SHOCKING STUDENT VIOLENCE:
AN ISSUE NORTH CAROLINA
IS STILL WRESTLING WITH
By Cash Michaels
Last week, at predominately black Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School, a 15-year-old student, Delvin Ferrell, lost his life and a 16-year-old was seriously injured when they were stabbed by a 14 year-old student during a violent confrontation. The 14-year-old has been charged with murder and may be tried as an adult.
According to published reports, the mother of the 14-year-old complained to the school that morning that her son feared being attacked.
The shocking crime illicited reaction from officials as high up as Governor Roy Cooper.
“We cannot accept violence in our schools and we must continue to work to identify threats and ensure the safety of students and teachers so they can focus on teaching and learning,” the governor said.
In the aftermath of the Southeast Raleigh High Magnet School stabbing, a student at a Rocky Mount school was caught bringing a gun to class. And then, another student called in a bomb threat to a Carrboro public school.
A fact many North Carolinians may not be aware of is that reported crime in North Carolina public schools is up 16.9% above pre-pandemic levels, according to the NC Dept. of Public Instruction.
With all that’s going on in the world, it’s easy to forget that young people can be both the victims, and alleged perpetrators of serious violence, all because they share the same spaces. It is not just a problem of major metropolitan areas across North Carolina , but anywhere where young people congregate either by choice or requirement.
In the case of schools, education and political leaders have been trying to come up with reasonable solutions for years, seemingly to no avail.
Last Sunday, in the aftermath of the Southeast Raleigh Magnet School incident, community members, clergy and elected officials came together to seek community-based answers, and pray.
The N.C. Black Alliance sponsored the gathering outside a local church for the expressed purpose of sharing “actionable solutions and steps to support the youth of Southeast Raleigh.” Among those attending the gathering, two high ranking African-American public officials who say they are fully invested in solutions - Wake County Schools Supt. Robert Taylor and Raleigh Police Chief Estelle Patterson.
"We’re always going to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our partners and Wake County Schools is one of our partners," said Patterson. "We are committed to provide a safe environment for our students no matter what."
"I can tell you as the superintendent of Wake County Public Schools I am invested every single day in this work," Taylor said. "Every single day for every single child."
But more is going to be needed beyond police resource officers walking the halls, or schools suspending troubled students, critics say.
Some have shared that for many troubled students, violence is really the only effective language that they know. For many, either the breakfast or lunch that they receive at school daily is the only regular meal that they receive. When it comes to solving interpersonal problems, many only understand the use of violence.
And because many troubled students come from fractured homes, and find themselves on the streets more times than not, they see “family” in the form of unhealthy gang activity.
In the case of the 14-year murder suspect at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High, his mother told The News & Observer that her older daughter reportedly had an earlier altercation with a female Southeast Raleigh Magnet High student, who then later came to the mother’s home with other juveniles, and allegedly assaulted both the daughter and mother.
Since it opened in 1997, Southeast Raleigh High has been well known for harboring a number of gangs in its student body. About 15 years ago, community leader Bruce Lightner recommended that retired male teachers and law enforcement walk the halls of Southeast Raleigh High in order to ensure student safety, especially for female students going to use the rest rooms.
The Wake School Board then reportedly rejected his proposal.
And yet, while school official say they are presently looking for new tools to help quell the rising tide of student violence in North Carolina public schools, the question remains why aren’t they making good use of the old tools that they already have?
Training students in peer-to-peer conflict resolution so that they’re able to head off explosive confrontations before they mushroom, as provided by state law. Installing metal detectors so that guns and knives cannot be brought into school buildings without detection. Greater visibility of school resource officers to allow students to feel safer on school property.
Some of these measures may cost more money, but as tragedies like last week's occur more often, the argument can be more successfully made. Just two years ago, U.S. Attorney Michael Easley Jr. announced a $1 million grant to help Robeson County schools stem the tide of rising violence there.
But that was only for Robeson County schools.
The family of victim Delvin Ferrell has said there is too much violence befalling our young people at school and elsewhere. They are calling for “culturally competent support” - people who truly understand the hard lives and struggles many young people are experiencing so that they can devise effective ways of reaching them, and giving them plausible options beyond violence.
“Try to put people inside the school system who know how to de-escalate situations like this before they become a crisis, " said Ferrell’s uncle, Teddie Martinez. “Healing needs to take place across the board.”
ST. AUG. PRES SAYS
SHE’S FIRED; SCHOOL
By Cash Michaels
Christine Johnson McPhail, who has served as president of St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh since April 2022, has told local Raleigh media that she has been fired by the university’s board of trustees.
McPhail says she was informed in writing Sunday night of her dismissal, effective immediately, but not given a reason for it.
However, McPhail also confirmed that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges had also recently voted to take away St. Augustine’s University’s accreditation. Accreditation is vital for colleges and universities to have to certify that they are proficient in managing their business structure. It is also important for for students to receive financial aid from the federal government.
Reportedly, St. Aug has been on probation for the past year, because it could not meet the accrediting agency’s financial resources and management requirements. McPhail says the school has until January 24th to appeal loss of accreditation.
According to a story in the Raleigh News & Observer, McPhail’s attorney, David Tracey of New York, says the president’s firing is retaliation for her filing a discrimination complaint against the university’s trustee board.
McPhail alleged gender discrimination in the complaint, and a “hostile environment” created by “…demeaning comments about her gender from members of the board. McPhail also charged that she was yelled at and berated by board members.
When board members pressured her to take back the complaint or else it would cost McPhail her job, she refused.
It was subsequent to that that McPhail learned that the board of trustees actually voted to fire her on November 14th, but only notified her on Dec. 3rd.
"I feel betrayed because that was not the relationship that I had with the Board," McPhail told WRAL-TV News. "I worked aggressively with the team at Saint Augustine's University. We were rebuilding relationships throughout the community."
McPhail had been contractually hired to serve until February 2025. She was St. Aug’s 13th president. She was appointed to the post after her late husband, St. Aug Pres. Irving Pressly McPhail, died die to complications from COVID-19 in 2021.
On Tuesday, the St. Aug Board of Trustees issued a statement essentially denying McPhail's accusations.
"The Board denies the unfounded allegations Dr. McPhail has made against the University, and the Board is prepared to defend itself and the institution. The University will have no further comment on these issues given that this is a personnel matter."
"Instead, the Board is focused on restoring the University's standing with SACSCOC [Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges] under new University leadership."
JUDGES HAND COOPER
INITIAL VICTORY IN BATTLE
WITH GOP OVER STATE
By Cash Michaels
A three-judge panel last week granted Gov. Roy Cooper his motion for a preliminary injunction against Republican legislative leaders in their attempt to remove the governor’s power to appoint members to the State Board of Elections (SBOE) ahead of the 2024 elections.
Up until now, the governor had the power to choose three members of his political party to serve on the five-member SBOE. That power extended to each county Board of Elections.
Republicans in the state legislature, seeking to diminish the Office of the Governor, voted to remove the governor’s power to appoint to the SBOE, and replace it with an eight-seat even-numbered board of Republicans and Democrats. The goal was, critics say, to create a a built-in stalemate system where issues like early voting sites would go down in failure because there could be no majority agreement.
Gov. Cooper vetoed the GOP Senate Bill 749, only to have his veto overridden. In October, the governor filed suit against the state legislature, claiming that the legislature did not have the constitutional right to take away the power of the governor to appoint to the SBOE.
“We applaud the unanimous decision to block Republicans’ latest assault on our democratic process,” said Senate Democratic Leader Sen. Dan Blue and House Democratic Leader Robert Reives in a statement supporting the governor. “The court’s clear rejection of the GOP’s attempted power grab is a win for voters and our state constitution.”
Days earlier, Republican legislative leaders asked the three-judge Superior court panel to dismiss the governor’s lawsuit against them for removing his appointment power to the state Economic Investment Committee, the Commission for Public Health and the Board of transportation. That judicial panel blocked the requested changes to those boards on Nov. 1st.
Cooper called attempts to remove the appointment powers of the governor a “blatantly unconstitutional legislative power grab.”
SECOND LAWSUIT CHALLENGING
NEW GOP VOTING DISTRICTS FILED
By Cash Michaels
If you’re keeping count, now there are two federal lawsuits alleging that new redistricting voting maps ratified by the Republican-led NC General Assembly racially discriminate against voters of color.
The second one, filed Monday, alleges that new congressional map drawn starting with the 2024 election “…discriminates against minority voters in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” and challenges the new 1st, 6th, 12th and 14th Congressional Districts as “unconstitutional racial gerrymanders,” which are still illegal.
Partisan gerrymanders are legal under law, and no doubt, the Republican legislative majority will claim that the congressional maps, just like the legislative voting maps, are partisan gerrymanders.
The second suit is being brought by eighteen black and Latino plaintiffs who are represented by Democratic attorney Marc Elias. In their lawsuit, plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to stop the new congressional map from being enacted.
“North Carolina gained a congressional district after the 2020 Census, almost entirely due to an increase in the state’s minority population,” the lawsuit says.. “But instead of granting minority voters the benefit of the state’s increased representation, the General Assembly majority capitalized on that gain to increase their own power and decrease minority voting power.”
“By strategically packing and cracking North Carolina’s minority voters,”the complaint continued, “… the 2023 Congressional Plan entrenches the state’s white majority and erases the gains made by voters of color in the 2020 and 2022 election cycles.”
At press time, Republican legislative leaders had not made any comment in response to this lawsuit.
The first federal lawsuit alleging that GOP lawmakers “cracked nd packed black voters in order to draw state Senate legislative voting maps, was filed by African-American plaintiffs on Nov. 21st.
That complaint alleged that that Senate map was drawn in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
“… [T]he North Carolina General Assembly adopted a Senate plan that unlawfully deprives Black voters of the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice,” the black plaintiffs in the first federal lawsuit allege.