- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


April 20

The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer on the Derek Chauvin trial:

After all the vivid and searing images connected to the killing of George Floyd, Tuesday brought us another: The eyes of Derek Chauvin, wide and darting above his Covid mask, as the hard verdicts reached by a group of Black, white and multiracial jurors rained down upon him.

Guilty, guilty, guilty.

For many, the cause of Chauvin’s distress was their cause for relief. This former police officer, unlike so many others before him, would not avoid justice for his vicious abuse of power. In American cities and towns and in places around the world, many felt a sense of grateful wonder after a year of bitter anger. Equality under the law was honored. The system worked. Justice prevailed.

In Raleigh, a TV camera stationed above Fayetteville Street near the State Capitol Tuesday evening showed an empty streetscape where, after Floyd’s death last May, there were fires, smashed windows and protesters clashing with police. The calm seemed to prevail across the nation. There was nothing in the outcome to dispute. George Floyd’s family received a $27 million settlement in an unlawful death lawsuit – the largest pretrial civil rights settlement ever – and the Minneapolis police officer who killed Floyd will now likely serve many years in prison.

The peace may not last long. Even as Chauvin was on trial, police in a Minneapolis suburb shot and killed a young Black man in an incident that began with a traffic stop for an expired tag. The nation has a history of these traumatic encounters between police and Black people that repeat no matter how starkly each event is exposed and condemned.

Yet in the case of George Floyd there is a feeling that something has profoundly changed. His death brought Blacks and whites together in protest. It helped sweep away Confederate monuments erected during the Jim Crow era, including those on the grounds of North Carolina’s Capitol. It brought calls for police reform and forced many people, especially well meaning white people, to consider their biases and recognize the presence of systemic racism in housing, work, education, health care and criminal justice.

One of the most painful moments of the Chauvin trial came as Dr. Martin Tobin, a pulmonologist, reviewed the video of Floyd handcuffed and face down in the street with Chauvin’s knee pressing on his neck. Tobin noted the moment when Floyd took his last breath. But that heartrending image also brought something alive – a powerful desire to cure what caused the execution.

The cure is not in the misguided slogan of “defund the police.” The police are essential to a safe and, yes, a just society. What’s needed is a refocusing of policing. Stop the excessive policing of minority communities in which small violations lead to major confrontations. Have mental health experts join the response to unstable and agitated people. Provide more treatment for substance abusers. Perhaps reduce the size of police forces and increase the pay for officers to attract more candidates. And of course, address implicit bias and systemic racism that can afflict policing as they do so many institutions.

The ideas are many and the will is there for real change. It’s not about blaming the police. The vast majority of officers are sincerely trying to serve the public, but they have hard jobs made much more difficult by the likes of Chauvin. They, too, benefit from Chauvin’s conviction. It will help to break the blue wall of silence that has for so long kept bad cops from being brought to justice. Officers who have felt unable to speak about what’s wrong with police codes of behavior have valuable ideas about what should change. Government leaders should listen to them.

But for this week, take satisfaction in seeing justice done and that the rancor and protest after Floyd’s death have turned to relief and hope that change, at last, has come.

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


April 19

The Greensboro News & Record and the Winston-Salem Journal on the N.C. Education Lottery:

Rammed into existence by a Democrat-controlled legislature 15 years ago, the N.C. Education Lottery has raised $8 billion for the state’s public schools since its inception.

As the News & Record reported recently, $363,541,560 of that has gone to Guilford County Schools.

Non-instructional support ($17,845,936).

School construction ($5,247,990).

Pre-K programs ($5,214,324).

College scholarships ($1,575,794).

College student grants ($1,008,849).

And transportation costs: $1,128,521.

What’s more, statewide revenues are up to about $3 billion a year, which translates to an average of $2 million per day spent on education.

Those are gaudy numbers, to be sure.

But has the lottery fully lived up its early promises of “champagne wishes and caviar dreams” (for a good cause, of course)? In a word, no.

Research by UNC-Charlotte professors suggests that the lottery has struck it big in terms of overall revenues. But the share of that revenue that goes to schools has not kept pace. Nor has the original legislation, which clearly dictated how the money would be spent.

As it was written and passed in 2005, the original bill mandated that 35% of lottery revenues would fund four major needs:

Hiring more elementary school teachers to reduce class sizes.

Creating free public prekindergarten.

Financing school construction.

Paying for college scholarships.

The rest of the money would be spent on prizes and expenses. And that’s what happened … until it didn’t … and lawmakers began to bend the rules.

In 2007, they loosened the spending guidelines and increased the amount of revenue that could go to prizes, to keep ticket sales up by amping the allure of the jackpot.

And as time went on, researchers Walter Hart, Jim Watson and Carl Westine of UNC-Charlotte told WFAE-FM of Charlotte, less money went to the classroom.

Now the percentage of lottery revenue that goes to education has receded to 30%.

In a 10-year analysis, Hart and Watson, who are both former superintendents, also found that lottery money began to be used more and more for expenses that previously had been covered by the state budget: support staff, custodians, office assistants and substitute teachers.

In 2020, $21 million of lottery revenue paid for school bus transportation, which previously had come from the state’s general fund.

Long story short, lottery revenue is indeed now doing what it originally was not supposed to do: Replace some money that used to come from elsewhere.

Hart put it well: “The lottery was sold as icing on the cake, and over time it’s become more and more of the cake.”

Also, Westine found no correlation between increased lottery revenue and increased per-pupil spending.

This is not the concept North Carolinians were sold in the beginning.

Gov. Mike Easley, a Democrat on whose watch the lottery bill passed, had pushed hard for it. Easley said he hated to see North Carolinians spend their money on lottery tickets in neighboring states.

“We were funding the other states,” Easley told WFAE, “so I wanted to go on and get one in North Carolina.”

But Easley said he was disappointed that the original intent for how the money was to be spent has been lost in the scratch-off shuffle.

That’s why he wanted an amendment to the state constitution that forced the lottery money to be spent as originally intended, Easley said.

But there was no such amendment.

To be clear, the News & Record never favored the lottery as a means to fund education.

State-sanctioned games of chance for which there are astronomical odds against winning - and which appeal especially to North Carolinians of lesser means - always have seemed to us a dubious proposition. Public school funding should be a shared responsibility of all taxpayers.

Then there are the overhead costs. For instance, in 2019 the lottery made $2.86 billion in revenue. But only $728 million of that went to education - out of a total education budget of roughly $10 billion. The rest went to prize money, advertising and other expenses.

Those arguments, obviously, have not convinced lawmakers. The cash cow is out of the barn now. The lottery is here to stay.

The very least the legislature can do is honor its original intent and use lottery in addition to, not instead of, other sources of school funding.

Wanna bet that they do? We can always hope. But we don’t like the odds.

Online: https://greensboro.com/ & https://journalnow.com/


April 15

The Greensboro News & Record on installing traffic cameras in school zones:

If we’re being honest, probably few of us were particularly enamored of the red-light cameras that once stood watch over busy intersections in Greensboro a few years ago.

For blatant offenses, so be it.

You were endangering yourself and others and probably deserved even more than the $50 fine.

It was the close calls - the photo finishes, if you will - that could be excruciating.

Did you make the light?

Was that a flash of the candid camera that caught you slipping through on red? Or just your imagination?

Then there was the wait.

And finally, if you were not so lucky, the queasy confirmation of a ticket in the mail. Busted.

But at least for a good cause.

The numbers bear it out: red-light cameras were an effective deterrent against crashes.

Now the city of Greensboro wants to use a similar technological remedy to make school zones safer.

As the News & Record’s Richard Barron reported Tuesday, city officials are seeking approval from Raleigh lawmakers to install cameras in some of the 58 public school zones in Greensboro.

As with the gone, if not forgotten, red-light cameras in Greensboro, the school-zone cameras would snap photos of scofflaws’ license plates. And speeders would get tickets in the mail.

The fine would be a steep one: $250.

But the research shows that camera-monitored school zones do make a difference.

City Transportation Director Johanna Cockburn cited a 2006 National Highway Safety Administration study that showed a 60% reduction in speeds of more than 10 mph above the posted limit in camera-enforced school zones. Cockburn added that studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the UNC Highway Safety Research Center have come to similar conclusions.

If the legislation, sponsored by state Sens. Michael Garrett and Gladys Robinson, is approved, Greensboro would proceed with a three-year pilot program.

Cameras would be placed at a selected number of sites.

And, so you know, the point here isn’t to fleece unsuspecting motorists. Drivers would be given fair warning that their speed is being monitored.

Once the pilot program has ended, the city would file a report to the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee. Then new legislation would have to be filed and passed to expand the program citywide.

Even then, the program may only be a temporary solution, given the restrictions North Carolina already places on electronic monitoring.

But at the very least the program would raise awareness.

Meanwhile, a News & Record letter writer has made some reasonable suggestions for other ways to raise awareness and increase safety in school zones:

Place signs farther in advance of school zones to provide earlier notice to drivers. Make the signs as prominent and noticeable as possible.

Make certain that the flashing lights that indicate when reduced speeds limits are in effect are operating correctly.

As for red-light cameras, Greensboro ended its program in 2005. But not because it wasn’t working.

At the 18 intersections where cameras were installed throughout the city, red-light violations did decrease.

What ended the program was a money issue - as in where the revenue from the fines should go.

After courts ruled that, by state law, 90% of the funds collected from such programs must go the local school system, many communities began to have second thoughts. That included Greensboro.

Given that the city was already paying more than 10% of each fine to a private company to operate the system, city officials did the math. And pulled the plug.

Other cities did as well. Today, only Fayetteville, Greenville, Raleigh and Wilmington operate red-light cameras in North Carolina.

If safety was the priority, the decision to walk away from a potentially life-saving innovation was debatable.

Now the city has joined community and government partners for an ambitious “Vision Zero” campaign to reduce the number of traffic deaths in Greensboro.

If that is truly a goal and not a platitude, a school-zone monitoring experiment is well worth a try.

Smile for the cameras.

Online: https://greensboro.com/

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