situation for those who can’t afford to pay their outstanding utility bills, “…many households will nevertheless be unable to afford their past due utility bills and will face disconnection even as the summer heat continues.”
“Without access to electricity for air conditioning…[or] access to clean running water…many will be at a health risk,” Dr. Spearman maintains.
“This utility affordability crisis is not felt evenly across our communities. It disproportionately impacts low-wealth households, the elderly, and Black and Brown families,” Rev. Spearman went on.
“I ask tat you issue a new Executive Order to protect those low-income households most at-risk of losing essential utility services,” the civil rights leader requested. “The North Carolina State conference of the NAACP supports the ‘Income qualified shutoff moratorium and repayment plan replacing [previous executive orders] that was submitted to your office last week. This[is a] targeted measure to protect those who have been thrown into financial turmoil because of the pandemic. This new order should also require the reconnection of those eligible households who were previously disconnected for nonpayment.”
Dr. Spearman continued that the proposed new executive order should remain in effect beyond the end of the State of Emergency declared “…to make sure that households have time to get back on they feet before facing risk of losing essential utility service.”