Charlotte Fails to Protect People by Rejecting Non-Discrimination Policies

April 7, 2015

By: Carla Vestal

On March 2, 2015, Charlotte City Council (“the Council”) voted on an ordinance that would allow all people to be treated equally and fairly under the law. Unfortunately, the Council failed to adopt these much needed policies that would prohibit private businesses and certain public positions, such as for-hire transportation and city contractors, from freely discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression.

The final vote came down to 1 single vote, as it ended up 6-5. This single vote came after hours of debate from both sides of the aisle, and at that point the controversial bathroom portion of the ordinance was already stricken. The bathroom portion of the ordinance would have allowed transgender individuals to use the bathroom of the gender in which they identify themselves. This was the most controversial piece of the policy, and even though it was removed it seems that certain members of the Council still used it to vote against what was being presented. “All over the world, there are restrooms for men and restrooms for women,” said Ed Driggs, a Republican Council member. “It does not place an unreasonable burden on them and it does not stigmatize them.”   Another Republican Council member, Kenny Smith, asserted that the bill was not a measure to stop discrimination, but to “impose the progressive left’s new morality on our citizens.”

Photo courtesy of The Charlotte Observer.

Opponents to the policy at the Council hearing. Photo courtesy of The Charlotte Observer.

When discrimination is discussed in the government, it should not become an issue of alleged morality. Discrimination in and of itself is immoral. Discrimination is prohibited by the United States Constitution by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and applied to the states through the Incorporation Doctrine of the Fifth Amendment. It is simple–and yet disturbingly difficult–for people who oppose equality under the veil of a religious responsibility to do so.

Jason Arter, a current Clinic student, attended the meeting and shares his first-hand account of the spectacle at the Government Center that day. Mr. Arter informs us that, “[The scene] was about religion, and the damnation that is going to occur. . . not just for those in favor of the ordinance, but also for those that have selected to be comfortable with who they are, in whatever gender they feel most comfortable expressing themselves.” Mr. Arter also reveals that the Council members opposing the ordinance insisted on continuing to make links between bathroom usage, homosexuality, and pedophilia even after the bathroom portion was stricken from the vote. When asked about how he felt after the vote, Mr. Arter has a very strong opinion to share, “Community members should be outraged, not just that the ordinance failed, not that those who are elected failed to fairly represent all members of a community, but that religion has yet again dictated the course of the future for all members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community instead of the government.”

The question remains: “Why would Charlotte not want to join to rest of the country in passing these protections?”

Out of the country’s twenty largest cities by population, Charlotte is one of three that does not have in place non-discrimination policies. The other cities that join Charlotte are Memphis, TN and Jacksonville, FL. Throughout the country seventeen states and over 200 municipalities have non-discrimination policies in place to protect people who identify as LGBTQ. While visiting Charlotte, Vice President Joe Biden addressed the Human Rights Campaign Spring Equality Convention on March 7, 2015. During his speech he urged that the entire country needs to pass non-discrimination policies that protect the LGBQT community and stressed that those policies need to be passed now.  Biden also affirmed his support for a “federal non-discrimination . . . bill that is expected to include protections in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, education, jury service and federal funding.” The bill is expected to be introduced to Congress this spring.

If you feel that Charlotte should join the rest of the country in protecting all people from discrimination, continue to reach out my emailing and calling your city leaders:

Mayor Dan Clodfelter
704-336-2241
mayor@charlottenc.gov

Mayor Pro Tem Michael D. Barnes
704-509-6141
barnesforcharlotte@gmail.com

Claire Green Fallon
704-336-6105
cfallon@charlottenc.gov

David Howard
704-336-4099
info@davidhowardclt.com

Vi Lyles
704-336-3431
vlyles@charlottenc.gov

Patsy B. Kinsey
704-336-3432
pkinsey@charlottenc.gov

Al Austin
704-336-3185
aaustin@charlottenc.gov

LaWana Mayfield
704-336-3435
lmayfield@charlottenc.gov

Gregory A. Phipps
704-336-3436
gaphipps@charlottenc.gov

John N. Autry
704-336-2777
jautry@charlottenc.gov

Kenny Smith
704-574-7241
krsmith@charlottenc.gov

Edmund H. Driggs
704-432-7077
ed@eddriggs.com

When fair-minded people join together anything is possible!


Attend Charlotte City Council Meeting on March 2nd to Support the LGBTQ Community by Standing-Up against Discrimination

February 26, 2015

CALL TO ACTION:

When: March 2, 2015 at 4 p.m.

Where: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 East Fourth Street

What to Do: Wear blue to show your support for these critical non-discrimination protections

Charlotte has once again found itself getting national news coverage for leading the way in the fight for equality in the LGTBQ community. On March 2, 2015, the City Council will vote on a proposed ordinance that would make it punishable for the city’s taxicabs, limousine providers and other “For Hire” means of transportation to discriminate against the LGTBQ community. The ordinance will also affect contractors holding city jobs by prohibiting discrimination against sub-contractors who identify as part of LBGTQ community. Other proposed parts of the ordinance include not allowing businesses to refuse service to anyone based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or sexual expression.[1]

Who could possibly be against people being treated equally?

Franklin Graham, son of the famed southern preacher Billy Graham, is leading the opposition to Charlotte’s proposed non-discrimination policy. Locally, Graham has partnered with the Benham Brothers, who are the sons of anti-gay street preacher Flip Benham. The Benham Brothers found themselves under the spotlight last year when HGTV cancelled their upcoming do-it-yourself show because of their views on homosexuality. All three politically right wing and religiously conservative men have joined forces with NC Values Coalition, the same group that failed in their efforts to ban gay marriage in North Carolina.

This force of oppression has been organizing their fan bases, church groups, and anyone who listens to write letters to the members of Charlotte City Council and the Editor of the Charlotte Observer. The group is also organizing followers to attend the City Council Meeting on March 2nd to voice their opposition to people being treating fairly under the law.

And That is Where You Come In!

Your help is needed to stand up against opposition to the policy! The policy was recently presented at the annual Human Rights Campaign (“HRC”) Gala, which former Clinic member Tierra Ragland had the privilege to attend on February 21st. For those that are unfamiliar with the HRC, it is the nation’s leading authority on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.

Tierra Ragland at the HRC Gala.

Tierra Ragland at the HRC Gala.

Ragland reported that “several elected Charlotte officials attended the gala.” She also voiced concern that although these officials were in attendance, she was very interested in seeing if their voting will reflect expanding protections to include all people. At the gala, the HRC handed out cards with the Call to Action with the following statement:

“On March 2nd, the Charlotte City Council will decide whether to update the city’s non-discrimination laws to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents and visitors from arbitrary discrimination in public accommodations, commercial contracting, and passenger vehicles for hire. No one should be refused service in a restaurant or taxi just because of who they are.”

If you believe that people deserve to be treated fairly and equally at all times under the law and that Charlotte should be held responsible for protecting all people from discrimination, bullying and unfair treatment of any kind, then please heed the Call of Action above and stand-up to hate. If you are unable to attend on March 2nd, you can still stop discrimination in its tracks by sending an email or calling Charlotte leaders letting them know you support non-discrimination policies:

Mayor Dan Clodfelter
704-336-2241
mayor@charlottenc.gov

Mayor Pro Tem Michael D. Barnes
704-509-6141
barnesforcharlotte@gmail.com

Claire Green Fallon
704-336-6105
cfallon@charlottenc.gov

David Howard
704-336-4099
info@davidhowardclt.com

Vi Lyles
704-336-3431
vlyles@charlottenc.gov

Patsy B. Kinsey
704-336-3432
pkinsey@charlottenc.gov

Al Austin
704-336-3185
aaustin@charlottenc.gov

LaWana Mayfield
704-336-3435
lmayfield@charlottenc.gov

Gregory A. Phipps
704-336-3436
gaphipps@charlottenc.gov

John N. Autry
704-336-2777
jautry@charlottenc.gov

Kenny Smith
704-574-7241
krsmith@charlottenc.gov

Edmund H. Driggs
704-432-7077
ed@eddriggs.com

When fair-minded people join together anything is possible!

[1] See http://charmeck.org/city/charlotte/CityClerk/Documents/Agendas/2015/02.09.15.pdf#search=Transgender%20ordinance to review City Attorney Robert Hageman’s briefing paper and proposed draft of the policy and to access the Human Right’s Coalition’s “Frequently Asked Questions.” (41-56).


Citizen Review Board Q & A

September 26, 2013

Recently, Charlotte’s Citizen Review Board (CRB) has been receiving media scrutiny over its 78-0 record, having never sided with a citizen complaining of police misconduct.  As a result of this negative publicity, the Civil Rights Clinic took an in-depth look at the structural issues within the ordinance creating the CRB.  The identified issues were condensed into an email which was sent to Council-Manager Relations Committee and Task Force members to peruse before this Monday’s committee meeting where issues regarding the Citizens Review Board will be discussed.

HISTORY AND BASICS OF THE CRB

The need for civilian oversight of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department came after several officer-involved shootings during the mid-1990s.  The CRB was created in 1997 to strike a political compromise between advocates promoting more police accountability and those who believed that law enforcement officers should be regulated by an exclusively internal policy.

The CRB does not have the authority to discipline officers or dictate department policies directly.  The CRB does hear appeals from citizens dissatisfied with how the Police Chief handled complaints of police misconduct and makes recommendations to City Council and the Police Department about how to address problems of misconduct.  This puts the CRB at the forefront of citizen-police oversight in Charlotte, making it imperative that the CRB is equipped with the tools necessary to provide an effective mechanism for oversight.

THE CURRENT CRB APPEALS PROCESS

  1. Citizen files complaint either directly with the Police Department or through the Community Relations Committee.
  2. Internal Affairs investigates the complaint and submits its report to the Police Chief, who makes a disciplinary decision and notifies the citizen of his decision.
  3. If the citizen is dissatisfied with the Police Chief’s decision, he/she can file an appeal with CRB.
  4. CRB holds an initial hearing.  The citizen is often unrepresented and has no evidence other than the investigative report from Internal Affairs.
  5. If CRB finds that the citizen has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the Police Chief abused his discretion in applying the disciplinary action in question, then the citizen receives a full evidentiary hearing.
  6. CRB holds a full evidentiary hearing.  CRB can request further investigation by Internal Affairs, but has no subpoena power (cannot compel anyone to disclose information or appear as a witness).
  7. If the citizen can again prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the Police Chief abused his discretion then CRB may recommend that disciplinary action be taken.
  8. CRB’s recommendation goes to the Police Chief, the citizen, and the City Manager.  The police chief retains the final say as to whether to follow the advice of CRB.

ISSUES FACING THE CRB AND PROPOSED AREAS OF REFORM

Issue #1:  The high evidentiary burden

Only 4 of the 78 appeals have resulted in a full hearing.  Citizens have a difficult time making it past the initial hearing because of the high procedural burden required before a full evidentiary hearing takes place.  The current ordinance requires that a citizen prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the police chief abused his discretion in the disposition of disciplinary action at the initial hearing.

Answer #1:  Replace “Preponderance of the Evidence” with “Reasonable Cause to Believe” at the Initial Hearing Stage

At the initial hearing, the CRB looks only at a summary of the Internal Affair’s investigative report and the complaint to make its initial determination.  At this stage, complainants are not afforded the opportunity to engage in discovery or present a fully developed array of evidence to support their complaint and are typically unrepresented, while the Police Department can send as many representatives as they see fit.  The imbalance of evidence presented to the Board at this stage makes the burden of “preponderance of the evidence” an unlikely one for the complainant to meet.  Lowering the burden to “reasonable cause to believe” at this initial stage in the complaint process ensures that citizens are afforded an adequate and equal opportunity to receive a full adversarial hearing on the merits of the complaint.  The standard of review at the full hearing would remain “preponderance of the evidence.”

Answer #2:  Shift Focus of both the Initial and Final Hearings from “Abuse of Discretion” to “Whether Misconduct Occurred”

The current focus of CRB’s initial and final disposition of complaints is on the disciplinary decision of the Police Chief. This standard of “abuse of discretion” prohibits the effective function of the CRB for two reasons: 1) an abuse of discretion standard is an unreasonably high standard for citizens to meet and therefore is deferential to the police, and 2) the decision by CRB should be an independent review of the merits of the complaint rather than an assessment of the Police Chief’s discretionary authority.

Issue #2:  No investigatory or subpoena power

Independent investigatory powers are vital to creating the public perception that a civilian oversight committee is neutral and independent from law enforcement.  One complainant interviewed during our research stated that she felt the Board members were not interested in making a decision against the police, that she was unsure of whether the Board was actually working with the police, and that if a citizen wants an impartial hearing they are better off “bringing in somebody from out of town.”

Answer:  Provide CRB with independent investigatory and subpoena power

The perception that CRB operates within the Police Department can be corrected by giving CRB the power to investigate independently from Internal Affairs. Investigating through the lens of the Police Department does not give the CRB a completely neutral assessment of the situation.  With independent investigative authority, members of the CRB would be empowered to conduct more thorough and impartial hearings because they would be able to access information on their own as opposed to being routed through the Police Department.

CRB’s authority should mirror that of the Civil Service Board (CSB).  CSB, which addresses appeals from police officers who do not agree with their disciplinary action, has the power to subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, and compel the production of evidence.  Without this power, the CRB has no way to compel the police officer accused of misconduct to appear at the hearing, therefore leaving the complainant with no opportunity to cross-examine.  Since both the CRB and the CSB are civilian oversight committees reviewing inter-department disciplinary action—albeit from different complainants—CRB, too, should be granted independent subpoena power to best represent the objectives of the CRB.

Issue #3:  Lack of transparency and communication between CRB and the community

There is not enough readily obtained information about the CRB.  Currently, the city’s website only consists of one short paragraph stating how many members are on the Board and the Board’s general duties.  On CPD’s website there is a Q & A that describes the general process of filing a complaint and how the appeals process with the CRB works.  Furthermore, the closed meeting minutes fail to adequately document business discussed during the closed session.

Answer #1:  Improve CRB’s transparency and communications

The city should make three changes.  (1) All information pertaining to the CRB and complaint and appeals process should be located together on a separately maintained webpage.  Information should include plain language illustrations of how the process works, expectations of what amount of detail should be included in a complaint in order to receive a full hearing, statistical and historical data about the nature, number, disposition, and final disciplinary action of complaints, and the names and occupations of all CRB members as well as the point of contact for community members.  (2) The Board should maintain sufficiently detailed records of its hearings.  (3) Annual reports that the CRB compiles should be comprehensive and readily available to the public – as well as used by the Public Safety Committee when assessing and reforming policy.

Answer #2:  Ensure adequate representation of Charlotte’s communities

Reducing the number of appointed Board members to seven, and requiring a representative from each district in Charlotte would ensure geographic representation, but other qualities such as profession, socio-economic status, and community involvement should be considered when electing members for the CRB.

Answer #3:  Require specific and thorough training of each CRB member

Sufficient legal, policy, and community sensitivity training should be required before service on the Board.  Unbiased legal training (from both prosecutors and defense attorneys) should be provided to create an open, neutral, or receptive forum for complainants.

To learn more about the Citizens Review Board, you can view the Civil Rights Clinic podcast here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C__pJa75_jg


Civil Rights Clinic Releases Report on Charlotte’s Citizen’s Review Board

July 2, 2013

Recently, Charlotte’s Citizen’s Review Board (CRB) has been the subject of scrutiny over its 78-0 record, having never sided with a citizen complaining of police misconduct. The bleak statistics surrounding the CRB lead the Civil Rights Clinic to take an in-depth look at the structural issues within the ordinance creating the CRB.

As part of an on-going three year project, the Civil Rights Clinic recently compiled information about the civilian oversight of police in cities across the country—what authority the boards’ had to conduct investigations, the board structure, the accessibility of the information, and the standard of review for alleged police conduct. Additionally, the Clinic looked at CRB meeting minutes, as well as contacted former board members and complainants about the process. After reviewing the data, the Clinic released a report with recommendations for changes to Charlotte’s CRB as well as a model ordinance. The report, authored by Clinic member Isabel Carson, with contributing research from Clinic members Lindsey Engels, Katie Webb, and Daniel Melo, proposed changes to the standard of review, the availability of information on an independently maintained website, independent investigatory power, and the necessity of building trust between the police and the community they serve through transparency. The Clinic proposed four primary changes, outlined below in an excerpt from the report:

Drawing on the current structure of Charlotte’s municipal accountability scheme, Part III identifies the inconsistencies and weaknesses within the Citizens Review Board, and suggests four primary changes: 1)lowering the pre-hearing standard from preponderance of the evidence to probable cause; 2)shifting the focus of the standard of review from abuse of discretion to whether actual misconduct occurred;3)providing independent investigatory, subpoena, and audit powers to the Citizens Review Board; and 4)establishing stronger lines of communication and accessibility between the city and its residents.”

The Clinic recently met with the task force charged with gathering community input for recommendations to bring back to Charlotte’s City Council as part of the stakeholder process, and has also spoken to Charlotte’s ACLU chapter on the issue.

If you would like to read the full report click CRB Report.

You can also visit CRB Reform Now for more information and ways to get involved in reforming Charlotte’s CRB.

CRB Reform Webpage


Ban the Box in the News

April 21, 2013

Over the past two months public dialogue about Ban the Box has increased, spurred on by the Charlotte City Council’s decision to send the issue to the Economic Development Committee.  Several local media outlets exposed the issue to a wider audience, and helped Charlotteans begin to understand the importance and details of the proposed ordinance.

Creative Loafing highlighted the contributions of Councilwoman Mayfield and the Civil Right Clinic in getting the City Council to consider the needs of the thousands of Charlotteans who have conviction histories and are looking for work.  Councilwoman champions ‘Banning the Box:’ Spearheaded by LaWana Mayfield, job application question regarding prior convictions debated in city committee.

The Charlotte Observer ran an editorial by Civil Rights Clinic member Cleat Walters III, which highlighted the benefits of the ordinance to the City.  Banning ‘the box’ eliminates unfair obstacle to jobs

Unfortunately, not all of the stories in the media were accurate.  While we all have sympathy for the family and fiance of murder victim Danielle Watson, who was killed during a robbery inside the Flying Biscuit, WBTV’s story highlighting his opposition to Ban the Box “Murder victim’s fiance outraged over bill to remove “felon” question from job application” fails to identify the fact that the ordinance does not prohibit criminal background checks for job applicants.

Hopefully, Charlotte will follow cities like Richmond that recently enacted a similar ordinance as reported by The Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Richmond City Council unanimously passes ‘ban the box’ ordinance.

Ban the Box is slated for discussion during the May 2nd meeting of the Charlotte City Council’s Economic Development Committee.  The coalition hopes the  meeting room CH-14 in the Government Center will be packed when they consider this important measure at 12pm that day.


The Legal Dose- Citizens Review Board

April 18, 2013

Clinic Members Emily Ray, Isabel Carson, and Daniel Melo sit down to discuss the recent proposed changes to Charlotte’s Citizen’s Review Board and what lies ahead.


Civil Rights Clinic members speak to City Council about reforming Citizens Review Board

April 2, 2013

On Monday evening, April 1, 2013, the Charlotte City Council heard Civil Rights Clinic members Isabel Carson and Daniel Melo advocate for the reform of the city’s Citizens Review Board. Isabel and Daniel were two of a series of eight speakers to the City Council about the Citizen’s Review Board and the need for change. Charlotte’s Citizens Review Board is the forum for appeals for citizens who have complained about police misconduct. After an informational presentation by the city’s stakeholders and then public input during the Citizens’ Forum, the City Council decided to (1) have the City Manager develop a stakeholder process within the next 90 days and (2) send the ordinance, City Ordinance 849, to the Council Manager Relations Committee for review. Changing the standard of review and the need for transparency were recognized as primary areas in need of reform. The Council asked for further data collection, analysis, and possible reform of those issues.

Board

dan

Isabel
Pictures by Katie Webb

Please stay tuned to the Civil Rights Blog for more updates and information in the following weeks!

For further information, please read:

Observer article April 1st Council Meeting: After scrutiny, council votes to examine review board

February Observer Article: The real story on the Citizens Review Board

By Lindsey Engels


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