A 'Black Lives Matter' mural painted in Charlotte this year. (Cardinal & Pine photo by Grant Baldwin). 'Black Lives Matter' in Charlotte
A 'Black Lives Matter' mural painted in Charlotte this year. (Cardinal & Pine photo by Grant Baldwin).

There’s a lot of nuance in the reform vs. defund debate on police. Here’s what you need to know about how the races in four crucial NC Senate districts are characterizing 2020’s racial justice movement.

[Editor’s Note: As the 2020 election approaches, Cardinal & Pine is diving into key state legislative races to talk about the issues, and where candidates stand. Check out part 1 on Medicaid expansion, part 2 on public education, and part 3 on coronavirus recovery.]

The year 2020 has produced multiple once-in-a-generation political movements.

It was a culmination of a historic pandemic, a series of disturbing police encounters with Black Americans, and a president whose every move seemed to generate controversy. 

Just as national leaders were forced to reckon with growing awareness of racial injustice via a resurgent Black Lives Matter movement, state leaders were forced to speak as well about where they stood, particularly as it concerned police reform.

Republican candidates often characterized their more progressive opponents as supporters of a nascent “defund the police” movement, although the truth was more complicated than that. Most, including NC Gov. Roy Cooper and NC Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, urged broader discussions about criminal justice and police reform.

North Carolina statehouse candidates were often asked to make their positions known. Here’s what Cardinal & Pine found when we dove into four crucial races that could shape the state’s high chamber, the NC Senate. 

NC Senate District 1: Sen. Bob Steinburg (R) v. Tess Judge (D)

Bob Steinburg (L), Tess Judge (R)

Tess Judge, a northeastern NC businesswoman, has focused on race on education and healthcare, but she spoke for reforms over the summer after George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis. 

“This act of violence is one that has played out far too often in our country,” she wrote. “We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are called to respect the dignity of every human. We are called to stand against racism and injustice. All voices should be heard, respected and valued!”

Her opponent, incumbent Republican Bob Steinburg, has mostly avoided the topic in his official statements, although on social media his often inflammatory posts were sharply critical of racial justice protests. He has also shared posts with misinformation about the Black Lives Matter movement and likened BLM protesters to “thugs” in since-removed Facebook posts. 

NC Senate District 11: Lisa Barnes (R) v. Allen Wellons (D)

Lisa Barnes (L), Allen Wellons (R)

Although his campaign also centered on education, Johnston County candidate Allen Wellons spoke in support of the racial justice movement this summer. A local farmer, the Democratic candidate touted his endorsement by former President Obama. 

“We must remember our history and work together to ensure past injustices do not repeat themselves,” Wellons wrote on Facebook. 

Republican candidate Lisa Barnes has been mostly quiet about racial injustice, although she was one of a number of candidates who has claimed incorrectly that North Carolina Democrats were advocating for “defunding the police,” a movement that has not won widespread support among the party’s statehouse candidates. 

NC Senate District 24: Amy Galey (R) v. J.D. Wooten (D)

Amy Galey (L), J.D. Wooten (R)

In June, J.D. Wooten, a US Air Force veteran and intellectual property rights attorney, penned a letter outlining his support for the racial injustice movement. “We will never live up to the American dream until we actually realize that dream — a nation where all people are equal,” Wooten wrote. Wooten also included list of recommended police reforms at the state level, including training in implicit bias and de-escalation, as well as criminal justice reforms aimed at racial inequality and rehabilitation. 

“I commend the men and women who put on the uniform to protect their communities, and I know most of them are brave and admirable people trying to serve and protect,” Wooten wrote. “Our challenge is to hold accountable those who abuse their positions of power and trust without punishing those who are protecting us with dignity and respect.”

Republican candidate Amy Galey, a commissioner in Alamance County, has embraced a lower profile on the issue, although he’s been endorsed by groups such as the NC Police Benevolent Association, a mostly conservative organization that has been critical of national police reform efforts. 

“Law enforcement officers have a difficult and dangerous job,” Galey wrote in September. “They deserve our support.”

Galey, however, was also involved in a controversy this summer when tape emerged of her seeming to chuckle with other members of the Alamance County board when one member, a former police officer, made an inflammatory comment about police violence. 

“And you can’t do now what we could do when I was on,” the commissioner reportedly said. “We used to beat the hell out of them.”

Galey apologized for her reaction afterward. 

Senate District 31: Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R) v. Terri LeGrand (D)

Joyce Krawiec (L), Terri LeGrand (R)

Terri LeGrand has been attacked by the GOP and her Republican opponent, Sen. Joyce Krawiec, as a supporter of the “defund the police” movement, attacks that often distorted LeGrand’s positions. LeGrand detailed her stance this summer, writing that she backed the expansion of community support groups and a criminal justice that emphasizes rehabilitative services. 

“We need to follow Governor Cooper’s lead and the recommendations of the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, which recommends solutions to stop discrimination in our public safety systems,” LeGrand wrote. “The task force correctly recommended that North Carolina’s law enforcement agencies adopt reasonable use of force policies, which at a minimum prohibit neck holds. Taking bold steps like this will prevent the loss of life in the future.”

In addition to Krawiec’s misleading ads attacking LeGrand, the state senator has embraced President Donald Trump’s “law and order” strategy of assailing police reform, a strategy some have described as a “coded racial message.”