Center for Civil Rights Newsletter

Center for Civil Rights Newsletter: Tuesday, July 5, 2011

About the Newsletter

The Center for Civil Rights newsletter is a publication about our work to further civil rights in North Carolina and throughout the South. In addition, the newsletter contains information regarding employment and pro bono opportunities; civil rights conferences and events at Carolina Law and beyond; and notable civil rights news and developments. If you currently are not receiving this newsletter and would like to subscribe, please email civilrights@unc.edu.

A Message from the Directors

Since its founding, the Center for Civil Rights has fulfilled its goal of helping train the next generation of civil rights lawyers by providing volunteer opportunities to dozens of law students during the school year and employing paid law student interns each summer. Rather than pursuing a traditional (and potentially more lucrative) career in corporate or criminal law, these students have admirably chosen to use their legal skills to serve low wealth individuals and communities.

Summer interns work directly with Center clients and attorneys to develop a first-hand understanding of civil rights law. They play a major role in the Center's legal research, case preparation, and outreach, and critically enhance our capacity to help communities throughout the state. This summer we are proud to be working with five outstanding law students.

Marcelius Braxton is a third year law student at the University of North Carolina. Marcelius attended the University of Pittsburgh, where he triple majored and received a bachelor's of science in Economics, Political Science, and Philosophy as well as a certificate in African Studies. After his first year of law school, Marcelius worked as a research assistant for both Professors Holning Lau and Charles Daye. Marcelius continued his work with Professor Lau throughout his 2L year.

Bethan Eynon is a third year law student at the University of North Carolina and grew up in Youngstown, Ohio. She graduated from Ohio University with a Bachelors of Science in Magazine Journalism, a minor in Sociology, and a certificate in Women's Studies. Last summer Bethan interned with Judge Beverly Scarlett at the Orange County District Court in Hillsborough and the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys. Earlier this summer, she interned with the North Carolina Attorney General's Office.

Adam McBroom is a third year law student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a native of Charlotte, North Carolina and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a BA in History. Prior to law school Adam worked in the political sphere, home renovation, and manufacturing. Following his first year of law school Adam spent his summer working as an intern with Legal Services of Southern Piedmont in Charlotte.

Meghan Melloy is a third year law student at UNC School of Law. A native of St. Cloud, MN, Meghan graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Beloit College in 2005, where she majored in International Relations and minored in Latin American Studies. She worked for three years as a paralegal at Legal Aid of North Carolina's Farmworker Unit, the first year as a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Last summer Meghan interned at Global Workers Justice Alliance in Brooklyn, NY.

Tracy Moore is a first year student at North Carolina Central School of Law. She graduated from Campbell University, where she majored in in Pre-law Government. After graduation, she served as an AmeriCorp Promise Fellow, working with a NC Governor's One-on-One Program in Goldsboro, NC. In 2008 she received a Master of Public Administration from North Carolina Central University, with a concentration in nonprofit management. Subsequently, she worked for United Way of the Greater Triangle. She has worked with numerous nonprofits and interested in civil rights law and public policy.

The Docket

Education Updates

Halifax County, NC

In North Carolina, a majority of Black and Hispanic students attend schools composed primarily of a non-White student body. These intensely segregated schools are typically characterized by high poverty rates, lower teacher quality, less rigorous curricula and inadequate funding. The Center for Civil Rights' ongoing work with parents, communities and education advocates across the state has demonstrated why North Carolina is an ideal state to critically examine the issues of school segregation and integration. School districts across the state are at various stages of the historical trajectory from segregation to integration and, more recently, back to resegregation. Our ongoing work reflects this spectrum of education (in)justice.

Promoting Meaningful Public School Integration

Halifax County, NC - On May 9, 2011, the Center for Civil Rights held a press conference at the Historic Halifax County Courthouse for the release of its special report "Unless Our Children Begin to Learn Together..." The State of Education in Halifax County, N.C. The report grew out of the Center's work with local community organizations and education advocates. It provides a comprehensive analysis of the history, educational effects and legal implications of maintaining three separate school districts in one county: Halifax County Public Schools (HCPS), Weldon City Schools (WCS) and Roanoke Rapids Graded School District (RRGSD). Examining the racial and educational disparities among the three districts, the report concludes that the maintenance of these separate, racially segregated school districts in Halifax County is a continuing violation of the constitutional rights of all students and severely undermines the quality of public education throughout the county.

Following the release of this report, the Center will spend Summer/Fall 2011 engaging community members, stakeholders and education leaders in "Community Conversations" about education in Halifax County. Each session will be hosted by a local community partner and/or advocacy organization with a direct stake in Halifax County's schools. The goal is to use the Halifax report to spark informed conversations about the state of education in the three districts in Halifax County, the reasons for maintaining three separate districts, and the possibility of district unification. These conversations will also provide a frame of reference to discuss racial isolation and academic achievement gaps in a distinctly rural setting, and will provide the Center with opportunities to interact with those most impacted by the educational system in Halifax County.

Press conference for the release of the Halifax County education report (left to right): Community activist Margaret Parrish, Center Managing Attorney Mark Dorosin, Rep. Angela Bryant; Halifax NAACP Chapter President David Harvey, Weldon Mayor Julia Meacham, Halifax County Commission Chair James Pierce.

Read the report and related materials.

Read news coverage on the Halifax Report:

Legal Action Fighting Public School Resegregation

Pitt County, NC

In April 2011, the Center filed a motion to reopen its case in Pitt County, North Carolina, a district that is still under a federal desegregation order. Last fall, the Pitt County Board of Education voted on a new reassignment plan for elementary and middle school students that will resegregate several of the district's schools this fall. The Center's motion seeks an injunction to stop the implementation of the reassignment plan, which will also result in the opening of a new elementary school that is extremely racially identifiable (88% non-white) and low performing (46% reading proficiency). These outcomes were completely avoidable, as the board considered and rejected other reassignment proposals that would have resulted in better racial balance and academic performance of the district's schools.

In November 2009, the U.S. District Court issued an order directing the board to work with the Center's individual clients and the Pitt County Coalition for Educating Black Children (PCCEBC) to develop a reassignment plan than moves the district towards unitary (integrated) status. Throughout the last year, the Center assisted the PCCEBC in advocating for an assignment plan that promoted diversity and integration. We provided our clients with research about the benefits of school diversity, as well as maps and empirical data analyzing the proposed reassignment plans prepared by the Kirwan Institute for Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University. The Center will continue to work with our clients to counter the board vote with appropriate legal action, and to ensure the district makes genuine progress toward eliminating the vestiges of race discrimination in the school system.

Read the motion.

Wake County, NC

The Center has continued our advocacy to prevent the resegregation of Wake County's schools. In April 2011, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that the Wake County School Board did in fact violate the Open Meetings law in March 23, 2010 when it engaged in highly controversial vote to dismantle the district's socioeconomic diversity student assignment policy. This important victory validated our strategic use of "good government", due process-oriented legal action to challenge school board decisions that deprive minority students of opportunities and resegregate schools.

In May 2010, the Center, along with several other civil rights groups and private attorneys, filed suit on behalf of a diverse group of Wake County citizens, alleging that the school board's actions at the March 23, 2010 meeting violated the state's Open Meetings Law. Following an expedited hearing, the Wake County Superior Court ruled that the Board acted unreasonably in some respects, but found that changes in Board procedures (adopted as a result of the lawsuit and sustained community advocacy) adequately address those issues, are unlikely to be repeated, and dismissed the case. The Center filed an appeal in June 2010, and Senior Managing Attorney Mark Dorosin presented oral argument in the North Carolina Court of Appeals in February 2011.

The Center is continuing to monitor the ongoing situation in Wake County. We released a memo in March 2011 highlighting the potential for increased segregation in Wake's schools for the upcoming school year. Center staff also will participate in a parent's rights training workshop this summer to help parents advocate for meaningful integration in public schools.

Read the decision.

Read the reassignment memo.

Environmental Justice Advocacy

The siting of environmental hazards in communities of color has emerged in our work as a critical impact of community exclusion. In neighborhoods already denied access to public water and sewer service, the location of landfills, waste transfer stations, sewage plants, and other hazardous uses in these communities magnifies the harm of lack of access to public water. The problems are linked both in cause and impact. The lack of access to infrastructure and the targeting and burden of environmental hazards are legacies of Jim Crow residential segregation and exclusion. Each of these impacts independently and dramatically affects quality of life; together they make a community almost unlivable.

Royal Oak Sues Brunswick County for Decades of Environmental Racism

The Royal Oak Concerned Citizens Association (ROCCA) and individual plaintiffs, represented by the UNC Center for Civil Rights and K&L Gates LLP, filed a complaint on June 3, 2011 alleging that Brunswick County intentionally discriminated against the residents by placing numerous environmental hazards in the community and by denying them access to water and sewer service. Claims under the North Carolina Fair Housing Act and the Equal Protection clause of the North Carolina Constitution also allege that these decisions disproportionately burdened African Americans and ROCCA, and perpetuate residential segregation.

Lewis Dozier, President of ROCCA (right), and John Hankins, Vice-President of ROCCA (left) speaking to the press on the courthouse steps before filing the complaint.

Royal Oak is a long-established, African American community in Supply, NC, that hosts not only the county's sole landfill, but a sewage treatment plant, waste transfer station, the county animal shelter, and numerous mines. Most of these environmental hazards are owned or permitted by the county, which also generally provides public water and sewer service. Although water and sewer infrastructure run into Royal Oak to serve county owned property and a new subdivision, the county has repeatedly declined to provide service to the residents.

In addition to this denial of services, the community faces a severe and immediate environmental injustice: the proposed expansion of an unlined construction and debris landfill built on top of a previous unlined municipal waste landfill. The lawsuit also challenges the county's April 4, 2011 decision to rezone land in Royal Oak to expand the county's construction and demolition (C&D) landfill. The county's decision to purchase the land and expand the landfill before rezoning the property or considering other uses or impacts of the rezoning violates existing state supreme court precedent, fails to comply with the county's land use plan as required under the Coastal Area Management Act, and is illegal spot zoning.

Read the complaint.

Read news coverage on the lawsuit:

Rogers Road Faces Renewed Threat of Landfill Expansion

The Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association (RENA) in Orange County, NC has, like Royal Oak, hosted the county's only landfill since 1972 and still lacks water and sewer service for much of the community. Despite the fact that residents were promised the landfill would close in 1982, solid water operations continue, and the county recently proposed extending the use of the landfill even further.

On April 5, 2011, the Orange County Commissioners agreed to delay the decision on extending the landfill until after adopting a plan to mitigate the adverse effects of the landfill on the community, including finally providing water and sewer to all residents. In addition to access to basic public services, RENA is also demanding the cleanup of illegal dump sites in the neighborhood as reparations already due for the nearly 40 years of harm from living with the landfill, and not as a quid pro quo for agreeing to any landfill extension. The county's plan to raise tipping fees to fund the provision of services to the community has raised opposition from Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

The Center helped the community stop the siting of a waste transfer station in the neighborhood in December 2009, and works with the community around access to water and sewer. The Center also represents RENA in a pending Title VI complaint with the EPA that alleges racial discrimination in the denial of water and sewer service.

Read the Center's April 18, 2011 letter to the EPA in the Title VI complaint.

Read related news coverage:

The Legislature Addresses Exclusion

One of the primary impacts of community exclusion is the lack of meaningful access to political institutions and critical civic information. To address this need, the Center provides research and public policy analysis to our clients and when requested, to policy makers working on exclusion related issues. During this past legislative session, our clients traveled from across North Carolina to meet with legislators and attend committee meetings in support of two bills addressing community exclusion.

Annexation Reform Act Includes Provisions to Assist Excluded Communities

Since 2007, Center for Civil Rights' client communities have addressed legislative commissions studying both poverty and annexation to represent the needs of excluded communities. Many African American and low income communities have been excluded from city boundaries--and the related access to public services--often for decades. Municipalities have often been unwilling to annex these communities because projected tax revenues would not cover the cost of services, or a reluctance to alter the racial demographics and political power of the municipality. Even where cities are willing to include these neighborhoods, current annexation laws often prevent such action. Communities containing heirs' property or absentee landowners could not meet the 100% petition requirement required for voluntary annexation, and historic underdevelopment and lack of infrastructure frequently prevented communities from meeting the density requirements for involuntary annexation.

House Bill 845, The Annexation Reform Act of 2011, passed the NC House on May 16, 2011, and the NC Senate on June 15, 2011. While the bulk of the bill focuses on involuntary annexations (and the ability of residents to resist them), the bill also creates new opportunities for the annexation of low income communities seeking inclusion. Under the new law, municipalities will be required to annex low income communities that are largely contiguous where 75% of owners request annexation, and have the discretion to annex other low income communities where a majority of residents request annexation. "Donut holes" -- areas completely surrounded by a municipality -- may be involuntarily annexed with no density requirements. Most importantly, municipalities will be required to provide services, including water and sewer, to all communities that are annexed, unless they can demonstrate that they are financially unable to do so.

This new legislation will allow communities in need of services to become part of their neighboring cities and towns. Access to municipal elections, needed infrastructure, and improved services such as police and fire protection may potentially transform life in these communities. Several Center client communities may benefit from this legislation, and the Center will serve as a resource to other communities seeking to take advantage of this law.

Read the bill.

Read related news coverage:

Brandy Creek De-Annexation Bill Passes Legislature

The Brandy Creek/Wallace Fork Road community in Halifax County was annexed to Roanoke Rapids by the N.C. General Assembly in 2005 as part of a proposed entertainment development district. Although the annexation was presented to legislators as "voluntary," residents of Brandy Creek did not know about the annexation until after the fact. The proposed development failed, but as a result of the annexation and land speculation Brandy Creek residents experienced property tax increases of 700-1500%, leading to foreclosures and decimating the community.

The Center has worked with the community to first lower the inflated tax valuations and now to seek de-annexation. Thanks to the persistence of the community leaders and the support of Rep. Angela Bryant, Rep. Glen Bradley, and Sen. Ed Jones, the N.C. legislature passed a local bill to de-annex Brandy Creek on June 16, 2011. Center staff are currently examining whether residents may be able to recover taxes illegally overcharged from 2006-2010.

Brandy Creek residents discuss deannexation with Senator Ed Jones.

Residents of the Brandy Creek Community with Representative Angela Bryant and Attorneys Mark Dorosin and Peter Gilbert outside of the N.C. House Finance committee

Read news coverage of the Brandy Creek De-Annexation:

In the News

Dicta

U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Juveniles in North Carolina Case

On June 16, 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that police must consider a juvenile's age in determining whether to provide a Miranda warning to a juvenile suspect. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said it is "beyond dispute that children will often feel bound to submit to police questioning when an adult in the same circumstances would feel free to leave," and that courts cannot "blind themselves to that commonsense reality." The case, which originated in Chapel Hill, involved a 13 year old student suspected of a crime that took place off school grounds. A uniformed school resource officer took the student out of his class to be interrogated by a police investigator in closed conference room. The two officers and two other adults were present for the interrogation. The student, who was never read his rights or given an opportunity to contact his guardian, eventually confessed.

The Supreme Court ruling reverses the 2009 decision of the North Carolina Supreme Court. At that time, the Center, the UNC School of Law Juvenile Justice Clinic, and a private attorney filed an amicus brief that focused many of the same arguments ultimately adopted by the Court: that given the cognitive differences between children and adults, and the general acknowledgement of those differences throughout our juvenile justice system, establishing an appropriate standard for determining when a juvenile is in custody is vital to ensure that the constitutional and statutory rights of children are protected.

Miranda Rule Revised, The Carrboro Citizen, June 23, 2011

Pro Bono Opportunities

There are ongoing pro bono opportunities at the Center for law students and attorneys. Projects vary in time commitment and can often be completed off-site. If you are interested in volunteering for a project, please contact Mark Dorosin, Managing Attorney, at 919.843.7896 or dorosin@email.unc.edu.


To subscribe or unsubscribe to this newsletter, please email Benita N. Jones at civilrights@unc.edu.