Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Winston-Salem Journal. Sept. 2, 2021.

Editorial: The school shooting

Just a moment, please, while we cry. ...

It was just a matter of time until senseless school gun violence found its way to Winston-Salem. It finally arrived on Wednesday, as a Mount Tabor High School student, William Chavis Raynard Miller Jr., was fatally shot shortly after noon at the school by a fellow student, who remains unidentified as we write.

Mount Tabor and other schools were placed on lockdown for hours while students, teachers and parents waited and worried. Social media lit up with rumors, instructions, anger and fear.

We all felt it. We still feel it.

This follows an incident in Wilmington on Monday in which another high school student was injured in a shooting. A 15-year-old there has been taken into custody and charged with attempted first-degree murder.

“This is very sad, sickening, crazy and stupid,” Nasiah McKinney, a junior at Mount Tabor, said to a Journal reporter following the shooting, and it would be difficult to find a more accurate response. It’s all of those things, as well as maddening.

We don’t have all the details yet. The incident at Mount Tabor seems different from the indiscriminate school shootings with which we became too familiar before the coronavirus struck. More personal motives could have been at work. But all of these shootings have one thing in common: they shouldn’t be happening.

Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson and Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough spoke our hearts at a news conference Wednesday night:

“I met with his family … I talked with his mother,” Kimbrough said. “I felt the pain, the tears of the mother, and so my concern was to console her, and my concern was to let her know that she had the full support of this entire community, all of us, all of us. Because if she is hurting, we are hurting.”

“We have a mother and a family who will not be able to hug their child tonight,” Thompson said.

If only we could all wrap our arms around Miller’s mother.

Likewise for the family of the shooter. As Ken Raymond, president of the Forsyth County Republican Party, rightly says in a letter in today’s Readers’ Forum, “our community has lost two sons today.”

And as Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board member Elisabeth Motsinger wrote on Facebook, “Prayers for the young man who was so lost in his very young life that he could do such a thing.”

The shooter’s life, and the lives of his family, will be forever altered by this tragic incident.

Gov. Roy Cooper came to Winston-Salem on Thursday. He expressed his concern and praised our school and law enforcement officials for their quick and competent response to the crisis; rightly so.

But as unexpected as this troubling incident was, it didn’t come out of nowhere, nor should it have been entirely unexpected. Contributing to such shootings is the easy access our country affords to firearms and the ability of pretty much anyone who wants a gun, for any reason, to get a gun — and the inability of so many communities to prevent that access because of those who insist on keeping those doors open.

Too much is seen through a partisan lens these days. But in this case, the more conservative among us have abetted danger by relying on gaslighting narratives and caricatures of their liberal neighbors. Liberals want to “steal our guns,” they say, calls for rational gun-control legislation that respects the rights of legitimate gun owners while keeping citizens safe.

Our children are paying the price for their obstinance and their devotion to misinformed narratives.

Keeping our kids safe from bullets — or the coronavirus, for that matter — should not be a partisan issue. But it will be until we change our politics; until we take the profit motive away from politicians whose campaigns rely on NRA donations and endorsements; until we stop glorifying firearms and pretending they could be tools to stop imaginary government oppression; until we wake up from the nightmare of fear-mongering and lies that are so eagerly accepted by gullible people.

When will that be?

This isn’t just a political problem, though; it’s a societal problem as well. Where do children get the idea that the way to solve problems is with guns?

Could they be getting it from adults?

What are adults doing to model better behavior? What are we doing to teach children to be resilient, to help them mature into functioning and productive citizens?

These are all questions that deserve answers, and deserve them now — before the next child is killed by a gun.

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Winston-Salem Journal. Sept. 4, 2021.

Editorial: Cawthorn’s reckless, dangerous words

Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C.-11, took center stage last week — and made our state look bad

This is not the kind of national attention we appreciate.

Cawthorn is a freshman legislator whose inexperience shows. He’s revealed a penchant for getting historical facts wrong, despite presenting himself as a history buff. He’s claimed honors he never received and accomplishments he never achieved. Over 160 students who attended a Christian college with him signed a letter last October claiming that he was a little too handsy with women (not necessarily a problem for Trump fans). During the flooding that crippled Haywood County a couple of weeks ago, rather than gather resources to help, he was busy tweeting about finishing “the wall.” Shades of Cancun.

But what drew attention last week was a speech he gave at a Macon County GOP gathering, where he repeated that the 2020 election was rigged and said, “If our election systems continue to be rigged, continue to be stolen, it’s going to lead to one place and that’s bloodshed.”

He added: “As much as I am willing to defend our liberty at all costs, there’s nothing that I would dread doing more than having to pick up arms against a fellow American.”

When asked when he was going to “call us to Washington again” — what? — he said, “That — we are actively working on that one.”

He said a lot more, but this is enough crazy for one editorial.

It’s also enough, we hope, for the FBI and DOJ to sit up and pay attention.

Maybe this is nothing more than a politician puffing out his chest; he wouldn’t be the first to do so.

But when asked about his statements, a Cawthorn spokesperson said that he was “CLEARLY advocating for violence not to occur over election integrity questions.”

To which we say, come on. You don’t use that kind of language about something you don’t intend to do. It’s highly irresponsible and dangerous.

Cawthorn’s bluster might still be dismissed if it were occurring in a vacuum. But following the Jan. 6 insurrection, we’ve got to take invocations to violence seriously. Especially since they’re showing up in other places.

In Pennsylvania, where COVID-19 cases are rapidly increasing, Steve Lynch, an aspiring Republican politician, threatened last week to take 20 men and physically remove the Northampton County school board because of mask mandates.

For years we listened to conservatives complain about “unelected judges” and “unelected bureaucrats.” Now, the “elected” part doesn’t seem to matter. We’re just a few right-wing podcasts and a week away from Republicans declaring that every sitting Democrat is illegitimate.

Think we’re kidding?

In the same speech in which Cawthorn claimed that Trump won, he said that Dan Forest defeated Gov. Roy Cooper in 2020.

This, despite election results that showed Cooper, a popular incumbent, in a state with a majority of registered Democrats, with a 250,000-vote margin of victory.

Maybe Cawthorn should tell us which Democrat(s) did win legitimately.

We know the rebuttals: Yes, both Hillary Clinton and Georgia’s Stacey Abrams expressed sour grapes over the elections they lost. But neither encouraged mobs to overthrow the results. Abrams just went out and registered hundreds of thousands of new voters.

And, yes, Black Lives Matter and antifa, shorthand for anti-fascists, have been involved in incidents of violence — though BLM violence, especially, has been greatly exaggerated for propaganda purposes.

All political violence is deplorable. But neither BLM nor antifa has tried to violently overthrow an election or urged their followers to prepare to do so.

For that, you apparently need a steady diet of conservative misinformation and a Big Lie.

We know there are multitudes of more sober Republicans who regret to see this trend in their own party. We’d like to think they’ll speak up, letting it be known that these loose cannons don’t represent them — and that “mob rule” doesn’t mean the voters whose candidate won the election, but those who would take the law into their own hands to overturn the election. And that no disappointing election outcome justifies violence, no matter how “patriotic” the perpetrator.

We’re waiting ...

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Charlotte Observer. Sept. 5, 2021.

Editorial: Is recusal the answer for NC Supreme Court conflicts of interest? No

Any plaintiff would be alarmed if they went before a panel of judges only to find that one was the defendant’s close relative and another took part in the offense alleged in the case.

That’s what the plaintiffs see happening in the case of NC NAACP v. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger. The case, an appeal of a 2-1 Court of Appeals ruling against the plaintiffs, involves a complaint about the General Assembly’s power.

The plaintiffs contend that after a federal court found that many members of the Republican-led General Assembly were elected from districts created by illegal racial gerrymandering, the legislature lost its authority to put constitutional amendments on the 2018 ballot. The plaintiffs are challenging the legality of two amendments that voters approved – one capping the state income tax and another requiring a photo ID to vote.

In a motion that was to be heard last week, but was abruptly postponed, the plaintiffs ask that two members of the seven-member Supreme Court be disqualified from the case. One of the justices cited is Tamara Barringer, a former Republican state senator who voted in favor of putting the challenged amendments on the ballot. The other is Phil Berger Jr., the son of the Senate leader who is a defendant in the case.

CONFLICT STANDARDS

The motion quotes the N.C. Code of Judicial Conduct, which calls for the disqualification of a judge when the judge “has a personal bias or prejudice concerning” a case, or has a relative who is a party in the proceeding.

Kimberley Hunter, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said she originally thought a motion wouldn’t be necessary. She told the Editorial Board, “We assumed the justices would recuse themselves because we thought the conflict would be clear.”

The political conflict may be obvious, but the legal one is anything but clear. There is little precedent for the situation, especially the instance of a Supreme Court justice participating in the final judgment of a case in which his father is a defendant.

Thomas Metzloff, a Duke Law School professor who studies judicial ethics, said the motion “has potential merit,” but it presents a practical problem, especially regarding Justice Berger. “He can’t have to recuse himself every time something with the legislature is involved,” Metzloff said.

SELF-POLICING

In general, judges police themselves on conflicts of interest, or the appearance of such, and Justice Berger apparently does not see a conflict. He likely agrees with his father’s lawyers, who argue that Sen. Berger is being sued in his official capacity and not as an individual. That is a valid point no matter how awkward the optics.

Barringer’s standing is more clear cut. Lawmakers who become judges shouldn’t be barred from ruling on issues they previously voted on. They may have voted out of party loyalty rather than personal conviction, or they may have changed their mind.

We understand the plaintiffs’ concerns. It’s natural to suspect that Berger and Barringer won’t be impartial in this case. But the issue seems more a matter of politics – or rather the politicization of the law.

Republican lawmakers under Sen. Berger’s leadership have hastened to politicize the courts. They ended public financing of judicial elections, added partisan labels to judicial elections and reduced the Court of Appeals from 15 to 12 to keep Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper from replacing retiring judges.

That a former Republican state senator and the son of the Senate leader are now on the Supreme Court court testifies to its political turn. But the remedy for what appears to be a loss of impartiality may be what caused it – politics.

If North Carolinians truly value independent state courts, they will vote for legislative candidates who support that goal and will pass laws that serve it. Until then, we’ll have to rely on the hope that some of those in robes are not entirely politicians.

END