A reality check on crime and justice

If it’s an election year, expect crime to be an issue. Candidates and parties draw conclusions with every headline, and exchange rhetoric that sheds more heat than light. But the history and reality of America’s criminal justice system is more complicated than a “tough on crime” slogan would indicate.

The just published “Excessive Punishment: How the Justice System Creates Mass Incarceration” offers essays by scholars, advocates, people who have experienced incarceration and former law enforcement who make the case that public safety, justice and fairness are not only compatible as goals, but they can and must be achieved together. Lauren-Brooke Eisen, the book’s editor, is the senior director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, where she leads the organization’s work to reduce America’s reliance on incarceration, and is the author of “Inside Private Prisons” (Columbia University Press, 2017) and a former prosecutor. She joins Equal Time to talk about why the book is especially timely in the present political climate.

A reality check on crime and justice

If it’s an election year, expect crime to be an issue. Candidates and parties draw conclusions with every headline, and exchange rhetoric that sheds more heat than light. But the history and reality of America’s criminal justice system is more complicated than a “tough on crime” slogan would indicate.

The just published “Excessive Punishment: How the Justice System Creates Mass Incarceration” offers essays by scholars, advocates, people who have experienced incarceration and former law enforcement who make the case that public safety, justice and fairness are not only compatible as goals, but they can and must be achieved together. Lauren-Brooke Eisen, the book’s editor, is the senior director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, where she leads the organization’s work to reduce America’s reliance on incarceration, and is the author of “Inside Private Prisons” (Columbia University Press, 2017) and a former prosecutor. She joins Equal Time to talk about why the book is especially timely in the present political climate.

Abortion is on the ballot. But so is loyalty to Trump: Will voters connect the dots between policy and party in 2024?

A long-promised Donald Trump statement on abortion has finally been released. As expected, it was vague and pleased few. The former president both bragged about his appointment of three Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade, and stopped short of endorsing a national abortion ban, instead pledging to leave the decision up to the states.

While it may anger the faction of his party endorsing a national ban, the statement proves the almost certain Republican Party presidential nominee, as transactional and self-serving as ever, can read the polls and the political winds.

Remember, this is the man with a history of declaring himself “pro-choice,” “pro-life” and in favor of punishing women who seek abortions. I’m not sure what he truly believes, but it’s clear from his dancing around the issue that he knows he could pay a price for the GOP’s anti-abortion rights stance in November.

But maybe dealing in contradictions won’t hurt him and his party as much as Trump believes and Democrats hope.

It may not make perfect sense, but a certain voting pattern has been happening lately. Citizens in red states surprise observers when they lean blue on the issue of reproductive and abortion rights, yet continue to reelect the politicians who support those bans.

Ohio has proven that two things could be true at once: Democrat Tim Ryan, Ohioan through and through, could experience defeat in a 2022 Senate race at the hands of Donald Trump-endorsed Republican J.D. Vance, who just a few years ago was tagged as an elitist leaving behind background and family with his best-selling “Hillbilly Elegy.” This was after calling Trump an “idiot” in 2016.

And those same voters could troop to the ballot box in November 2023 to make sure a right to abortion is enshrined in the state’s constitution — after earlier rejecting a state GOP attempt to make it more difficult to win that right.

Vance was shaken by that result last year, writing “we need to understand why we lost this battle so we can win the war.”

But in spite of the surprise Ohio voters handed Republicans, incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown is still facing a tough reelection race in the fall. That’s despite his working-class credibility across the state, a record of accomplishments that have benefited Ohio and endorsements from groups such as the 100,000-member Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council. Brown criticizes free-trade agreements, even those coming from his own party, when he says they hurt his constituents.

His GOP opponent, wealthy businessman Bernie Moreno, may have no experience and a background many voters are still filling in, but he has something much more important — a Donald Trump endorsement.

In a state that voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 by a comfortable margin, that may be more than enough. The fact that Ohio voters have proven to be on board with a Democrat’s record and his party’s stand on the issue of reproductive rights is fighting a growing partisan divide that sees a lot less ticket-splitting.

Inside Elections rates both Brown’s race and that of established Montana Sen. Jon Tester, another Democratic incumbent in a red state, as Toss-ups.

Democrats see abortion rights giving them a fighting chance in states they’ve recently seen as lost causes. It wasn’t that long ago (2008 and 2012, in fact) that the party won both Ohio and even, yes, Florida. With an abortion rights initiative on the Sunshine State’s ballot in November, Democrats have even been dreaming of a resurgence in the land of Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump.

It will take more than dreams in a time when party is also identity.

Local News Roundup: VP Harris visits Charlotte; Not enough NC school vouchers; Centene’s HQ gets a new owner

Vice President Kamala Harris visits Charlotte. We’ll have a wrap-up of her visit.

Good news (or bad news) in school vouchers: 13,500 students are granted North Carolina opportunity scholarships, but it’s not even close to the number of students who have applied. We look at the numbers.

On Monday night, City Council member Renee Johnson offered up an alternative way to pay for public transit plans (spoiler alert — she got the idea from Asheville).

CATS will hold Public Meetings about the Red Line Commuter Rail this month in Northern Mecklenburg and Iredell County, and a virtual meeting will take place next week. We’ll hear more.

The defunct Centene headquarters building in University City gets new life this week as Vanguard announces it will buy the building. We’ll give the details.

The Charlotte Knights begin their season with a six game home stretch against the Norfolk Tide.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. says he’s got enough votes to be on North Carolina’s ballot in November. If he’s validated in NC, how will this impact the vote here?

Mike Collins and our roundtable of reporters delve into those stories and more, on the Charlotte Talks Local News Roundup.

GUESTS:

Mary C. Curtis, columnist for Rollcall.com, host of the Rollcall podcast “Equal Time”
Joe Bruno, WSOC-TV reporter and host of “The Political Beat”
Ann Doss Helms, WFAE education reporter
Alexandria Sands, reporter with Axios Charlotte

Local News Roundup: Triplexes up for discussion again at City Council; Hornets practice facility approved; Pineville’s controversial substation vote; March Madness in the Carolinas

At City Council Monday night, the city proposed a modification to development rules that would limit triplexes in residential areas to corner lots only. How does this depart from what was laid out in Charlotte’s 2040 plan?

City Council also voted 7-1 this week to move forward with plans for a stand-alone practice facility for the Charlotte Hornets. We’ll remind you of how this changed from the original plan, and fill you in on what will happen next.

Both the President and the Vice President were in North Carolina this week to talk about affordable healthcare. This already made multiple visits to the Tar Heel state for President Biden and Vice President Harris, which will undoubtedly be a major battleground state in this November’s election.

In Pineville, the town council approved a controversial substation this week, but it was a tight vote. We’ll talk about the very short special meeting that ended in a 3-2 vote. The leaders say the substation is crucial to keeping up with the growing demand for utilities. We’ll discuss.

The NCDOT gets positive feedback for its updated plan for a new Amtrak rail yard in South End. We’ll explain.

And March Madness continues for teams in North and South Carolina. We’ll break it down.

Mike Collins and our roundtable of reporters delve into those stories and more, on the Charlotte Talks local news roundup.

GUESTS:

Nick Ochsner, WBTV’s executive producer for Investigations & chief investigative reporter
Mary Ramsey, local government accountability reporter for the Charlotte Observer
Mary C. Curtis, columnist for Rollcall.com, host of the Rollcall podcast “Equal Time”
Ely Portillo, senior editor at WFAE News

A two-tiered justice system is nothing new — and certainly not what Trump says it is

It may come as a surprise to hear that I actually agree with Donald Trump on something: America does have a two-tiered system of justice. In fact, you could say I beat him to it since I reached that conclusion long before the former president adopted it as his mantra.

I was not even in grade school when my older brother was arrested. While I didn’t know much about the world, I always thought that you had to do something terrible for law enforcement to haul you away. I also knew my brother Tony. And, though he teased me in the annoying way big brothers do, I valued him not only as a brother and friend, but as a pretty cool dude. So, I knew he couldn’t be the bad guy.

I still remember that night.

My mom and dad, fresh off the joy of a church dance, were confronted with the crisis when they hit the front door, and they scrambled to find the deed to the house in case they needed it to bail their son out (because if my father had anything to say about it, Tony was not going to spend a night in jail).

I was more confused when I discovered his “crime,” sitting down in a diner and ordering a burger.

That was it?

It really was the “system,” I realized, not my brother. Maryland law, at a time not that long ago, allowed business owners to bar Black people from their establishments. What the state did was technically legal — but wrong. I was sure of it.

An unjust law allowed the police whose salary my parents paid with their taxes to handcuff, fingerprint and jail my big brother because people who looked like my family were not included in an oath to “protect and serve.”

It was definitely a two-tiered system of justice, one that folks like my three eldest siblings and civil rights lawyer Juanita Jackson Mitchell — whose expertise brought my brother home — worked to correct with activism and courage, an adjective that definitely does not apply to Trump’s Jan. 6 army of lawbreakers.

That the activists’ job is not done is clear when poor folks and minorities, often represented by overworked public defenders, languish in jails when they haven’t been tried or convicted of anything.

It’s why my solidarity with Trump ends when you dive into the actual details.

Local News Roundup: Rep. Jeff Jackson votes for TikTok ban; Sports betting live in NC; Aftermath of State Superintendent primary upset; CMS Superintendent on district’s future

Representative Jeff Jackson votes in favor of a proposed TikTok ban in Congress, but Dan Bishop is against it. We hear why.

Two North Carolinians are now the co-chairs of the Republican National Committee, hand-picked by former President Donald Trump.

Last week we discussed the upset in the GOP race for state Superintendent in North Carolina. So what happens next? We hear about the general election candidates and their electability.

North Carolina principals asked state lawmakers Monday to revise the state’s pay plan. We hear what representatives of the state Principals and Assistant Principals’ Association said.

And, in case you haven’t heard, sports betting has gone live in North Carolina. We’ll fill you in.

Mike Collins and our roundtable of reporters delve into those stories and more, on the Charlotte Talks Local News Roundup.

GUESTS:

Erik Spanberg, managing editor for the Charlotte Business Journal
Mary C. Curtis, columnist for Rollcall.com, host of the Rollcall podcast “Equal Time”
Ann Doss Helms, WFAE education reporter
Ben Thompson, morning and midday anchor at WCNC Charlotte and host of WCNC’s “Flashpoint”

If Mark Robinson is your standard-bearer, you might reexamine your standards

A lot of people now know about Mark Robinson, the Republican candidate for governor in North Carolina. Some national and international outsiders looking in were shocked at his Super Tuesday win. But I always thought the Donald Trump-endorsed Robinson was a shoo-in. That’s the red-versus-blue country we live in, when many times the “D” or “R” label means more than the person wearing it.

Yet, I find myself glancing side to side at my fellow North Carolinians, realizing that with Robinson’s win, they either don’t know much about the man other than his party affiliation, or they know him and approve of what he says and how he says it.

And as loud as he screams his repugnant views, there’s no excuse for anyone within state lines pretending he’s an unknown quantity. I swear you can hear him roar from the beach to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

His voters won’t be able to hide now, though, since national newspapers and cable networks are all doing their “Mark Robinson” stories in the same way gawkers slow down for a better look at a car crash on the side of the road.

So, what exactly has Robinson said to make national media finally notice? Take your pick, since the list of racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic comments and personal insults is long.

The civil rights movement that provided the path for Robinson, a Black man, to rise to his current post of lieutenant governor? He has said it was “crap,” called the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an “ersatz pastor” and a “communist,” and disavowed being any part of the African American community. “Why would I want to be part of a ‘community’ that sucks from the putrid tit of the government and then complains about getting sour milk?” he wrote, employing every offensive stereotype that would be right at home at a white supremacist get-together.

Women? Robinson’s message to a North Carolina church was that Christians were “called to be led by men,” that God sent Moses to lead the Israelites. “Not Momma Moses,” he said. “Daddy Moses.”

Robinson reserves especially toxic rhetoric for members of the LGBTQ community, unapologetically, and often in sermons. “There’s no reason anybody anywhere in America should be telling any child about transgenderism, homosexuality, any of that filth,” Robinson preached in one of them.

And though Robinson has tried to clean up his record with a trip to Israel, the Hitler-quoting candidate wrote in 2018 on Facebook: “This foolishness about Hitler disarming MILLIONS of Jews and then marching them off to concentration camps is a bunch of hogwash.”

There is plenty more, but you get the idea.

Local News Roundup: Pat Cotham out after Super Tuesday upset; Matthews Commission discontinues Zoom comments; Sheriff McFadden at the SOTU address

Super Tuesday in North Carolina ended with upsets (including Pat Cotham losing out on the seat she’s held since 2012), low voter turnout and the end of the line for Nikki Haley. We’ll recap what the primary will mean for the local, state and national vote going forward.

The Town of Matthews decided no more Zoom comments will be included in future meetings after offensive remarks were made last week. We’ll hear what Mayor John Higdon said about the Zoom-bombers.

CATS said this week at the Charlotte City Council meeting that it still plans to move the main bus station uptown underground. We’ll hear what CATS Interim CEO Brent Cagle said about the plans, which aren’t changing despite the Hornets’ no longer participating in the plan to build a practice facility as part of the project.

This week, Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden is in the audience for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address. He’s Charlotte-area representative Alma Adam’s guest for the address, and she said she wants to highlight his efforts to reduce gun violence.

Mike Collins and our roundtable of reporters delve into those stories and more, on the Charlotte Talks local news roundup.

GUESTS:

Erik Spanberg, managing editor for the Charlotte Business Journal
Mary C. Curtis, columnist for Rollcall.com, host of the Rollcall podcast “Equal Time”
Joe Bruno, WSOC-TV reporter and host of “The Political Beat”
Ely Portillo, senior editor at WFAE News

Justice for Black voters? Or rap songs and sneakers?

Vice President Kamala Harris marked the anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala., this past Sunday, joining in a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, re-creating the steps of the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and other leaders and citizens demanding the vote.

On March 7, 1965, that group was stopped by violence meted out by law enforcement, but their well-publicized bravery surely shamed the country and Congress into passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson that August.

Why then, did the vice president’s message speak so much of work to be done? As she said: “Today, in states across our nation, extremists pass laws to ban drop boxes, limit early voting, and restrict absentee ballots. … Across our nation, extremists attack the integrity of free and fair elections, causing a rise of threats and violence against poll workers.”

Since 1965, provisions of the Voting Rights Act have been chipped away, with a majority-Republican-appointed Supreme Court declaring racial discrimination over in the 2013 Shelby case, and GOP-majority states anxious to prove them wrong, falling over themselves to gerrymander and enact restrictive laws.

A recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice found that the racial turnout gap — the difference in the turnout rate between white and nonwhite voters — has consistently grown since 2012 and “is growing most quickly in parts of the country that were previously covered under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act,” which forced jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to “preclear” changes in voting policy with the courts or Justice Department.

In Alabama, it took lawsuits to gain an additional U.S. House district, in time for this week’s primary, and one that would give Black voters a fighting chance. This is in a state where African Americans make up 27 percent of the electorate but where just one majority-Black district is currently represented by Rep. Terri A. Sewell, a Black Democrat, in a seven-member delegation.

Sewell was with Harris on Sunday, though she didn’t have much company from Republican House colleagues. In the past, Democratic and Republican members of Congress put aside differences to honor the moral rightness of the marchers’ cause and walk side by side.

Not today.

All this doesn’t mean politicians of every affiliation don’t crave the support of minority voters. With reports and polling on the number of Black and Hispanic voters who seem to be turning away from President Joe Biden and giving former President Donald Trump, Republicans and third parties a second look, the race is on for any constituent who may make the difference in November.

But instead of courting minority voters with policies that would, say, grace them with a sip of water or a snack while waiting in long voting lines (looking at you, Georgia) or stopping poll observers from peeking over shoulders to catch nonexistent skullduggery (part of new rules in North Carolina), some are taking a different approach.

Why not roll out the “bling,” including incredibly tacky, $399 high-top golden sneakers?