Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

___

Aug. 25

Winston-Salem Journal on allegations of racism in the Winston-Salem Fire Department:

The allegations of racism in the Winston-Salem Fire Department that have come to light recently are shocking, especially when the details are revealed. Just what year is this? The perpetrators, if guilty, need to be weeded out and relieved of their positions.

During a news conference last week, several members of the Omnibus group of current and former firefighters discussed the racism they experienced while part of the fire department. They include offensive social media posts by white firefighters and, in one instance, a gorilla mask being left on the desk of a Black recruit.

Timika Ingram, who worked in the fire department from 2006 to 2010, said she had to leave because of the racial abuse. She was subjected to “atrocities, sexual slurs, evil looks, tensions,” she said — and alleged that her gear had been tampered with.

“From the racially charged and violent-laden social media posts to the witness accounts of verbal threats of violence to protesters, these are clear and blatant violations of city, state and federal policies,” member Thomas Penn said.

Never mind policies; they violate simple human decency.

White firefighter Rob Moricle, now retired, affirmed what the Black firefighters said at the press conference, saying that other white firefighters openly said racist things in his presence. He was a firefighter from 1986 to 2013.

“There’s no way I can know what these guys go through, because I’m white,” Moricle said during the news conference. “It wasn’t done to me. I saw the things that were put on Facebook and I knew the firefighters that put them on there. It was disgusting and unacceptable.”

Omnibus members said that the perpetrators of the racism are still employed by the fire department. And they laid blame at the feet of Chief William “Trey” Mayo, whom they say should be fired.

The city intends to hire an outside consulting firm to assess the working climate of the fire department.

The members of Omnibus say that’s not enough; they want a say in choosing who will conduct an investigation of the department.

It may not be enough, but it’s a good starting point. We encourage Omnibus to work with the city through this process.

“We are clearly taking their concerns very seriously,” Mayor Allen Joines said earlier this month while discussing a new policy intended to restrict racist content on social media. “I have been and continue to be supportive of issues relating to the African American community. The policy is the same policy that applies to police. It is very appropriate.”

We know the city wants all of its departments to have a good, welcoming reputation. It won’t tolerate racist behavior. No one else should, either. Even if some incidents were associated with some perverted tradition of firehouse hazing, there’s nothing to justify them in this day and age.

A fire doesn’t care the race of the person putting it out. What’s needed are brave, capable firefighters. Race is irrelevant.

Racism doesn’t develop in a vacuum. It’s fed by decisions — decisions to listen to insulting, divisive voices. Decisions to avoid seeking deeper understanding. Decisions that allow racial grievances to fester.

Firefighters who are unwilling to confront and overcome their prejudices should save the city some money and quit now.

Online: https://journalnow.com/

___

Aug. 25

The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer on U.S. Sen. Richard Burr:

That a U.S. senator does his job – acts as a check on executive power while working across the aisle – is hardly a profile in courage. But these days, when almost all Republican senators cower in fear of President Trump, one who leads a revealing bipartisan probe into what the president dismisses as a hoax has done something remarkable.

North Carolina’s senior senator Richard Burr, pilloried in March for dumping hundred of thousands dollars’ worth of stocks before the public knew the full threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, merits the public’s gratitude for his handling of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s final report on ties between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia.

Burr stepped down in May as the committee’s chairman after the FBI opened an investigation into his stock trades. But for more than three years he worked closely with the committee’s vice chairman, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, to produce a report exposing questionable actions by the Trump campaign.

The nearly 1,000-page report goes beyond special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings to add important details about the contacts between the campaign and Russia. One of its most serious findings is that Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, regularly shared campaign information with Konstantin Kilimnik, a man the committee identified as “a Russian intelligence officer.”

The report provides a powerful, bipartisan account for history about what happened as Russian operatives tried to undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and sway the election in Trump’s favor. It’s also an important warning for today that Russia already is trying to interfere again.

Intelligence Committee member Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said Burr and Warner worked to avoid partisan splits to deliver a powerful report with bipartisan backing.

“It could have all gone off the rails if we’d had different leadership,” King said in a CNN report. “There was a lot of give and take, a lot of times it was hard – they deserve the lion’s share of the credit.”

Burr, who was re-elected to a third term in 2016 but says he will not run again, did not comment, choosing to let the report speak for itself.

As chairman, he had his stumbles. He originally said in January 2017 that the committee would not explore contacts between Russia and Trump campaign as part of its investigation into Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee, saying it wasn’t the committee’s role to investigate campaigns. He relented when Democratic committee members objected. And he did the White House’s bidding in talking with reporters to knock down their reports on information pointing toward cooperation between the campaign and Russian operatives.

But in the end the points on which Burr stood firm were more important than those where he slipped. He fended off Trump’s requests that the committee’s work be wrapped up as early as 2017. He provoked the president’s ire by subpoenaing Donald Trump Jr. to testify. And he supported a committee report in April that agreed with U.S. intelligence conclusions that the Russians interfered to help Trump win the presidency.

In all, the panel produced five reports covering election security, Russian meddling and the Trump campaign’s interactions with the Russians.

Burr deserves the scorn he received for selling stocks in companies threatened by the pandemic even as he told the public that the U.S. was well prepared to contain COVID-19. He may face criminal charges for insider trading.

But his self-serving actions to protect his portfolio should not eclipse the genuine public service he rendered by seeking the truth about the 2016 campaign despite opposition from a president who has cowed almost all Republican senators.

Online: https://www.newsobserver.com/

___

Aug. 25

The News & Record on the census:

You would think that, of all the things we’d want to get right, the census would rank near the top of the list.

The census determines where billions of dollars in federal funding go.

According to the office of Gov. Roy Cooper, that comes to about $1,823 per person in North Carolina — or an annual total of roughly $7.4 billion.

The census count decides where funding goes for roads and highways, health care, economic development and other critical investments.

It also determines each state’s representation in Congress — whether it gains or loses seats based on population growth.

North Carolina is expected to add a 14th seat in the U.S. House. But that could be jeopardized by a census undercount.

Making this year’s census even more challenging has been COVID-19, which has delayed and limited the ability of census takers to canvass from door to door.

So, why, in the name of decency and common sense, would the U.S. Census Bureau not only fail to extend the deadline for responses for the 2020 Census, but cut them short by a full month?

Go figure. The bureau announced earlier this month that it is ending all census-taking efforts — including in-person, online, phone and mail responses — by Sept. 30.

Why do such a thing, given the stakes — and obstacles and complications created by COVID-19?

A written statement posted on the bureau’s website claimed that this will “accelerate the completion of data collection and apportionment counts by our statutory deadline of December 31, 2020, as required by law and directed by the Secretary of Commerce.”

Forgive our skepticism, but that language reads like a classified ad for a bridge sale.

So Cooper is right to join a bipartisan group of governors who are seeking an extension of the census count deadline at least until Oct. 31.

The governors expressed their concerns in a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham.

“Your recent announcement calls into question how millions of Americans who have yet to fill out their 2020 Census will be counted,” the letter says.

“It is surprising to hear how optimistic the Census Bureau is about being able to reach 100% in less than 60 days, given the current daily self-response rate and the fact that, as of the writing of this letter, only 63% of the country has responded to the 2020 Census.”

In North Carolina, 41% of residents had yet to respond to the census as of July 31.

The governors of Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington joined Cooper in signing the letter. Frankly, it’s disappointing that there weren’t more.

Among those who stand to lose the most in North Carolina if there is an undercount: rural counties, the elderly, people of color and military families.

In fact, federal dollars will be more critical than ever in an addressing the widespread, and ongoing, damage the coronavirus has done to health and economic well-being of millions of Americans.

Four former Census Bureau directors warn that not extending the deadline “will result in seriously incomplete enumerations in many areas across our country.”

There’s no good rationale for cutting short the census, especially in the midst of a pandemic.

But there are some not-so-good ones: an undercount of immigrants, people of color, renters and other group that are historically underrepresented in the results.

“We need the extra time to ensure that the hardest-to-count communities are included in the count,” Vanita Gupta, who heads The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told NPR.

“There is no other reason for the Trump administration to be rushing the census if they didn’t have a partisan or illegitimate motive.”

No other reason.

It’s not a stretch to suspect ulterior motives, since President Trump has been poking at the 2020 census for months.

As for what you can do? Don’t let him.

Make sure you’re counted. If you’ve received your census questionnaire via mail, fill it out and return it.

You also can respond by phone at 1-844-330-2020 or by web at MY2020CENSUS.GOV.

Stand and be counted. It’s your right. And it’s your future.

Make your voice heard, whether some people are eager to listen or not.

Online: https://greensboro.com/