Despite Being Cop, Murderer Found Guilty

Overwhelming evidence sufficient, for once + vaccine skeptics dig in + Tim Moore sends message + Phil Berger dodges bullet + Raleigh’s protest alert + Wake’s housing plan + more guns! + free lunch!

Wed., April 21, 2021

Happy Wednesday, friends. I have some bad news:

  • It appears that if I don’t my sleep habits by age 50—which, sadly, isn’t that far in the distant future—I’m looking at a higher potential for dementia in my dotage, according to new research in the journal Nature Communications.

  • Per The New York Times: “People who don’t get enough sleep in their 50s and 60s may be more likely to develop dementia when they are older. … Those who consistently reported sleeping six hours or less on an average weeknight were about 30 percent more likely than people who regularly got seven hours sleep to be diagnosed with dementia nearly three decades later.”

  • I don’t even want to know what that means for us five-hour-a-night workaholic insomniacs.

Weather: Breezy in the morning, a small chance of showers in the afternoon, high in the low 70s.

Mystery solved: Credit for yesterday’s deluge of new email subs goes to the very nice folks at Charlotte Ledger, which mentioned ye olde PRIMER in a write-up of newsy newsletters. (I guess I should write about Charlotte now?)


Today’s Numbers:

30

Age, in years, of Durham institution The Scrap Exchange, which survived the pandemic and hit the big 3–0 on April 15.

48

Percentage increase in a county’s COVID-19 deaths for each 10% increase in the number of residents without health insurance.

92, 86

Percentage market share that Blue Cross Blue Shield NC had in the Durham-Chapel Hill and Raleigh-Cary MSA federal healthcare exchanges, respectively, in 2019, according to a new report from the American Medical Association tracking the lack of competition among insurance providers.

  • BCBSNC had 57% (D-CH) and 56% (R-C), respectively, of the PPO market share.

  • UnitedHeath had 74% (D-CH) and 71% (R-C), respectively, of the HMO market.

  • BCBSNC had 52% (D-CH) and 48% (R-C), respectively, of the combined total market.

  • North Carolina was among the 10 states with the least competitive health insurance markets. A statewide public option, like Connecticut tried (and failed) to pass, would be useful.


+TODAY’S TOP 5

1. Derek Chauvin, Convicted Felon

This is how the Minneapolis Police first reported George Floyd’s death:

He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.

That bulletin came from a PIO, who later said he was only repeating what the cops on scene had told him. They never reported using force.

If Floyd’s murder hadn’t been videotaped, that would be the official story. Derek Chauvin would still be a police officer. Floyd would have died of “natural causes.” No one would know any different. No one would know George Floyd’s name. The lie would be the truth.

I’ve done my share of police reporting. Here’s the reality: Cops lie. A lot. Not all of them. Not all the time. But enough to make us skeptical of police narratives.

Of course, the system isn’t skeptical about police narratives. Without ironclad evidence to the contrary, the system accepts them as gospel. Sometimes, even seemingly ironclad evidence isn’t enough to hold police accountable. (Just imagine how many times cops got away with killing people before everyone had a camera in their pocket.)

I shouldn’t be surprised that Derek Chavin was convicted of murdering George Floyd yesterday. The evidence—namely, the video of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes—was overwhelming and inescapable. But I am. I was surprised, too, to see his bail revoked pending sentencing, and to see him handcuffed in the courtroom.

The notion of police actually being held accountable is so foreign as to be near inconceivable.

As The New York Times noted: “The verdict, which could send the former officer, Derek Chauvin, to prison for decades, was a rare rebuke of police violence, following case after case of officers going without charges or convictions after killing Black men, women and children.”

In a—credit where it’s due—direct and poignant address after the verdict, President Biden said the verdict “can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America.”

Counterpoint: Just as the Chauvin verdict was being read, police in Columbus, Ohio, fatally shot and killed a 15-year-old Black girl who had called 911 because she was about to be jumped. She had a knife in her hand to defend herself when the cops arrived, but, according to her aunt, dropped it. The cops fired four times anyway.

  • The police told the local media that the girl, Makiyah Bryant, had tried to stab someone. (See above re: police narratives.)

  • “A woman identified as Tay Jones wrote on Facebook that she had witnessed the shooting and posted video purportedly from the scene. She said the 15-year-old had a knife ‘because somebody tried to jump her.’ The white police officer who shot her never told her to put down the knife, according to Jones.” (Daily Beast)

I won’t get into the defund debate here. But I’ll say that, at minimum, the public’s relationship with the police needs to be reimagined.

  • In many cities—though North Carolina doesn’t have this problem—union contracts make it all but impossible for departments to fire bad cops and, in fact, encourage abuse and violence. They should be banned.

  • In North Carolina, cops shouldn’t be treated like everyday bureaucrats. They have the state-sanctioned right to kill—and, short of that, to ruin people’s lives. Their personnel files, disciplinary records, and internal affairs investigations—sustained or otherwise—should be public record.

  • Likewise, Giglio and Brady letters, which district attorneys are obliged to write to defense lawyers when they don’t trust a cop enough to put him on the stand, should also be public. We have a right to know who we’re dealing with.

  • Police review boards should have subpoena and disciplinary power. If you trust police departments’ internal affairs divisions to effectively police their own without oversight, please tell me what it’s like to be that naive.

  • And, of course, we have to end qualified immunity, cops’ get-out-of-court-free card on any and all civil allegations of abuse.

None of that is going to happen in North Carolina, at least not anytime soon. Instead, the General Assembly is nibbling around the edges of reform, with a few Republican-backed ideas that may see daylight as the session winds on. These include:

  • Require psychological training for new officers.

  • Require cops who witness another cop’s excessive use of force to intervene and report it within 72 hours.

  • Require organizations that certify law enforcement officers to search databases for convictions before certification.

  • Require more training for dealing with people with mental illness.

  • Create a nonpublic statewide database of “critical” law enforcement incidents— meaning “an incident involving any use of force by a law enforcement officer that results in death or serious bodily injury to a person”—and an “early warning system” for problem cops. (Also not public.)

  • The General Assembly being what it is, the Senate wants to package those last two items with a provision raising the penalty for rioting from a misdemeanor to a felony and making it a more serious felony if there is property damage.

Timing: Yesterday, the city of Raleigh debuted a “protest notification” system for downtown businesses and residents.

  • “The text message does not indicate that there are concerns with the protests or that individuals should be alarmed. It just alerts people about a protest and the location of the protesters. The alert system is something that business owners and residents asked for following violent protests and riots last summer in the wake of Floyd's death that left numerous downtown businesses damaged or destroyed.” (WRAL)

Related: The N&O has a roundup of local reactions to the verdict.

▶️ OTHER RACISM NEWS

  • On the eve of the Chauvin verdict, Florida effectively made protesting a crime—and made it legal to run over protesters marching in the street. The law also gives the governor veto power over local governments’ decisions on police funding.

    • “The Florida law gives police broad new powers to impose collective punishment on those engaged in protest. First, it lowers the threshold of a ‘riot’ to include as few as three people engaging in ‘violent and disorderly conduct.’ This could subject anyone at an otherwise peaceful event where such a disturbance occurs to third-degree felony charges, punishable by up to five years in prison and the loss of the right to vote.

    • “The bill also creates a new second-degree felony of ‘aggravated rioting’ for any large group action that, among other not-clearly-harmful and vaguely-described impacts, ‘endangers the safe movement of a vehicle traveling on a public street, highway, or road.’ Further, the law creates a new, hazy, misdemeanor charge of ‘mob intimidation’ that requires anyone so charged to be held until their first bail hearing—effectively giving cops carte blanche to lock up protesters overnight.”

    • “While broadly criminalizing protest, the bill also shields Floridians from civil liability if they happen to injure or kill a protester involved in a demonstration the authorities label a ‘riot.’ According to testimony by the state ACLU: ‘A white supremacist who maliciously drove his car into protesters … like the one in Charlottesville that killed Heather Heyer, would be able to assert an affirmative defense under this bill.’” (Rolling Stone)

  • Winston-Salem’s city council passed a resolution on Monday to apologize for slavery and urban renewal and call on Congress to pass a bill that would establish a committee to study reparations. (W-S Journal)

  • Governor Cooper helped organize a letter signed by a bipartisan group of more than 50 current and former governors, state AGs, and other officials calling on businesses to speak out on voting restrictions. (N&O)


2. Here Cometh the Vaccine Slowdown

The U.S. recently hit an important milestone: a majority of Americans has gotten at least the first of two COVID vaccinations shots. That’s good.

  • We’ll reach herd immunity when 80–90% of the population has either been vaccinated or infected.

  • Right now, we’ve had about 32 million infections, about 9% of the population.

  • That means we probably need at least 75% to get vaccinated.

Don’t get your hopes up.

  • “Most Americans who haven’t received the coronavirus vaccine say they’re unlikely to get the shots, according to an Axios-Ipsos poll released Monday, indicating the country’s mass immunization campaign could soon reach its peak. Of the unvaccinated adults, 2 in 3 told pollsters they were either ‘not likely at all’ or ‘not very likely’ to get the injections. That proportion has remained level for more than month, polling shows.” (WaPo)

The resistance, of course, is primarily coming from Republicans, who are increasingly “entrenched” in their position.

  • “Although more than half of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, more than 40 percent of Republicans have consistently told pollsters they’re not planning to be vaccinated—a group that could threaten efforts to tamp down the virus’s spread, public health officials fear.”

  • A focus group of Trump-loving vaccine skeptics wasn’t worried about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine blood clots. Instead, they were freaked out at the prospect of Pfizer booster shots. Said one, who apparently has never had an annual flu shot: “I feel like this is not going to end. I mean, we’re just going to be shot up and shot up and shot up. We can’t live like this. This is not sustainable.”

Even if they came around, however, herd immunity is probably a pipe dream.

  • “Long-term prospects for the pandemic probably include COVID-19 becoming an endemic disease, much like influenza. But in the near term, scientists are contemplating a new normal that does not include herd immunity.” (Nature)

▶️ OTHER NATIONAL NEWS

  • This seems like a pretty big deal: The USDA announced that it will extend universal free lunch—or, in bureaucratese, “pandemic flexibilities for schools and day care facilities”—throughout the 2021-22 school year. (WaPo, USDA)

  • George W. Bush (!) called the Republican Party “isolationist, protectionist, and to a certain extent, nativist.” And that’s when it occurred to me that if Dubya was in the Senate right now, that warmongering asshole would be one of the “moderate,” “reasonable ones.” That’s how topsy-turvy this political moment is. (Today Show)

  • After a producer at the Trump-loving OANN told The New York Times that his own colleagues knew the conspiratorial bullshit they were putting on the air was conspiratorial bullshit, OANN fired him. (WaPo)

▶️ OTHER COVID NEWS

  • Unlike Duke, UNC System campuses will not require students to be vaccinated before returning this fall. (WRAL)


3. Don’t F**k with Tim Moore

Yesterday, I mentioned that state Rep. Julia Howard, longtime Republican who chaired the Finance Committee, publicly opposed a bill backed by Speaker Tim Moore and other top Republicans that will benefit some of those very same lawmakers.

Tim Moore was not pleased.

  • “North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore removed fellow Republican Rep. Julia Howard from her position as a senior finance committee chair Tuesday.”

  • “By revoking Howard’s chairmanship, Moore acted swiftly to punish a challenge to his control. With the legislature sharply divided along party lines, infighting in the speaker’s party presents a challenge to his ability to advance his, and his party’s, agenda.” (N&O)

  • A statement from House leaders said the caucus was behind the bill, but Howard didn’t want to move it. “While we respect different viewpoints, committee chairs must be willing to put personal agendas aside and move forward with the will of the caucus.”

  • Moore previously dethroned Howard when he became speaker in 2015, putting in place someone more aligned with his agenda.

  • Howard objected to the bill—she was one of only two lawmakers to do so—because of the ethical considerations and because, while it helped businesses, it did not make unemployment compensation tax deductible.


4. Phil Berger Would Rather Not Replay HB2

While Tim Moore is settling scores, Phil Berger is declining to be a national punchline.

Yesterday, Berger announced that the Senate would not vote on the House’s—let’s be real—insane legislation targeting transgender children. If you’ve forgotten, the bill would not only ban basic treatments for precocious puberty as well as forbid 18-year-old women from getting masectomies, but it would REQUIRE teachers to write a letter home if little Johnny displayed any “gender nonconforming” behavior.

  • “Senate leader Phil Berger’s statement, first reported by WFAE Monday night, all but kills the legislation, which already faced a likely veto from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper if it ever made it to his desk. It now has slim-to-no chance of becoming law this year or next.”

  • “It’s unclear what the move means for the rest of the bills related to LGBTQ rights pending in North Carolina’s General Assembly, however. One bill proposed would ban transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams.” (N&O)

  • None of those bills has moved, which usually means there’s not much of an appetite for him.

▶️ OTHER NCGA NEWS

  • The NC Sheriffs Association has reversed itself and is backing a bill to end pistol permitting in the state. The Sheriffs Association says the permitting—run by county sheriffs—is duplicative, because registered gun dealers have to do background checks anyway. (WRAL)

    • But lots of people buy guns from friends or family members who don’t run background checks.

    • Then again, friends and family members are supposed to ask to see a permit before making a sale, and how often do you think that happens?

    • Gun rights groups oppose the change, saying that in states without pistol permitting, suicides and homicides rise.

    • Here’s a fun twist: The gun-nut group Grass Roots North Carolina points out—correctly!—that the permitting system traces back to Jim Crow, and the Black people have permit applications rejected much more frequently than whites.


5. Wake Commits $10M to Affordable Housing

Wake County’s Board of Commissioners voted Monday to allocate $10.4 million toward six potential affordable housing sites in Raleigh, Apex, Holly Springs, Wake Forest, and Zebulon that could provide 626 units for households between 30% and 80% of the area median income (i.e., poor, but not very poor).

  • The two Raleigh locations will be along future bus rapid transit lines.

  • Three of the developments—in Apex, Wake Forest, and Zebulon—are for seniors.

  • All of this hinges on the NC Housing Finance Agency approving the projects for tax credits. Tax credits are worth roughly 9% of the cost of construction or rehab. Owners must agree to keep rents affordable for between 15 and 30 years.

  • But because Congress caps the amount each state can give per year, they’re competitive. The developers of these projects should know if they’ve been approved by August.