The bill would have exempted police custody death investigations from public record, just weeks after George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis.
The head of one of NC’s largest Black advocacy organizations says Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a controversial police records bill should send a message to North Carolina lawmakers.
“We thank the young advocates on the vanguard of this effort,” Marcus Bass, deputy director of the NC Black Alliance told Cardinal & Pine. “This action sends a strong message to the General Assembly, to local elected officials and to voters who will have the ultimate power at the ballot box in November to change the source of these poisoned policies.”
The network — which advocates for systemic change on voting rights, criminal justice, education and more — is made up of lawmakers, county and municipal leaders, and school board members of color across NC. It’s also one of numerous racial advocacy groups that demanded action from state lawmakers and Cooper on Senate Bill 168, which passed in the early morning hours of June 27 at the NC General Assembly.
State officials seemed to indicate the proposal, which had come from NC’s Department of Health and Human Services, would be uncontroversial.
According to an email from DHHS, “the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) pursued the language found in this bill to clarify that confidential information and reports shared for the purpose of a death investigation retained the same protection while in OCME’s possession to help facilitate efficient access.”
But it stirred up outrage in the wake of multiple high-profile killings of Black Americans in police custody, including Minneapolis’ George Floyd.
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Cooper vetoed the bill Monday night after state lawmakers had already indicated they had plans to revise the polarizing legislation. On the morning of July 6th, Senate Bill 232 was introduced by lawmakers to repeal the public records provision if it became law.
Still, the announcement of the veto was met with cheers from demonstrators outside the Governor’s Mansion.
“Senate Bill 168 includes a provision to change the handling of public records by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner which could have the unintended consequence of limiting transparency in death investigations,” Cooper said in a statement. “While I believe neither the Department of Health and Human Services which proposed it, nor the General Assembly which unanimously passed it had any ill intent, the concerns that have since been raised make it clear this provision should not become law.”
Demonstrators spent days protesting outside of the Governor’s Executive Mansion in Raleigh. The movement was coined “Occupy Raleigh” by the advocacy group NC BORN (Building Our Revolution Now).
On June 30th, we reported that Senate Bill 168 had passed the NC General Assembly early in the morning with little discussion. Many expressed concern about the larger implications of this provision and the timing of its passage.
“Our initial reaction to SB 168 was concern about the ability to hold law enforcement accountable when someone dies in their custody,” Citlaly Mora, a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, told C&P.
“We support public oversight over any deaths that take place under State custody (including law enforcement) and we affirm that families are entitled to detailed information, so any technicalities that obscure that are ones that we would be worried about.”