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5 Things To Know: Civil Rights Groups Challenge NC Redistricting Efforts in Court

… and four more stories you might have missed from Oct. 24-Oct. 30, 2021

NC redistricting
Civil rights groups have filed a lawsuit against the NC legislature for its allegedly illegal redistricting process. (Photo by W. Edward Callis III)

Civil Rights Groups Challenge N.C. Redistricting Efforts in Court

Civil rights groups filed a state lawsuit on Friday challenging the NC General Assembly’s redistricting process for drawing new state House and Senate voting maps. The suit would block proposed state legislative districts for failing to consider race during the initial stages of the NC redistricting map-making process in ways that could have devastating impacts on the representation of Black North Carolinians in violation of established state and federal law, according to a release from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ).

The SCSJ brought the NC redistricting lawsuit on behalf of the NC NAACP, Common Cause, and individual voters, alongside pro bono counsel with the law firm Hogan Lovells. Central to the complaint is the state legislature’s refusal to include racial data in its redistricting criteria in order to implement what mapmakers called a “race-neutral” process. The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires the legislature to use racial data when determining levels of racially polarized voting before drawing districts.

“Once again, state redistricting leaders have failed North Carolinians by redrawing voting districts for political gain and depriving voters of color of their constitutional rights to fair political representation,” said Allison Riggs with the SCSJ. “State law requires that lawmakers first draw districts that comply with the VRA, and they simply can’t do that without considering race.”

Republicans released their final proposed NC redistricting plan for the 120-seat North Carolina State House on Oct. 22. The proposed plan includes 56 solid Republican districts, 40 solid Democratic districts, and 24 competitive districts, meaning any district with a gap between historic Republican and Democratic performance of 10% or less. 

According to a release from state progressive policy organization Carolina Forward on Friday, despite the virtual 50/50 split in North Carolina’s popular votes between Democrats and Republicans for both chambers of the state legislature, the proposed Republican plan would put the GOP only four seats shy of a majority (60 seats) in the State House, with Democrats 20 seats behind. With only 24 districts considered “competitive,” this would mean that Democrats would need to pull off a near-sweep to win a bare majority.

Plaintiffs in Friday’s suit are seeking declaratory relief acknowledging that the 2021 redistricting process for drawing legislative maps violated well-established law, and requiring lawmakers to instead follow a constitutional process. The complaint also asks for a preliminary injunction delaying candidate filing for the 2022 March primary and the primary itself to allow necessary time to correct state maps and take public input. 


Regional Leaders Endorse CONNECT Beyond Plan

It remained apparent during a Charlotte City Council retreat in Winston-Salem this week that there are still many questions to be answered regarding the city’s more localized Transformational Mobility Network (TMN), but there was more hopeful news for the broader 12-county CONNECT Beyond plan on Friday. It was announced that project partners, the Centralina Regional Council and the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) voted to officially endorse the regional mobility plan.

This initiative will serve as a blueprint for how to implement an interconnected network combining high-capacity transit lines, enhanced bus service and other innovative mobility solutions. CONNECT Beyond will cover four metropolitan planning organizations, one rural planning organization and two state departments of transportation. The 12-county region consists of Mecklenburg, Anson, Cabarrus, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Rowan, Stanly, and Union counties in North Carolina and the urbanized areas of Lancaster and York counties in South Carolina.

CATS Gold Line, transit, mobility
Light rail will play one of many parts in the CONNECT Beyond partnership. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

CONNECT Beyond includes more than 150 recommendations. Some of the ways the plan would impact Mecklenburg County include expanding sidewalk, bike and trail connections to downtowns and major employment centers; making it easier for riders to figure out how, when and where to use public transportation options to get to jobs, school, medical services and recreation; and supporting efforts for additional transfer opportunities for CATS riders.

The next steps will entail Centralina and MTC working with transportation planning organizations, counties and municipalities within the project area to educate residents, facilitate cross-county coordination and secure resources to support early implementation priorities.


Black Voters Matter Bus Joins Freedom Friday Vigil

Friday evening marked the sixth week of Freedom Friday vigils, which since September have called for immediate pardons for exonerated men outside the Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh. A coalition of social justice groups, including Black Voters Matter, Color of Change, Forward Justice, the NC NAACP, Repairers of the Breach and others, are calling on Gov. Roy Cooper to grant immediate pardons for Dontae Sharpe, Glen Edward Chapman, Howard Dudley and Michael Parker, four exonerated men who were wrongfully convicted and spent decades behind bars. 

According to a release on Friday, the national Black Voters Matter organization has been an active supporter of the Freedom Friday campaign since it began, inviting Dontae Sharpe to speak about wrongful convictions and exonerations during its June 2021 march and Freedom Rides in downtown Raleigh. Last night, community organizers boarded their signature bus to join the growing group of community members standing vigil each week demanding that state officials take immediate action on all pardons.

Freedom Friday Vigil, voting rights
Marchers outside the Governor’s Mansion during a past Freedom Friday Vigil. (Photo courtesy of Forward Justice)

Dontae’s case is a perfect example of why voting power in the Black community is so important,” said Danielle Brown, national deputy field director for Black Voters Matter. “Community members in Greenville organized and voted to elect new system actors who would care about Dontae’s case and other policies and issues impacting their daily lives. Without that organized voting effort, Dontae would likely still be in jail as an innocent man.” 

In addition to calling on Gov. Cooper to take immediate action on all pardons, supporters are also demanding more transparency in the pardon and clemency process, and for pardons to be automatically issued when someone is exonerated. 


COVID-19 Metrics Continue to Fall As Holidays Approach

COVID-19 data continues to show decreasing metrics, but the current case rate remains just above the mark considered “high community spread.” According to the latest data released by Mecklenburg County Public Health on Friday, there were 1,242 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed among Mecklenburg County residents over the past week and 10 deaths resulting from the coronavirus, making 1,255 total deaths throughout the pandemic.

(Graph courtesy of MCPH)

According to more in-depth data for cases that occurred through Wednesday, there had been an average of 167 confirmed COVID-19 cases per day over the past week, and on average, 187 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 on any given day, both decreasing trends. Wednesday’s 7.1% test-positivity rate among county residents was only a slight decrease from the rate of 7.3% reported a week prior. 

According to that same data, 61% of Mecklenburg County residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 57% are fully vaccinated. Both percentages remain the same as the week prior. 


Man Killed in South End

A man was shot and killed in South End on Sunday, the second person to be killed in that usually peaceful neighborhood in just three days. Just after 2 a.m. on Sunday, police responded to a shooting call in a parking lot on West Carson Boulevard near South Church Street and found 41-year-old Corey White suffering from a gunshot wound. MEDIC transported White to the hospital, where he died a few hours later.

 

Investigators learned that White had been involved in an altercation with someone leading up to the shooting. The next day, police arrested a 29-year-old man and charged him with White’s murder. 


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