Category Archives: Government

Some Thoughts About Immigration

midtownsign

The morning of February 16, 2017 I had a breakfast meeting at a restaurant in Winston-Salem. When I arrived I found a sign on the door (pictured above) announcing that the restaurant was offering a limited menu and open for limited hours due to the “A Day Without Immigrants” protest. While I’d seen something about the protest on the morning news, I hadn’t really paid attention, and to be honest I was a little surprised to discover that the protest had made it’s way to our small North Carolina city.

midtownmenu

When I got to our table I looked at the menu that the restaurant had printed for the day and on the back I found a letter to customers (pictured above, and sorry for the poor quality). After reading it I asked our server about the protest she said that the kitchen staff had talked to management the day before to let them know they were going to participate, and management had hustled to put together the limited operation so they could open their doors. After the meeting was over I headed to my car, and before leaving the parking lot I decided to post these pics and the following post to Facebook:

Had a breakfast meeting at Mid Town. They are working with a limited menu and shorter hours to support their staff who are taking part in the “Day Without Immigrants Protest.” Our server said it was just about their entire kitchen staff. Have to say I admire the folks at Mid Town for taking this route. As far as protests go I think this is a very effective approach – makes crystal clear the impact that our immigrant neighbors have on our community and economy.

Well, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that I got some feedback on the post. Some agreed, some disagreed, and as always I enjoyed the back and forth. The best feedback I received, however, was in a series of private messages from a friend who works for a company that processes chickens. He didn’t want to post his comments on my Facebook post because he didn’t want to “start a big war of words” on my post, but he did give me permission to share his perspective and so I’ve pasted some below. Please take a moment to read it, because I think his experiences and viewpoints are important to keep in mind when we discuss immigration. Here’s the first message he wrote:

Saw your post. And this might get long. Sorry.

We have been planning for this day all week. Honestly about all we have done this week.

We have 1500 workers across 10 states and are directly responsible for supplying about 20% of all the chicken consumed in the US. Our workforce is about 90% Hispanic. We (along with Tyson, Perdue, etc) have been working hard to minimize the impact on the nation’s food supply. There are several plants running at 75% and less capacity today. Some plants not operating at all.

Trust me, without the immigrant workforce, this country does not eat. It is not a matter of just a limited menu, or prices being higher. We do not eat! We have been working on utilizing the EB3 visa program to bring in workers. Long story, but basically it allows someone to come in to the country and bring their immediate family. They must work for us for 1 year. After the year is up, they are free to stay and work anywhere they want. They can stay with us if they want. Or they can go work for you.

Well, we have to prove to US Govt that we cannot get good ol’ red blooded ‘Mericans to work. So we ran a few ads on Monster, etc. We received 250+ responses for Monroe NC. We asked all of them to complete an application.

  • Of the 250, we received 15 applications. We tried to schedule interviews with all 15.
  • Of the 15, 6 replied to scheduling something.
  • Of the 6, 3 actually scheduled an interview.
  • Of the 3 scheduled interviews, 1 showed up.
  • The 1 that showed up brought in a document for us to sign that stated he had an interview so he could get his unemployment benefits. He did not want a job. All he wanted was his form signed so he can keep collecting his benefits.
  • All done we had 0 out of 250. Meanwhile we hire about 40 workers per week. But nobody named Bob, Mike, John, Brian are showing up.

This is unskilled labor. It is hard work, but unskilled. We pay about $17-$20/hour. We are not looking for the cheapest labor we can find. We are not looking to pay under the table. We need workers. These immigrants are NOT taking people’s job. They just want to work and make money and the citizens are too lazy to do these jobs.

I wish we had a pretty open worker visa program. Do a decent background check. Give them a real SSN. Allow them to work. Then we do a mandatory backup withholding of 20% for federal tax and 5% for state. Get it all above board. Tax revenue increases. From a humanitarian side, people are not being taken advantage of.

So there, in a nutshell, is the scope of the issue we’re dealing with when we talk immigration. The current administration likes to focus on building a wall to keep bad, dangerous, illegal immigrants out of our country and by doing so they are scratching the itch of many Americans who feel disenfranchised, but the reality is that we need the immigrants or we don’t eat, plain and simple. But what about the idea that these illegal immigrants are stealing Americans’ jobs? Well, my friend addressed that with the job-posting experience and after a couple of messages back and forth he expanded a bit on why many business owners might not want an effective legal immigration system:

I am adamant about getting things above board. Most of our competitors want the undocumented worker. It means that even if they pay the same net wage we do, they can operate 25% cheaper than we do.

The Hispanic community says you are “baptized” each time you get a new fake ID. Our competitors will make them new identities each year so they can evade the tax system. They will file 1099’s using a SSN for 2015. Give the guy a new name and SSN (baptize) for 2016 and file 1099. Baptize them again for 2017 and file 1099. Rinse repeat. Year after year. Nothing gets in to tax system.

If you are legal, our competitor will “baptize” you anyway because they do not want anyone legal.

Talk about making your blood boil, how does that make you feel? Pissed off, right? Now here’s something he shared that my downright scare you:

One of the things we are worried about is they do this in the late summer/fall and do it for 10+ days. Whole year of harvests of fruits/vegetables are left in fields to rot. That will prove a huge point. Or, they do not show up to harvest turkeys in late October/early November and 1/3 of all US homes do not have turkey on Thanksgiving. That will not go unnoticed. These folks know they have the US by the balls because of the food supply. They will use it in a big way at some point. Today is minor I am sure.

So here’s the deal as I see it. Building a wall and going on a massive immigrant round up might make some of us feel good, perhaps a little safer, but the reality on the ground is that it will solve nothing. In fact it would create a massive problem for our economy and when the roundups are done we’ll be sitting around wondering why we can’t have fresh produce turkeys for Thanksgiving. And if the economic realities dont’ sway you, maybe humanitarian concerns will. Again from my friend:

Women get raped trying to make it here. People are left for dead after a mule steals all their money. They are treated like shit when they get here.

We have competitors that do not pay them. This guy has a compound in eastern NC. Lots of mobile homes. They all live there for free. He feeds them for free. He provides clothes. He transports them everywhere. They are all trapped like slaves.

So what’s the answer? My buddy provided some pretty simple action steps earlier:

  • Establish an effective, open worker visa program.
  • Do a decent background check.
  • Give them a real SSN.
  • Allow them to work.
  • Do a mandatory backup withholding of 20% for federal tax and 5% for state.

The result would be the decriminalization of our immigrant labor (black) market, an increase in tax revenues, a decrease in incentives for illegal border crossings which would eliminate any need for a boondoggle of a wall that wouldn’t work anyway.

Of course this all makes a lot of sense so it doesn’t stand a chance in DC.

A Glimmer

One test of a leader is her willingness to do something that may displease her fans/followers if she thinks it’s the right thing to do. Sen. Elizabeth Warren did just that when she voted in favor of Ben Carson for HUD Secretary. Even better, she utilized her Facebook page to explain why. Here’s an excerpt:

Yes, I have serious, deep, profound concerns about Dr. Carson’s inexperience to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Yes, I adamantly disagree with many of the outrageous things that Dr. Carson said during his presidential campaign. Yes, he is not the nominee I wanted.

But “the nominee I wanted” is not the test.

Millions of American families depend on HUD programs, including tens of thousands of families in Massachusetts. For many of them, HUD assistance is the difference between a safe, stable home and life on the street. As someone who has spent a lot of time working on housing policy in this country, my focus is on helping these families – and the countless others who could benefit from a stronger agency.

During the nomination process, I sent Dr. Carson a nine-page letter with detailed questions on a whole range of issues: Section 8 housing assistance; lead exposure in public housing; programs to prevent and end homelessness; programs to help victims of domestic violence; fighting housing discrimination; HUD’s role in preparing for and recovering from natural disasters; and, more broadly, the standards he will use for managing the department, including the steps he will take to protect the rights of LGBT Americans.

Dr. Carson’s answers weren’t perfect. But at his hearing, he committed to track and report on conflicts of interest at the agency. In his written responses to me, he made good, detailed promises, on everything from protecting anti-homelessness programs to enforcing fair housing laws. Promises that – if they’re honored – would help a lot of working families…

If Dr. Carson doesn’t follow through on his commitments, I will be the very first person he hears from – loudly and clearly and frequently. I didn’t hesitate to criticize past HUD Secretaries when they fell short, and I won’t hesitate with Dr. Carson – not for one minute.

That, my friends, is the first glimmer of light I’ve seen during a very dark period in Washington. I’m not saying I agree with her vote, but I am saying I’m glad to see someone finally showing some guts and exhibiting a little leadership.

Gown Towns Thrive

Yesterday I was in a meeting with several people involved with local real estate development and they were asked what the top business priority is for their county (Guilford, NC) going into 2017. Their response, as has been the case for every year in recent memory, was that job growth will continue to be the most critical issue for their businesses. In the course of answering the question quite a few of these people referenced other cities in North Carolina that seem to be thriving – Raleigh, Cary, Charlotte and “even Wilmington” – were the names I remembered. What stuck out, to me, was that no one mentioned Winston-Salem.

Now let me state up front that I’m not prepared to offer any statistics that compare the jobs situation in Winston-Salem to those in Guilford County’s two cities, Greensboro and High Point. But I will say that if you were to poll most people who pay attention to business in the region, they will tell you that Winston-Salem’s economic recovery from the nuclear annihilation that has befallen this region’s traditional economy is further along than its neighbors to the east. For some reason, though, leaders in Greensboro and High Point seem to ignore what’s going on just 30 miles to their west (and in all fairness the reverse is also true), and as a result no one seems to know why there’s a difference between these two very similar neighbors.

A personal theory is that there are a lot of complex and interwoven factors at play here, but one big one is the presence of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. The university, and in particular it’s medical school, has been a partner with the city and local companies as the city moved away from it’s traditional tobacco manufacturing base toward a “knowledge economy” with a niche in the area of medical research. Starting over 20 years ago Winston-Salem’s civic and business leaders recognized the need to re-position the city’s economy and Wake Forest played a significant role in those plans. The results are plain to see in the city’s Innovation Quarter, which is booming and is primed for exponential growth over the next 10-15 years.

30 miles to the east Greensboro actually has more schools, including NC A&T and UNCG, but they don’t seem to have had the same effect on the city’s economy. Yet. We’re starting to see much more activity there, including the Union Square Campus that recently opened and is already bearing economic fruit for the city and there’s PLENTY of potential for even more growth. As long as the city’s leaders continue to keep their eye on the ball there’s a very good chance this will happen, as it has in other college towns.

This article in the Wall Street Journal has a lot of data showing how cities in the US that have strong colleges, especially those with research programs, have recovered from the decline in the manufacturing sector over the last two decades. Here’s an excerpt:

A nationwide study by the Brookings Institution for The Wall Street Journal found 16 geographic areas where overall job growth was strong, even though manufacturing employment fell more sharply in those places from 2000 to 2014 than in the U.S. as a whole…

“Better educated places with colleges tend to be more productive and more able to shift out of declining industries into growing ones,” says Mark Muro, a Brookings urban specialist. “Ultimately, cities survive by continually adapting their economies to new technologies, and colleges are central to that.”…

Universities boost more than just highly educated people, says Enrico Moretti, an economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley. The incomes of high-school dropouts in college towns increase by a bigger percentage than those of college graduates over time because demand rises sharply for restaurant workers, construction crews and other less-skilled jobs, he says.

And here’s the money quote as it relates to local economic development efforts:

Places where academics work closely with local employers and development officials can especially benefit. “Universities produce knowledge, and if they have professors who are into patenting and research, it’s like having a ready base of entrepreneurs in the area,” says Harvard University economist Edward Glaeser.

Let’s hope our local leaders take full advantage of what our colleges have to offer, for all of our benefit.

Addressing Homelessness

At the day job I work for a trade association that represents the apartment industry, thus the companies I work with are on the front lines of our nation’s housing situation. You may not be aware of it, but we do indeed have a housing situation that can be best summed up as this: we have too many people who don’t make enough money to pay for the housing that’s available, and/or we don’t have enough housing units that are affordable for people at the bottom of the income scale. Even worse, we have a LOT of people who, thanks to any number of life events, lose their housing and thus end up living in flop houses, cars, tents or under a bridge.

Because apartment owners and managers provide over a third of the housing in the U.S, and a majority of the rental housing, they are often looked to for a solution to the problem of affordability and homelessness. It would be great if they could snap their fingers and solve the problem, but due to the complexity of the issue (static income, increases in the costs of everything from health care to food, lack of housing inventory in general, etc.) this is not something housing providers can solve on their own. That’s not to say that people in the industry aren’t trying, and a perfect example is a woman named Lori Trainer who has been working for years down in Florida to address homelessness in her community. (Here’s a link to a video about some of her work, and I’ll embed it below as well). She just wrote an article for Multifamily Insiders titled The Story Behind the Sign that helps put homelessness in perspective. Here’s an excerpt:

We’ve all seen the homeless person with the sign on the side of the road and when we do, many people think these thoughts.    What the people offering these judgments don’t realize is that the overwhelming majority of people don’t “choose” to be homeless.  In fact, nearly 50% of the homeless in America are working.  Why are they homeless then?  Well, that is the “564,788 person question” (the number of homeless on the street each night according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness).

The causes of homelessness range from sad to tragic.  Job loss, foreclosures, divorce and natural disasters such as the tragedies we are seeing in the Midwest and in Canada are a few examples.  These storm victims certainly didn’t choose to be homeless or do anything wrong but they are indeed homeless now.  If their insurance isn’t perfect, takes a year to work out the details or worse yet, doesn’t pay, what do those families do?  They have lost everything; their homes, belongings and jobs.  They are now homeless…

Another very prevalent and sad demographic in the homeless arena are families.  Approximately 206,268 were identified in the last count. Divorce, domestic violence, death, single parents and low wage workers are all in this category.  Children are resilient but often suffer irreparable damage when forced to live in vehicles, shelters or motels for weeks or months on end.  60 Minutes did a great job highlighting this epidemic:https://youtu.be/L2hzRPLVSm4   (Be sure to have tissues handy!)

Then Lori goes on to point out that there are many, many more people who are just a misstep away from becoming homeless themselves.

Many people think it could never happen to them.  But the truth is that one out of three people are two paychecks away from being homeless.  There are 12 million renters pay more than 50% of their annual income for housing and 37 million people living in poverty in America.  Simple fact, a minimum wage worker cannot support a household and pay rent.  There is a critical shortage of affordable housing in the US and, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition; approximately 200,000 units are destroyed annually.  That combined with the “aging out” tax credit population and the mile long waiting lists for section 8 vouchers, we have the perfect storm.

One of the initiatives we are working on at the national level in the industry is to identify the programs that industry groups are participating in at the local level around the country. For instance, my employer is working with Partners Ending Homelessness to help match their clients with available apartment units in Guilford County. What we’ve found is that like many things in life, the concept is simple but the implementation is complex. Still, we’ve seen progress and we will continue working because this is an issue that will be with us for the foreseeable future.

That’s just one initiative in one community, but that’s the kind of effort we’re going to need in every community around the country to address homelessness, because quite frankly this is not an issue that can be solved from Washington. What our national leadership CAN do is address the big picture issues that underlie homelessness, including:

  • An economy that is not providing adequate income for average workers
  • A health care “system” that bankrupts some, and financially cripples many
  • A crumbling infrastructure that threatens all of us
  • A byzantine regulatory structure (think HUD & EPA) that makes affordable housing development a challenge

Another chief culprit is an under-performing, and some would say under-valued, education system, but that’s not just a Washington issue so let’s not throw it entirely on them. The point is that homelessness is the most severe symptom of an ailing nation. If we are truly measured by how we treat the least of us, then as a nation and a community we have a lot we need to do to heal ourselves.

Here’s the video about the effort in Florida that Lori’s been a big part of:

The Impact of Malgovernance

*Disclaimer – this piece is my opinion alone and does not reflect the beliefs of any other person or organization with which I’m affiliated.*

Last week I wrote about the way in which the North Carolina legislature enacted the controversial HB2. Since then the controversy and noise swirling around the new law has escalated greatly, with the supporters of the law squatting behind a defensive shield that focuses on the “shiny object” portion of the law; the part that focuses on the rollback of Charlotte’s ordinance regarding transgender bathroom usage. And if you ever doubted it was about politics, in the process of defending law they also attack attorney general Roy Cooper, who is running against incumbent Republican governor Pat McCrory. From Sen. Phil Berger’s Facebook page:

CLICK THE LINK AND SIGN YOUR NAME: I have never seen a campaign as vicious and dishonest as the radical left’s assault on Pat McCrory over the bathroom safety bill. Unlike Roy Cooper, Gov. McCrory courageously did his job and protected the people of North Carolina by signing this common sense law that keeps grown men out of the same bathroom and locker room as little girls. Will you please share StandwithMcCrory.com with your friends and ask them to sign their names in support of Governor McCrory to fight back against the left’s shameful smear campaign?

Now, this stuff is pretty predictable. Of course the backers of the new law are going to run a PR campaign that focuses on the titillating aspects of the bill, simplifies and sensationalizes it with the zero reality-based evidence that it will help protect anyone from anything except their own boogeyman fears, and gets their political base all hot and bothered. Fine, we knew that would happen, but we also knew that there would be an uproar from the rest of the “liberal” world and it was quick in coming, in ways large and small. Here’s just a sampling:

So how are the law’s backers reacting? One editorial in the Charlotte paper captured it perfectly: Republicans’ Schoolyard Reaction to PayPal. This kind of stuff works beautifully with the hard-right’s true believers, and it is definitely part of their strategy – as misguided as some of us might think it is – to give McCrory an issue to go after Cooper with and to distract from the other parts of the law that actually impact far more North Carolinians.

What, you ask, could impact us more than who gets to use the restroom? Well, the one part of the law that has gotten the least attention and yet could directly impact far more of us than anything, is the elimination of a person to sue for wrongful termination in state court if they are fired. That’s a big deal, as explained in this article:

By prohibiting the state Equal Employment Practices Act as the basis for civil action, Noble said, “this law has essentially eliminated state law sanctions for employers, who can now fire its employees … with no state law consequences.”

N.C. House and Senate Republican legislative leaders emphasized during debate over the bill that North Carolinians have a “far more robust” federal court option for filing discrimination lawsuits.

Noble disagrees with the “robust” suggestion, saying that filing a complaint in federal court is twice as costly as state court, more time-consuming in terms of logistical requirements, and likely to have a longer period before a decision…

Legislators say there is a state remedy in that complaints could be investigated and mediated by the N.C. Human Relations Commission.

However, Noble said that commission has focused “on resolving housing discrimination complaints for private persons and improving community relations.”

“The commission simply does not address employment discrimination complaints against private employers … because its authority is expressly limited to receiving, investigating and trying to mutually resolve such complaints,” she said.

The commission also does not receive reoccurring financing from the legislature.

Federal remedies for compensatory and punitive damages are capped according to employer size, ranging from a combined $50,000 to $200,000. In state court, Noble said, there is no cap on compensatory damages, and punitive damages can be worth up to three times the compensatory damage award.

Federal claims must be filed first with the EEOC, whose due diligence obligations often serve to weed out the majority of lawsuits before they reach federal court.

Noble and Rainey said the EEOC tends to take more than six months to recommend whether to pursue a federal court filing, in part because its three North Carolina offices typically are understaffed. By comparison, Kennedy said it is not uncommon for a discrimination case filed in state court to be completed within eight to 12 months.

Seriously, you have to admire the effectiveness of their campaign to this point because no one is talking about it and it directly affects every working person in the state. But, by all means, you go right ahead and focus on who’s using that bathroom and argue about whether or not the new law does any good in protecting someone while they’re taking a squat, while those in the economic development trenches try to figure out how break through all this noise when recruiting businesses and while our various convention and visitor bureaus try to figure out how to keep event organizers from running to more welcoming venues. Think that’s not an issue? Well, here’s a little tidbit I came across on an online network for association professionals:

Topic: Addressing concerns about having our meeting in North Carolina this year

Dear All:

We are having our annual meeting in 6 months in a state that recently passed a law that revokes certain local anti-discrimination ordinances. ($*&*#%!!!!) When we were contacted by the media, we re-iterated our stance on equality (see below). Today we received an inquiry from someone for whom we have no record in our any of our systems asking how we will protect the civil rights of attendees. We have no idea if they are truly a new potential attendee or exhibitor, from the media (though they should identify themselves as media), or from an advocacy group. This got me thinking that we could face protesters or other issues if the courts don’t resolve the situation before this fall.

Has anyone else faced a similar situation?  What should we do and what should we ask the CVB to do, proactively, to reassure our organization, our attendees and exhibitors, etc? 

Believe me when I tell you that there are so many places someone can take a conference or show that there’s no reason they even consider opening themselves up to this kind of hassle, no matter who is behind it. If you’re a supporter of the law, at least the part that’s getting all the noise, and are beating the drum for state leadership to stand strong in the face of “liberal media/activists” then please understand that while you’re more than welcome to your opinion you are also obligated to accept the consequences of that support. You can try to say that it’s the “liberals'” fault for losing that business, that they’re creating a false perception, but here’s the deal: peoples’ perception IS their reality and the perception that you have created is one of being unwelcoming, bigoted and small minded. In today’s business environment that’s a death notice.

Malgovernance

*Disclaimer – this piece is my opinion alone and does not reflect the beliefs of any other person or organization with which I’m affiliated.*

North Carolina’s legislature has made the national news again, and once again it seems to have been motivated by the misguided belief that theocratic governing is a good idea. You can read all about what the legislature did simply by Googling “North Carolina LGBT law“, so instead of talking about what they did I’d like to talk about how they did it.

The Atlantic Monthly has a piece about why North Carolina’s legislature was able to pass the bill while other states’ legislatures were not and in that piece we find a good description of how they pulled it off:

 

…the decision was only made public on Monday, two days before the session. (As a result, some members of the assembly were unable to travel to Raleigh in time.) The legislative language of the bill wasn’t released until minutes before the session actually began Wednesday morning. There was minimal time for public comment built into the session. And by 9 p.m., less than 12 hours after the session began, McCrory signed the bill into law…

In North Carolina, by contrast, there was little warning for opposition forces to rally against the preemption law, no time for them to try to meet with the governor, and little time for the business community to speak out. Dow Chemical, the medical company Biogen, and Raleigh-based software company Red Hat all publicly announced they opposed the law. But major corporations like Charlotte-based Bank of America—which has in the past outspokenly criticizedanti-gay-marriage laws and touted its record on LGBT rights—did not make a public statement. (I asked B of A for comment about the law but haven’t heard back yet.) There’s a strong grassroots-activist base in North Carolina too, centered around the “Moral Mondays” movement, but there was little time for that bloc to organize either…

The law’s framers may also have made a strategically wise decision in bundling several issues together. Laws barring discrimination against gay people are politically contentious. But there’s still much more public stigma against transgender people. For example, campaigners against an LGBT non-discrimination referendum in Houston last year focused heavily on the transgender-bathroom question to the exclusion of broader non-discrimination, and won a resounding victory…

Of course, the general assembly could have passed a narrowly scoped bill that only overturned the transgender accommodation, but legislators instead chose a broader approach. (The minimum-wage provision, meanwhile, was resurrected from a failed preemption effort in September.)

This perfectly describes the m.o. for the Republican-led legislature over the past half-dozen years: for any piece of legislation that might have even a hint of opposition, or might be considered controversial in any way, work on the language behind closed doors, bum-rush it through committee with limited time for serious study by members, get it to the floor for rushed/limited debate and then send it to the governor. Even if he disagrees with it he ends up not acting because he knows his veto is essentially worthless and so it becomes law without his signature.

Bundling multiple items into a contentious bill is nothing new, but hitching the minimum wage piece to a bill that’s got everyone all heated up due to potty rights is a good example of how the Republicans in this legislature have perfected the art.

Before you think I’m picking on the Republicans let me state right here that they are continuing in the tradition of the Democrats who ran the legislature immediately before them. Some of those clowns went to jail, so it’s safe to say that we citizens of North Carolina have been victims of bipartisan malgovernance (that’s not a word, but it feels like a good description).

So what’s wrong with this form of legislating? It short-circuits the inherent strength of an elected body by not allowing a full vetting of the bill in committee and by not allowing time for in-depth study of the bills particulars. By not providing a venue for an extended and honest debate, or for substantive feedback from the public, the majority is pushing through flawed and poorly constructed legislation. If the true goal is good governance then the House and Senate leadership would push for more transparency and debate, not less, and by using these legislative tricks what they are telling us is that the aim is not good governance but to score points with their political base.

Does that shock you? Probably not. Should it piss you off? Most definitely.

By the way, I totally understand if you support the results of the bill – if it fits your belief system then so be it. But please remember how this went down because at some point in the future you’re NOT going to like the resulting law and you’re going to feel truly screwed over when you learn that the powers-that-be snuck one by you. That, my friend, is called karma and it’s a bitch.

Camel City’s Own Version of Making a Murderer

The Netflix series Making a Murderer, a documentary ten years in the making about a case in Wisconsin that exhibited some seriously flawed police work and downright shameful behavior by prosecutors, has shed light on some of the flaws of our criminal justice system. Here in Winston-Salem we have the Silk Plant Forest case, which began with a terrible assault in the 90s and resulted in the conviction of a man that many consider innocent, as our own example of a flawed justice system.

The case has been covered extensively by the Winston-Salem Journal over the years, but it’s an article in the Raleigh News & Observer about how the NC State Bar handled a complaint filed against the prosecutors in the case that highlights just how flawed the system can be. From the article:

The path to Coleman’s complaint began in January 2008, 11 years after Smith’s conviction and as Smith’s lawyers were arguing for a hearing to examine evidence not heard at trial. Duke law professor Theresa Newman, who directs the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic along with Coleman, received an email from Arnita Miles, who identified herself as a former Winston-Salem police officer.

Miles said she was the first officer to interview Jill Marker at the store after the assault. According to Miles, Marker said her attacker was a black male. She also said Marker dictated a letter that night, as a last message to her husband, and asked Miles to give it to him. Miles said she passed it on that night to the lead detective…

Because of the push for a new hearing, the SBI assigned an agent to assist prosecutors. Following the emails between Newman and Hall, the agent interviewed Miles. The agent turned up problems which he shared in a report to the prosecutors.

Miles did file a report following the attack. In it, she wrote that she was not the first officer at the scene. She wrote that Marker was incoherent and did not describe her attacker. Miles told the SBI she could not explain the discrepancy between what she wrote in 1995 hours after the assault and her 2008 claims…

The Duke lawyers learned of the signed and sworn affidavit in June 2012, following a meeting between District Attorney Jim O’Neill and Swecker, the retired FBI agent with experience auditing criminal investigations, including a critical 2010 audit of the SBI crime lab.

Swecker came to the same conclusion as the Silk Plant Forest Citizens Review Committee: The investigation was deeply flawed and incomplete. Swecker did not conclude that Smith was innocent, but said he deserved a new trial.

At the meeting with Swecker and in a followup email, O’Neill cited the Miles affidavit as proof that Marker had identified her attacker as a black male.

“I am holding in my hand a sworn affidavit by Arnita Miles, who was one of the first officers at the scene and the person who spoke with Jill while she lay on the floor of Silk Plant Forest,” O’Neill wrote. “Despite this evidence, the Duke Innocence Project continued to parade the name of Kenneth Lamoureaux as the person who likely committed this crime, knowing full well that Jill Marker said her attacker was a black man.”

Definitely read the full article and see what you think. Personally this reaffirms my belief that in this case the prosecutors are less interested in truth and justice, and more interested in not losing a case. It’s also reaffirmed my belief that I need to research our current District Attorney Jim O’Neill, who is running for Attorney General, before I consider voting for him.