Riots, Weed, and Other Legislative Delights

Fri., Aug. 17: While NC’s ICUs fill up, NCSU students skip the shot + the Afghanistan attacks


1. Take Me to the Riot

On Tuesday night, after the state Senate passed HB 805 on a 25–19 vote, Durham ex-Republican First Amendment lawyer/Twitter celebrity T. Greg Doucette got into it first with House Speaker Tim Moore’s chief of staff, Neil Inman, and then with Senate leader Phil Berger’s right-hand lawyer, Brent Woodcox, over whether the bill—conceived in the wake of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, then in the protests that followed the police killing of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City earlier this year—was an attempt to quash dissent.

It got personal.

Doucette defends street pharmacists! He also did more than just about anyone to expose the shady Silent Sam deal between the UNC Board of Governors and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Anyway, without wading into the, uh, peeing match, the central question here is whether the bill infringes on civil rights, which the ACLU and Democrats argue, or merely tightens penalties for rioters, as Republicans claim.

The answer is … well, first, read the Senate’s version for yourself, and do so without assuming anything about intent. I believe Republicans believe this legislation won’t impede civil liberties in any way. But I’m not sure that’s how it will play out in real life.

Here, I’ve annotated what I see as the important parts of the bill. Not all of this is new. (The strikethroughs are what the bill would remove from state law, and the underlined parts are what it would add.) But given the other pieces of the bill, these pieces are worth noting.

Section 1 is full of what you might call loose language: how “riot” and “willfully engages” and “willfully incited or urges another to engage in” are defined—or not.

  • For example: How does clause (G)—“Mere presence alone without an overt act is not sufficient to sustain a conviction pursuant to this section”—square with the one making “willful engagement” in a riot? (A riot is defined as a public disturbance involving three or more people “which by disorderly and violent conduct, or the imminent threat of disorderly and violent conduct, results in injury or damage to persons or property or creates a clear and present danger of injury or damage to persons or property.”)

  • “It’s poorly written,” Doucette told me yesterday. “My assumption is that it was written with the goal of not exposing people who end up surrounded by a riot to prosecution. It’s a classic example of people with zero experience with the criminal justice system writing the criminal justice laws.”

Section 2 seems redundant, not just because it’s a word-for-word regurgitation of Section 1’s (f). If I own a storefront and you throw a brick through it, don’t I already have the right to sue? (Lawyers, please correct me if I’m wrong.) I’ve never been in that situation—the INDY’s Raleigh office was torn up when I was editor, but I didn’t own the paper—but I assumed that chasing after rioters for several thousand dollars they probably didn’t have was a fool’s errand; that’s why you have insurance.

Section 3, which defines assaults on emergency personnel, is where we start to run into potential civil liberties issues.

  • The section defines assaults as occurring “Within the immediate vicinity of which a riot is occurring or is imminent.”

  • It then broadens the definition of emergency personnel to include not just members of the National Guard but anyone “otherwise discharging or attempting to discharge his or her official duties during the emergency,” which strikes me as incredibly nebulous.

  • (If I’m a journalist covering a “riot”—i.e., performing my “official duties” during an emergency—and a cop tear-gasses me, has he just committed a class F felony by assaulting me with a dangerous substance? That’s clearly not the intent, but, well, that’s what’s on the page.)

  • Finally, it removes the requirement that an assault cause “physical injury” while raising the penalty to a felony class that can send someone to prison for two years.

To sum this up: The bill will allow police officers within the immediate vicinity of a “riot” that may or may not happen to charge people with assaulting a person—no injury required—who is attempting to discharge undefined “official duties” with a felony that can land them in prison for more than two years.

  • Anyone who covered last year’s BLM protests—or who has ever been around any protests, anywhere, ever—knows this language is just asking to be abused.

  • Large-scale demonstrations are high-energy, high-emotion situations. Some protesters get amped and vandalize or start fights. That behavior sometimes becomes contagious. That’s not an excuse; it is what it is.

  • Cops—who show up dressed for war—get amped, too. They get frustrated, they get pissed off, some of them want to crack skulls. And they can paint with a very broad brush when defining “rioters” and defining “assault,” especially when all that’s needed for a charge is their word.

  • Not all of them, of course—this isn’t an anti-cop rant. It’s a word of caution from someone who’s covered police for a long time. And that brings us to …

Section 4—specifically, one part of Section 4—is by far the most problematic. This part:

  • “A defendant may be retained in custody not more than 48 hours from the time of arrest without a determination being made under this section by a judge.”

  • I’ll let Doucette, a criminal defense attorney, explain why this is a no-good, very bad idea.

Here’s how this will be abused: Cops and city officials will declare protests “riots,” make arrests by the dozens or even hundreds, stick everyone in a cell for two days—that’s time out of work or school many protesters can’t afford—then drop charges that won’t stick. The next protest, same deal.

  • Imagine there’s another Andrew Brown-type shooting, and the cops want to shut the protests down. The General Assembly is giving them a ticket to ride.

  • Again, I don’t think that’s their intent. But that’s how it will work. (Or maybe I’m too cynical.)

For the record: The headline does not condone rioting. It’s a reference to this:

2. (Not Quite) Everybody Must Get Stoned

The state Senate taketh away your right to protest (OK, not exactly), the state Senate giveth you the bong (also not exactly, just go with it).

Senate Bill 711—the Compassionate Care Act—cleared the Senate Health Committee yesterday with just a few amendments, according to WRAL’s Travis Fain. (The General Assembly hasn’t posted an updated version of the bill, with the amendments included.)

The amendments added Thursday tinker with the state's regulatory structure and added a new rule requiring dispensary employees to be at least 21 years old. The bill also says these "medical cannabis centers" could sell only cannabis products and paraphernalia, which can't be visible from outside the shop.

The shops can open only from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and must be at least 1,000 feet from churches, schools, child care facilities, and community colleges or public universities.

Supplier licenses would cost $50,000, with an annual $10,000 renewal. Several lawmakers say the price is too low and that language should be added to the bill forbidding people from reselling licenses, which have sold in other states for millions of dollars.

Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Reefer Madness, still thinks the measure is going to lead to a hookah in every living room, and other committee members thought the licenses were too cheap—which, maybe, considering the bill will allow only 10 suppliers to open four dispensaries each. That seems like a near-monopoly.

But in rereading the version that went to the Health Committee, it occurred to me that maybe the bill isn’t as restrictive as I thought. Here’s why:

  • Any other serious medical condition or its treatment added by the Compassionate Use Advisory Board.”

  • The CUAB will have 13 members. The governor—right now, a Democrat—will appoint nine of its members. They could expand access to medical marijuana significantly: migraines, arthritis, anxiety and depression, excessive gas, ear wax, who the heck knows.

  • Come to think of it, maybe Hise isn’t wrong. I guess it just depends on whether you’re scared of where the slippery slope leads. Polling suggests most people aren’t.

3. NC State Is a COVID Hot Spot

The other day, an adjunct at NC State told me she’d just gotten a rapid COVID test (negative) after one of her students had tested positive. She got her test off-campus; the school provides PCR tests, which have a two-day turnaround. The students would have another class before they’d get the results back. They wouldn’t be given an excused absence, weren’t told to quarantine, and she’s not allowed to conduct the class virtually, she said.

  • State also has lackluster vax rates.

On Aug. 24—the day I spoke with the adjunct—44 students and five employees tested positive for COVID. This fall, the campus has seen nearly 300 (that it knows of).

Per the N&O:

More than 500 students are isolating or quarantining off campus. About 40 are isolating or quarantining on campus. 

The university has not reported any clusters in residence halls this fall.

N.C. State is not reporting vaccination rates on its website, but reports that more than 28,000 members of its campus community are vaccinated.

As of Aug. 26, about 65% of students, 79% of faculty and 61% of staff are vaccinated, according to university spokesperson Fred Hartman.

NC State isn’t tracking whether its cases are among vaccinated students. It has begun mandatory testing for unvaccinated students and employees, however.

At UNC-CH, 88% of students are vaccinated, as are 82% of employees. About 250 students have tested positive.

Meanwhile, the state is running out of ICU beds. According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Service’s dashboard:

  • 87% of staffed ICU beds and 80% of inpatient beds are full

  • 76% of ventilators are being used

In what DHHS calls the Capital Region Healthcare Preparedness Coalition (Wake and its suburban counties), there are:

  • 331 hospitalized COVID patients, including 92 in the ICU

  • 89% of ICU beds are full

  • 70% of ventilators in use

  • 87% of in-patient hospital beds in use

In the Duke Healthcare Preparedness Coalition (Durham County up to the border), there are:

  • 173 hospitalized COVID patients, and 51 in the ICU

  • 86% of ventilators in use

  • 93% of ICU beds full

  • 88% of in-patient hospital beds in use

4. 13 Americans Die in Afghan ISIS Attacks

Yesterday, suicide bombers associated with ISIS-K set off explosions amid the crowd outside the Kabul airport, killing 13 American service members and at least 60 Afghans.

The deaths set off a political feeding frenzy, including a Republican congressman who called for Joe Biden’s resignation and a stream of excitable cable pundits who found another reason to keep fighting in Afghanistan.

  • That, I suspect but do not know, was the terrorists’ goal. They are rivals of the Taliban, and instability and a more robust U.S. presence serve their interests.

  • An exhausted-looking Biden responded in the afternoon, pledging to kick Jihadi ass. It won’t staunch the political bleeding, not anytime soon.

  • I have THOUGHTS—on the depressing levels of hypocrisy and cynicism and media jingoism—but I’m going to let them simmer before releasing them into the wild. (I’m trying something new. My shrink says it’ll be good for me.)