Chapel Hill: Opinion

What you’re saying: James Williams, Rene Delavarre, Miriam Thompson and Cynthia A. Connolly

Many responsible for inequities

I am pleased that Ted Vaden was sufficiently interested in the issue of racialized mass incarceration to write an opinion piece on the subject (CHN, http://nando.com/32n). In my opinion, it is the major civil rights issue of our time in that it essentially undermines a number of the civil rights gains made over the past several decades. Unfortunately, Vaden inaccurately reports the contentions I made at the UNC Parr Center Panel on Mass Incarceration, Race, and Sentencing.

Early in his opinion piece Vaden correctly states that there are multiple reasons for the mass incarceration of African-Americans. After stating that there was disagreement amongst the panelists as to the reasons, he said that I blamed the prosecutors.

My position on criminal justice racial disparity has been consistent and persistent over the past five years or so. The issue for me is not about who is to blame. All criminal justice stakeholders must take ownership of and responsibility for addressing the racial inequities in our criminal justice system. By that I mean judges, prosecutors, law enforcement, criminal defense attorneys, probation and parole officers, and others who make laws or implement policy. My focus has been on trying to create opportunities and situations where these stakeholders can step outside their respective silos and sit together at the table and do the hard but necessary work at collaborating to identify solutions to the problem.

I did state and it is virtually uncontested that prosecutors are the most powerful people in the criminal justice system. They control the system by their charging and plea bargaining decisions. While it is true that the police may make the initial decision to charge, whether that case remains in the system and under what charge or charges is a prosecutorial decision. If they do decide to charge then what that charge is often predetermines the case outcome because of structured sentencing and because 95 percent or so of cases are decided by guilty plea

Since the prosecutor has this immense power, any significant reduction in mass incarceration and racial disparity will necessitate a willingness on part of prosecutors to evaluate practices and procedures within their offices that might unwittingly be contributing to racial disparities or overcriminalization without any significant public safety benefit.

An example that I used is the decision to indict certain offenders as habitual felons resulting in incarceration for decades as opposed to months or a few years for the underlying offense. During the 2011 calendar year roughly 70 percent of the inmates from Orange County serving sentences in the Department of Correction as habitual felons were African-Americans even though African Americans made up less than 15 percent of the population of Orange County. A reconsideration of policies and procedures regarding habitual felon indictments might alleviate the disparity if not eliminate it.

This was not an effort to blame prosecutors but to do what (District Attorney James) Woodall and I were asked to do: talk about some potential solutions to the racial disparity we were seeing as it relates to sentencing.

James Williams

The writer is the public defender for Orange and Chatham counties. We waived the length limit for a fuller response.

Let refugees in

Regarding Linda Jordan’s column “Mary, Joseph and Jesus were refugees,” (CHN, http://nando.com/33w)

Interesting. I’ve always been for allowing the Syrian refugees to seek a safe haven in the U.S. Allowing the refugees access during Christmas time is especially meaningful to me. It’s time to put the lives of these people fleeing a horrible dictatorship at the forefront, and for a few days, put ISIS and war and terrorism on the back burner. America needs to show its good will even in times of crisis.

Rene Delavarre

via Facebook

Another war looms

As we enter the new year, Congress is expected to vote on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement that President Obama signed recently. Joining opponents of the Agreement who have visited congressional offices before the Christmas holidays, the Triangle Branch of the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF) sent a large delegation to deliver a Christmas message to U.S. Rep. David Price, urging him to oppose the TPP when it comes before Congress for an up or down vote.

WILPF celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2015 and 80 years in the Triangle, during which time it has been on the front lines in the fight for voting rights, universal health care, labor rights, public education,environmental justice, and the struggle to end racism, poverty, militarism and war. The WILPF members argue that the TPP imposes unconscionable erosion of its longstanding struggle for social justice, citing research provided by Public Citizen, and labor and environmental groups. It would cause grievous harm to the global community, especially to the most vulnerable who have already suffered job loss and environmental damage from previous trade agreements. At the same time, corporations are free to plunder our planet, including the tax-subsidized oil and gas industry.

Under the agreement’s Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause, big corporations can sue our local governments who seek to impose restrictions on environmental degradation by declaring such actions threaten their future profit. Further, under TPP, big Pharma can threaten the lives of many in our community and around the globe by raising the price of essential drugs, achieved through its lobbying efforts to secure extended patent protection. Equally disturbing is the number of TPP signatories whose governments have been cited for human rights violations, including drug and slave trafficking.

While we celebrate the holidays and the new year, WILPF urges we take the time to contact our congress members, press for a no vote on TPP and demand a fair trade agreement that benefits people not profits.

Miriam Thompson

Chapel Hill

Thinking clearly

Guest columnist Laura Cotterman wrote an impassioned piece about climate change (CHN, http://nando.com/32i).

Ms. Cotterman described a “special walk” that took place in Chapel Hill on November 29. This walk was part of a world wide event designed to bring this issue to the attention of world leaders.

Ms. Cotterman stated that “The warm day was perfect for our silent walk on the Pumpkin Loop Trail.” Indeed, according to Accuweather.com the high temperature that day was 74 degrees, a full 16 degrees above normal.

Let me get this straight. Global warming is bad. But on days that Ms. Cotterman and her friends want to walk in the woods, unseasonably high temperatures are “perfect.” Thanks for the clarification. The warm weather must have affected my ability to think clearly.

Cynthia A. Connolly

Chapel Hill

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