North Carolina editorial roundup
Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The News & Observer of Raleigh on declining death sentences:
In North Carolina, 2018 may be remembered as the year the death penalty died.
The Durham-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation (CDPL) reports that last year marks the first time in the state’s modern history that North Carolina juries have not imposed a new death sentence for two years in a row. The reluctance of juries to impose the ultimate punishment in 2017 may have been a fluke, but a second year without a death sentence shows that juries have all but given up on a penalty that has been unevenly imposed on the guilty and sometimes on the innocent.
“The death penalty in North Carolina has become a relic,” said Gretchen Engel, CDPL’s executive director. “Very few district attorneys seek death anymore and, when they do, juries reject it. The people of our state are speaking very clearly. We no longer need the death penalty to keep North Carolina safe.”
High-profile killings still move prosecutors to seek the death penalty. In Robeson County, the retiring district attorney said that if he was continuing in office he would put the man accused of kidnapping and killing 13-year-old Hania Aguilar on trial for his life. ...
There were three capital trials in the state last year, but the juries in each case chose to impose life without parole instead of death sentences. The state’s last execution was in 2006. Wake County, however, has been slow to give up on the costly and inherently unfair practice of seeking death for some accused killers and not for others. ...
Twenty states have outlawed the penalty entirely and only eight states carried out an execution in 2018. Polls show that support for the death penalty has declined since the Supreme Court allowed executions to resume in 1976. Americans recognize that it is applied unfairly and the claim that it’s a deterrent has been roundly debunked.
Still, the consequences of the death penalty’s previous popularity remain. North Carolina has 140 prisoners on death row, the sixth largest group in the nation. The arrests and trials that led to those sentences date mostly to the 1990s, before reforms were passed to protect the innocent and provide for fair representation. The cases are rife with problems of procedure, racial bias and misconduct by authorities. North Carolina has had men on death row who were later found to be innocent. In one case, Henry McCollum spent more than 30 years on North Carolina’s death row before being exonerated by DNA evidence.
It’s time for North Carolina to ban the death penalty and convert the sentences of all on death row.
Winston-Salem Journal on the new year:
The beginning of a new year is an artificial construct — there’s nothing significant about Jan. 1 from a geographical or astronomical point of view, nothing in the physical world to distinguish the day from any other winter day.
But we humans imbue New Year’s Day with great meaning. For us, it marks a new beginning, fresh and alert. It calls on us to commit to better habits that could lead to prosperity and progress. It presents a fresh, blank calendar, unmarked by the previous year’s regrets, with resolve to approach the world with wisdom and kindness. New Year’s Day, as English essayist Charles Lamb put it, is every man’s birthday.
The year 2018 was marred for many by political divisiveness, by anger, acrimony and insults. But perhaps it was less so than in 2017, when we began to wake to the fact that the tribal partisanship, the accusations and lies, were doing great harm to our nation. More are trying now to reconcile the bitter divisions, recognizing that we’re stronger when we work together.
It’s not easy. It calls for genuine good will, honesty, integrity — and humility. Only people who are convinced of the value of national unity will be able to face the task.
... As we did on Jan. 1, 2018, we ask our readers to join us in this resolve:
Take a deep breath, shake off last year’s divisiveness and carry on in the best American tradition. Listen to as many different viewpoints as you can, especially those of your neighbors, but most important, try to listen more than you talk. Try to understand. Try to mute the crudest of the political chatter and get outside to take in some of our area’s remarkable natural beauty. Read. Give back, with your dollars and time, especially to children. Commit to local causes that interest you.
There will be plenty of frustrations this year, political and practical. But there will also be plenty of opportunities to practice patience and gratitude for the good things we have.
The Fayetteville Observer on lawmakers addressing river pollution:
When the General Assembly returns to a new session next week, there will be some urgent but unfinished business awaiting: The Cape Fear River basin is still awash in dangerous pollutants and lawmakers have done little more than apply cosmetics to the problem. The health and safety of the millions who depend on the river for drinking water are still insufficiently protected.
While the state Department of Environmental Quality has done remarkable work tracking and taking action against the release of GenX and related chemicals largely emanating from the Chemours plant on the Cumberland-Bladen county line, the larger contamination problem hasn’t been solved — and lawmakers have shown no real inclination to remedy it.
The problem isn’t just GenX, a chemical used in the manufacture of nonstick cookware coatings, stainproof carpets and fabrics, waterproof clothing, firefighting foam and other applications. It’s about a whole family of chemicals known as polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The compounds are widely used in many manufacturing processes and across the country are found in the water supply of millions of people. There are no state or federal regulations banning their use or even denying companies from dumping them into rivers and other waterways with the rest of their waste streams. All we have are federal guidelines for levels that are considered safe, and many researchers say those limits are far too high for human safety. PFAS has been linked to some cancers and other health problems.
In North Carolina, the story gets worse from there. There are also frequently unsafe levels of 1,4 dioxane in the Cape Fear. That chemical is used as a manufacturing solvent and in paint strippers, waxes, antifreeze, cosmetics, aircraft deicing fluids and other products and is a byproduct in the manufacturing of plastics and packaging. Dioxane can cause cancer and it’s in the water that comes out of our taps, because none of the water treatment plants along the river have the equipment to filter it out. The state knows some of the sources, in the Triad area, but it’s been unable to stop the pollution.
Add to that the millions of gallons of human waste that spilled into the river from overloaded sewer plants during Hurricane Florence flooding, and the additional waste from flooded hog and poultry farms and we have some severe problems with water quality.
At its core, the problem is this: It’s long been deemed acceptable that industries of all kinds dump their wastes into rivers and other bodies of water that also serve as public water supplies. The theory was that the wastes would be diluted sufficiently to render them relatively harmless. And so it’s standard industrial operating procedure to dump all sorts of harmful chemicals into our waterways, and federal regulations only place limits on a few of them.
The solutions include requirement for full disclosure of what’s in companies’ waste streams, along with strong limits on dumping any substances that can cause human harm. Rivers simply can’t be used as disposal systems anymore.
Changing it will take a while, but it’s time to get started. That should be high on the General Assembly’s to-do list.