- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Jan. 13

The Greensboro News & Record on Gov. McCrory signing a commutation order for Janet Dahaney:

Pat McCrory quietly added another page to his puzzling record as governor Dec. 30 when he signed a commutation order for Janet Danahey.

The imprisoned woman’s supporters hoped the outgoing governor would reduce her life sentence to time served - 15 years - essentially letting her go free. Instead, he granted her eligibility for parole on Jan. 1, 2029.

“Twelve more years is a long time for her to have to wait to be considered eligible for parole,” Danahey’s Greensboro attorney, Locke Clifford, said in a statement written Jan. 10.

Clifford nevertheless praised McCrory for his “integrity to do what is right in this challenging matter.”

Did he do what was right? The commutation order doesn’t explain his reasoning. He made no public statement. He simply signed a piece of paper that provides a hope for Danahey of eventual release - but pushes a real decision far into the future.

Danahey was 23 in February 2002 when she set fire to a futon outside a former boyfriend’s apartment near UNC-Greensboro in the middle of the night - as a “prank,” she said. She claimed she didn’t know the fire was spreading and would burn down the Campus Walk apartment building and kill four people, all in their early to mid-20s.

Later that year, she pleaded guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Danahey said, and there’s no reason to doubt, that she didn’t mean to take anyone’s life. Yet, her willful actions led to exactly that tragic result. Prosecutors and the court did what was required under the law.

She applied for executive clemency during the final year of Gov. Bev Perdue’s term in 2012. Perdue did not grant it. Another petition was filed last year.

Danahey had an important supporter in Bob Harris, father of one of the Campus Walk victims, Elizabeth Harris. His daughter was 20 when she died. As a Christian, he said Jan. 10, “I have to forgive Janet.”

He referred to the forgiveness extended to Dylann Roof, who murdered nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, by some family members of the slain.

“The families of the Charleston victims have more courage than I have because those were intentional killings,” Harris said.

Harris said he urged McCrory to commute Danahey’s sentence to time served, and he believed that’s what McCrory would do - until the governor heard from opponents of clemency.

Not all members of Harris’ own family, or relatives of Danahey’s other victims, agree that her sentence should be reduced.

It would be helpful for everyone, including the Greensboro community, to hear an explanation from McCrory about his decision, but that isn’t likely to happen. It was characteristic of McCrory, as governor, to act for inexplicable reasons.

What next? Barring a clemency action by Gov. Roy Cooper or a future governor to release Danahey before 2029, she will be eligible only for parole consideration on the first day of that year. She must maintain “general good behavior” in prison until then - as any inmate would to be granted parole. And there is no guarantee. Interested parties can speak for or against her release. The parole commission will weigh the gravity of the crime and Danahey’s potential for leading a positive life outside prison.

By that time, she will be 50 years old - about the age her victims would be. Their families must feel the loss every day. The four deaths demand justice, but justice sometimes should be tempered by mercy.

The day might come when it is clearly the right thing to release a woman who made a terrible, foolish mistake many years in the past. That determination will require wisdom, courage and an element of mercy.

Online: https://www.greensboro.com/

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Jan. 15

The StarNews of Wilmington on putting a “face” on addiction:

Several years ago, we had the task of writing an obituary for a relative, someone who had struggled for years with drug addiction. The addiction and lifelong efforts at recovery had become such a central part of their life that we felt it needed to be mentioned, even though it was not the cause of death.

We confess that we focused on the good that came from recovery - the ability to empathize with and help others in the same situation.

In the past several months, we have read obituaries in which family members were more candid about the terrible toll addiction had taken on a loved one. One heartbreaking passage was along the lines of “He physically died Monday, but addiction had taken him away from us many years ago.”

For some addicts and their loved ones, the only peace to be found is the hope that someone might learn from their despair, that someone will beat addiction or never try the first illegal pain pill or shot of heroin or glass of vodka.

It tells us something about the reach of addiction - especially narcotics - that it has made its way into the obituaries. It makes sense — drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, with more than 55,000 lethal incidents in 2015. That dwarfs the 34,000 motor-vehicle deaths and the 34,000 firearm deaths (about 20,000 of them suicides).

We are thankful that in the midst of their pain, surviving loved ones are willing to tell these stories. If you haven’t done so, please consider reading reporter F.T. Norton’s powerful story Friday about the life and death of 40-year-old Zoe Whittington.

She had found some success in recovery, but, in the end, could not beat the insidious addiction. Her mother describes the heart-wrenching emotions of helping vs. enabling her daughter; the feelings of fear, brokenness and helplessness that, even on the best days, still lurk, always ready to roar back and consume the loved one, much like the drug consumes the addict.

Ironically, newspapers and TV stations report every homicide and traffic fatality. They generally don’t report fatal overdoses. (For the most part, media outlets don’t know about them). So we are thankful that people like Zoe Whittington’s mother and loved ones writing obituaries are willing to tell these stories. Maybe someday we will be able to report that the trend has been reversed - or at least slowed.

Meanwhile, it’s important that we hear the stories and learn about those who have died and those who are left behind. And don’t think for a minute it can’t happen to someone you know, even someone you love. Chances are, most of us know that already.

Please tell their stories. It might save a life.

Online: https://www.starnewsonline.com/

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Jan. 16

The Charlotte Observer on public schools:

All the stars are aligning - in Charlotte, North Carolina and the United States - to make us jittery about what’s on the horizon for kids in public schools.

Nothing is more essential to the country’s future than all children getting a high-quality education. But that’s not happening, and the choice movement sweeping the state and nation is likely to make things worse. Instead of helping spark innovation, the headlong rush toward privatization of public schools appears part of an organized effort to undermine public education for the benefit of a few.

That phenomenon combines with a few unsettling developments in Mecklenburg County to demand attention.

Let’s start in Charlotte:

The school board indicated last week that it’s throwing the brakes on its effort to change student assignment boundaries in a way that will help chip away at high-poverty schools. Superintendent Ann Clark, staff and the board had expected to embark this year on the second phase of student assignment changes after unanimously backing the first phase last year. Now several board members want to pause.

Dozens of CMS campuses struggle with extremely high levels of student poverty. That inhibits learning, and every delay in addressing it sets those children further back. Some will never recover.

With the superintendent search behind them, board members are positioned to focus on student assignment. Prolonged uncertainty on that front could endanger public support for a much-needed bond referendum planned for the November ballot.

Amid all this, Clark leaves June 30, taking with her decades of institutional knowledge and passion for children. And Tom Tate and Eric Davis, thoughtful board members who have served for years, end their tenure. What new Superintendent Clayton Wilcox brings and how he will get along with the board is anyone’s guess.

Meanwhile, in Raleigh, Republicans are expected to accelerate charter-school expansion and greatly expand their voucher program. Charter schools were created as laboratories that might craft educational methods to be shared widely with traditional public schools. Little of that has happened.

Many charter schools are achieving impressive results with underprivileged children. But the industry’s rapid expansion and its sometimes-spotty oversight have permitted a number of costly failures.

Vouchers, meanwhile, take tax dollars from public schools and send them to unaccountable private schools, including religious schools free to discriminate in their student selection. Republicans’ thirst for expanding North Carolina’s voucher program is a direct threat to public education. With state per-pupil spending already too low, taking more from the public schools is not wise. The new superintendent of public instruction, Mark Johnson, supports charters and vouchers.

Backers of all of this will only be emboldened by Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s pick to be the next U.S. Secretary of Education. DeVos is a passionate supporter of diverting money from traditional public schools and pouring it into charters and vouchers. She aligns with Trump, who in his campaign proposed spending $20 billion in tax money on private-school vouchers.

That’s not a good sign for the country, for North Carolina or for Charlotte. Public schools are in trouble, now more than ever.

Online: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/

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