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North Carolina editorial roundup

January 9, 2019

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Jan. 4

The Robesonian of Lumberton on North Carolina’s first Native American prosecutor:

For Matt Scott, making history might have been the easy part.

Scott, the first American Indian district attorney in North Carolina, earned that distinction rather easily actually, despite facing opponents in the primary and general election who were both well-qualified and ran excellent campaigns.

Now, as we suggested, comes the hard part — and if his performance on the night of Jan. 3 as he was sworn in to office before a large and enthusiastic crowd at the Givens Performing Arts Center is a harbinger, then we believe he is up to the formidable task.

Scott sounded all the right notes last Thursday. He shared credit for his ascension to either the No. 1 law enforcement slot in the county or No. 2, depending on how you rank such things, and then spoke about family, church, community and the need for county residents to unite in the fight against crime.

And while promising not to go soft on crime, he offered up ideas on not only how he would deal with those who would cause mayhem in this county, but also how he would attack the root causes of crime, and not just its symptoms. On that front, he will need help from our school system and with the recruitment of jobs because county crime is tied fast and hard to our poverty.

This county’s crime problem, the worst in North Carolina if you believe the numbers, is also driven by drugs, and Scott is willing to distinguish between those who profit off drugs and those who are a slave to their use — a position that his partner in the crime fight, Sheriff Burnis Wilkins, also is drifting toward.

To that end, Scott is proposing different paths for violent criminals and drug users as they enter the county’s judicial system. Here, we want to be clear: Anyone who sells drugs in this community is committing an act of violence, and should you doubt that, take a look at the human heap of carnage that is left behind, especially by the use of opioids.

Scott’s “drug court” will pay unending dividends. Immediate and obvious would be unclogging the courthouse calendar and freeing up resources so the really bad guys can be dealt with quickly and with force. A drug court also could give abusers of alcohol and drugs another chance to fight their addiction and to return to society as a contributor, and not as a parasite.

Scott also must deal with what the court calendar already has pending, including, we are told, as many as 140 murder cases, many of which are years old, cases in which the accused are walking among us, out on bond. Scott is proposing an approach this newspaper has long espoused, and that is an acceptance that more hands are needed on deck.

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It is a monumental task, one that Scott stepped forward to undertake. But we know Scott, a native of this county, is driven by a desire to see it thrive and become a place where people can raise a family, work and play without fear.

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Online: https://www.robesonian.com/

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Jan. 6

News & Record of Greensboro on a lion that fatally attacked a zoo intern:

Since 1990, lions, tigers and other big cats have killed 24 people ... in the United States.

The latest fatality occurred one week ago near Burlington, when a captive lion attacked and killed an intern at a wildlife center.

Alexandra Black, 22, who had been on the job for only two weeks, was cleaning an enclosure that houses large cats at the Conservators Center when the cat fatally mauled her.

The private facility, which rescues and breeds animals, straddles the line between Alamance and Caswell counties. In April of 2018, a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector counted 16 lions, three tigers and two leopards among the 85 animals housed there.

And while a state investigation of Black’s death is pending, it’s not premature to ask how such a thing could happen here. Yet again.

And why North Carolina is one of only four states in the nation with no law on the books that pertains to private ownership of exotic animals. This means — absent local laws that ban the practice — any private citizen can own any type of animal he or she chooses, from a chimpanzee to a rhinoceros.

Dec. 30′s attack was horrific. During “a routine enclosure cleaning,” the center said on its website, “one of the lions somehow left a locked space and entered the space the humans were in and quickly killed one person.”

After the center’s founder and director had tried unsuccessfully to subdue the animal with dart and blow guns, Caswell County sheriff’s deputies killed the animal with several gunshots.

This was not an unfamiliar tragedy.

In late 2003 a 10-year-old in Wilkes County was dragged by his uncle’s 400-pound tiger into its cage. Months later, a 14-year-old in Surry County was attacked and injured by a 200-pound tiger that belonged to her father. In Wake County in 1995 a 3-year-old lost his eyesight when his father’s pet tiger bit and crushed his skull.

The Conservators Center is licensed by the USDA, which found no violations there during inspections in 2017 and 2018. But USDA licenses are automatically renewed, even if there are violations, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

And its licenses are not “species specific.” This means an individual licensed to “display rabbits at birthday parties could go out and get lions and chimps and rhinos” on the same license, Debbie Healy of the Humane Society said in an interview last week.

Also, the center has no accreditation from either the Association of Zoos and Aquariums or the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, which are known for exacting standards (the Greensboro Science Center is accredited by the AZA). The AZA has a 100-plus page manual alone on the care of tigers and requires emergency drills, Healy said.

As for legal remedies, a 2015 bill passed that would have outlawed private ownership of lions, tigers and other dangerous animals passed the state House but failed in the Senate. Meanwhile, the Humane Society is promoting the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which would establish national regulations for the private ownership and care of dangerous animals.

Something certainly needs to change, for the sake of animals of all shapes and sizes, especially the human ones.

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

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Jan. 7

The Charlotte Observer on the Supreme Court agreeing to hear a North Carolina case that could produce the first limits on partisan gerrymandering:

When North Carolina’s Republican legislative leaders have seen their work struck down in court as unconstitutional — as they have many times — they have frequently responded by attacking the judge or judges as partisan hacks.

That approach won’t work if the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court surprises the nation by throwing out the congressional district map that N.C. legislators explicitly drew to elect as many Republicans as possible.

The court on Friday agreed to hear a challenge to the North Carolina map, as well as one to a Maryland congressional district. That was big news, because while the court has addressed racial gerrymandering, it has never ruled on whether partisan gerrymandering can be unconstitutional. In taking these cases, the court could for the first time establish whether crafting districts to help one party over the other is permissible.

Despite the odds, we and most N.C. voters hope the court does away with the practice or severely limits it. North Carolina’s leaders acknowledge that they drew the lines to ensure that 10 Republicans were elected to the state’s 13 congressional seats. Rep. David Lewis said they did so “because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

Such an approach is the height of hubris and an insult to voters, whichever party is in charge. It essentially robs millions of voters of their voice, since the outcome is preordained. In a more narrow legal sense, it also could violate the First Amendment right to association, as now-retired Justice Anthony Kennedy argued in 2004. Democracy requires people to join together to advance their political beliefs. So when a state makes that nearly impossible, “First Amendment concerns arise.”

Long ago Senate president pro tem Phil Berger, a Republican, co-sponsored five bills over eight years to create independent redistricting commissions. Now that his party is in the majority, he sees no need for change.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to be optimistic about the Supreme Court’s view of the N.C. case (which is called Rucho vs. Common Cause). The conservative justices are not inclined to think the courts should meddle in states’ political affairs. When the moderate Kennedy was on the court, there was a chance he could side with the court’s four liberals. His replacement, Brett Kavanaugh, has not ruled on partisan gerrymandering cases before, but there’s little reason to think he would break with his fellow conservatives in this case. Given his clear partisan leanings revealed in his confirmation hearings, it’s almost certain he won’t.

The court, which will hear arguments in March and likely rule by June, will decide only if partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. It will not rule on whether it’s a wise practice that benefits this country. Clearly it’s not and it doesn’t. North Carolina should follow the lead of several other states that have created independent commissions, with legislative input, to draw maps.

Only then will political seats be won the old-fashioned way: By convincing voters you are the best candidate, on a level playing field.

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

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