News & OpinionWeekly News Roundup

5 Things to Know: New Lawsuit Challenges Republican-Drawn Congressional Maps

...and four more stories from Jan. 28-Feb. 3, 2024

congressional maps
The new congressional maps as drawn by NC Republicans, set to be used in this year’s elections. (Courtesy of NCGA)

Fourth Lawsuit Filed Against New Congressional Maps

A group of Democratic and unaffiliated voters filed a lawsuit in NC Superior Court this week claiming that the newly drawn state congressional maps violate voters’ right to fair elections. It’s the fourth lawsuit filed against the congressional maps drawn by Republican officials in the North Carolina General Assembly last year. 

The suit is built on the claim that, though not explicitly stated in the state document, both the US and NC constitutions do grant all voters the right to a fair election — a right that’s been violated by the Republicans’ gerrymandered congressional maps.  

The suit cites a 1964 NC Supreme Court order that states, “the people are entitled to have their elections conducted honestly and in accordance with the requirements of the law. To require less would result in a mockery of the democratic processes for nominating and electing public officials.” 

Former UNC system President Tom Ross Sr. and former Democratic NC Sen. Allen Wellons are among the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, who are being represented by former NC Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr, once a Republican but now registered as unaffiliated. 

The new lawsuit followed the Jan. 26 refusal by a federal judge to block the Republican-drawn NC Senate map in a previous racial gerrymandering suit, claiming that blocking the map would “inflict voter confusion and chaos on the 2024 Senate elections in North Carolina.”

Local Activists Respond to Political Stunt by NC GOP Leaders

Local organizers have responded to Wednesday’s letter from NC Speaker Tim Moore and House Republicans to Gov. Roy Cooper asking him to intervene in federal immigration efforts by deploying the National Guard at the US border.

Moore’s letter, signed by more than 70 of his fellow Republicans, claims that a crisis at the border has led to “increased security threats from foreign actors” in North Carolina and requests that Cooper deploy additional NC National Guard troops to assist Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who recently disregarded an order by the US Supreme Court to comply with federal troops in removing razor wire from the border. 

The Charlotte-based Carolina Migrant Network (CMN) responded Thursday in a statement that calls the letter “political theater.”

“NC lawmakers are taking a page out of the playbook used by Texas’ governor to score political points. Anti-immigrant governors have wasted billions of dollars to push anti-immigrant policies and attack families seeking asylum, and the NC General Assembly wants to do the same here,” wrote Stefania Arteaga, co-director of CMN. 

Arteaga’s fellow co-director Becca O’Neill added, “These demands are political theater intended to distract voters and hide the failure of the North Carolina’s Majority Party to provide resources to communities in North Carolina under their leadership. Statements like the ones issued by speaker Tim Moore are harmful and will cause violence to communities in North Carolina, and beyond. This is not what North Carolina wants or needs.”

CMS Prepares for End of ESSER Funds

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Dr. Crystal Hill and CMS leadership announced Wednesday that the expiration of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding will lead to a loss of $190 million that has supported the district during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The ESSER funding is set to expire in September. 

Approximately $60 million in ESSER funds is attached to staffing, according to a release from the district, and officials are looking for ways not to reduce its workforce once the funding is gone. 

“We may have to realign roles and responsibilities of some staff. We value the contributions of our employees and want to keep everyone employed,” Hill stated in the release.

ESSER was intended to assist eligible public school units to address needs arising from the coronavirus pandemic, including making up for learning loss. The influx of funding was intended to help with a variety of projects including lowering class size to allow students to safely distance themselves, adjusting transportation to reduce the number of students in one confined space, purchasing sanitation and cleaning supplies for the district and making improvements to indoor air quality. 

The CMS Board will hear a presentation with more information on how the loss of ESSER funding will impact the district’s 2024-2025 budget during a workshop on Monday.  

Six Killings Over a Week’s Time in Charlotte

Six people were murdered in Charlotte over the span of six days in the past week, including a triple murder in southwest Charlotte last Saturday.  

Shortly after 3 a.m. on Jan. 27, officers responded to a shooting call for service on Lodge South Circle off East Arrowood Road, where they found four people suffering from gunshot wounds. Medic pronounced one victim dead at the scene, while two more died at the hospital. The victims have been identified as Daron Markell Polk, 32; Walter Humberto Ramos Murillo, 26; and Nighstarr Trevon Luper, 25. No arrests have been announced, though CMPD says detectives are not looking for anyone else related to this investigation.

Shortly after 10:30 p.m. on the previous night, police responded to Lake Mist Drive in southwest Charlotte’s Ashford Place Apartments complex, where they located a man, woman and girl all suffering from gunshot wounds. Medic transported all three victims to the hospital, where the woman, 21-year-old Yara Velasquez-Escobar, succumbed to her injuries the next day. On Jan. 31, police arrested a 20-year-old man and charged him with murder, attempted murder, and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. 

Shortly after 1 a.m. on Feb. 1, police responded to a shooting call on Pitts Drive in northwest Charlotte’s Washington Heights neighborhood, where they located 17-year-old Melakah Corbette dead from gunshot wounds. 

Shortly after 3:30 a.m. on Feb. 1, police responded to an assist Medic call on Strider Drive in southeast Charlotte’s Idlewild South neighborhood, where they located 21-year-old Nataly Martinez unresponsive due to a life-threatening medical emergency. Responding officers learned at the scene that Martinez’s condition “may not have occurred naturally,” according to a CMPD release. Homicide detectives responded and “developed information” that led them to believe that Martinez’s 25-year-old boyfriend caused her condition. They signed attempted murder warrants for the man’s arrest. 

Later that afternoon, state troopers located the suspect’s car driving on a highway in southern Mississippi. When they attempted to pull him over, the suspect shot himself in a suicide attempt. He was transported to the hospital with serious injuries. Later that day, Martinez was pronounced dead at a hospital in Matthews. The suspect’s charges were updated to murder. 

UNC Charlotte Campus Shooting Call Deemed False

An active shooter threat called in at UNC Charlotte’s campus was deemed false by CMPD on Thursday afternoon. 

In a short alert sent out around 2:20 p.m. Thursday, the department said its officers were at the campus “assisting with a building evacuation only at the request of UNC Charlotte Police” and that no injuries or evidence of an active shooter or shooting had been found. 

University officials later said CMPD was called to the school just before noon by people who said they had heard gunshots in or around the College of Education building on campus.

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