Category Archives: news

I’m in for 2019!

Damon Seils for Carrboro

I am happy to announce that I will run for re-election to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen this year.

My enthusiasm for Carrboro is as strong as ever. I have had the privilege of working with neighbors and community organizations on a wide variety of issues, and have built a reputation among colleagues and community members as a leader who takes a fair, thoughtful approach to both policy and process.

I am proud of my leadership in reviving the board’s effort to bring the town’s lowest-paid employees up to a living wage; advocating for public transit, pedestrian, and bicycle projects that offer more people more options, including expanded bus service and the long-awaited South Greensboro Street and Rogers Road sidewalk projects; and promoting land use decisions that advance our vision of a healthy, affordable, sustainable community.

Much of my work over the past few years has focused on securing Carrboro’s place at the regional table, from coordinating transportation investments throughout the western Triangle as the chair of the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization, to collaborating with community groups and other local governments in responding to attacks on immigrant rights, to working with Mayor Lydia Lavelle to make Carrboro the first local government in the state to call for repeal of the anti-LGBTQ, anti-worker House Bill 2.

There is critical work ahead. We will soon begin developing a comprehensive plan to guide decisions over the next 20 years on our greatest challenges, from affordable housing to climate change. I will continue to press for better local and regional transit, better infrastructure to support a growing and diverse community, and decision making that holds racial equity and social justice in the foreground.

I look forward to engaging the entire community in our important work to meet today’s needs and to plan for our future.

Resolution on Recent Acts of Racial Intimidation at UNC-Chapel Hill

Damon Seils at Board of AldermnThe month of March brought new concerns about the safety of students, employees, and visitors on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. Vandals desecrated the Unsung Founders Memorial, and a group of white supremacists brought weapons, including firearms, onto the campus in violation of state law. On Tuesday, April 9, I introduced a resolution to the Board of Aldermen urging the university to take bolder action in responding to and preventing these kinds of incidents. I’m proud that my colleagues on the board unanimously passed this resolution.

Alderman Damon Seils made a motion, seconded by Alderman Jacquelyn Gist, that the following resolution be approved. The motion passed unanimously.

A RESOLUTION IN RESPONSE TO RECENT ACTS OF RACIAL INTIMIDATION ON THE CAMPUS OF UNC-CHAPEL HILL

WHEREAS, Carrboro is home to many students, employees, and alumnae/-i of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, including an estimated 3500 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, or approximately 1 in 6 town residents, and the life of our community is intertwined with the life of the University; and

WHEREAS, on March 31, 2019, two persons desecrated the Unsung Founders Memorial in McCorkle Place on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus by defacing it with racist graffiti and with urine; and someone vandalized an installation outside Hanes Art Center with racist language; and

WHEREAS, on March 16, 2019, persons associated with a white supremacist group carried firearms and other weapons onto the UNC-Chapel Hill campus in violation of the North Carolina General Statutes and campus policy; and an Alert Carolina emergency notification was not issued; and no arrests were made and no citations or trespass notices were issued; and

WHEREAS, student antiracist activists have been prohibited indefinitely from entering certain areas of the campus, including McCorkle Place, despite having been found not guilty of the criminal charges related to their trespass notices or having had those charges dismissed; and

WHEREAS, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro branch of the NAACP, the Carolina Black Caucus, and others have called on UNC-Chapel Hill to take bolder action in response to acts of racial intimidation and threats by white supremacists to the safety of the community; and

WHEREAS, the Board of Aldermen appreciates Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz’s statement that “we must nurture an environment where all people in our community can live, learn and work without fear”; and the Board is encouraged by the arrests on April 8 of the persons believed to have desecrated the Unsung Founders Memorial;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Board of Aldermen that the Town of Carrboro, NC, urges its neighbor and partner UNC-Chapel Hill to rescind trespass warnings against student antiracist activists; to press charges and issue trespass warnings against persons who on March 16 carried firearms onto the campus; to clarify when the community may expect the presence of an armed person on or near the campus to trigger an Alert Carolina emergency notification; and to invite community members not necessarily affiliated with the University to participate in the campus safety commission being convened by the interim chancellor.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town wishes to partner with UNC-Chapel Hill in a shared commitment to helping students feel safe in Carrboro through better communications, education about the Carrboro Police Department, opportunities to participate in Town programming and advisory committees, continued participation in the Good Neighbor Initiative, and other efforts.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Board asks the clerk to share this resolution with the interim chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill and the members of the Chapel Hill Town Council, the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners, and the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

This the 9th day of April, 2019.

Statement on the Discontinuation of the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project

Today is #TransitThursday. Today, my usual commute from Carrboro to Durham on the GoTriangle 405 bus comes a day after the discontinuation of the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project. I have thoughts.

Even without the DOLRT Project, the challenge of the Durham-Orange transportation corridor that it was designed to address remains. It is one of the most intensively traveled commuter corridors in North Carolina; it will only become more challenging.

As Durham Mayor Steve Schewel said yesterday, before we look ahead, we must acknowledge the enormity of this setback for the people of Durham and Orange Counties. Planning to address the Durham-Orange corridor took many years. Planning another meaningful transit solution in the corridor will take many years more.

The DOLRT Project faced challenges from the start. Reactionaries in the North Carolina General Assembly set absurd funding limits and arbitrary deadlines to undermine years of planning that had broad community support. We persisted. The path ahead for the DOLRT Project narrowed considerably after Duke University withdrew from planning discussions, a devastating decision that showed little care for the people of Durham, as my colleague Commissioner Jennifer Weaver has said.

Thanks to the many community members who invested time and energy in a vision and a plan to transform the public transit network of the western Triangle. Thanks to the professional staff of GoTriangle and the staffs of local and regional governments and planning organizations who brought amazing technical expertise, planning chops, and passion to implementing our communities’ priorities. Thanks to the committed, visionary leaders of Durham and Orange Counties who stood up for our communities, backed up by Governor Roy Cooper, Secretary of Transportation Jim Trogdon, Congressman G. K. Butterfield, and Congressman David Price, among others.

We’re up to the new challenge. It will take renewed commitment to the community’s vision, expressed over and over again, of a truly regional transit network. And it will require a General Assembly that is responsive to democratically determined local needs.

Want to be part of the action? Watch for new opportunities to participate in amending the Orange and Durham transit plans. Completing the important local projects in those plans, and finding new approaches to regional cooperation, is where you’ll be needed.

Damon Seils is alderman and mayor pro tempore of the Town of Carrboro and chair of the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization Board.

Mayor Lavelle Issues Statement on Recent ICE Actions in Carrboro

This morning, Mayor Lavelle released a statement regarding recent activity by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Carrboro and throughout Orange County.

It has come to our attention that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have been operating in Orange County over the past two days. We believe they have detained at least two Carrboro residents and at least four other county residents.

First, I want to make clear to the community that the Carrboro Police Department was not involved in these actions. As our Police Chief Walter Horton stated last year, “Immigration status has never been a concern or priority to the Carrboro Police Department. We are here to serve all community members.”

Since learning of ICE’s actions, Town officials have been working with representatives of El Centro Hispano and other community partners to contact the family members of the detainees and to ensure that they have adequate legal representation.

Approximately one in five Carrboro residents were born outside the United States. The Carrboro Board of Aldermen firmly believes that immigrants are an integral part of our community and should be welcomed and supported. For many years, we have advocated for comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform. It is essential that all residents of Carrboro feel safe and secure, regardless of their national origin or immigration status, and that they receive due process and legal representation.

We will continue to cooperate with our colleagues in Orange County, Chapel Hill, and Hillsborough to keep the community informed about this week’s incidents. We also will continue to support the work of our community partners to educate residents about their rights, and to offer information and resources for residents who need assistance.

Finally, on a personal note, I cannot adequately express how frightening this news must be for our neighbors who live in constant fear that these actions may happen on any given day in our town. My heart hurts for our community. I look forward to a future when we live in a nation where all people are treated with compassion and respect, regardless of their immigration status.

Carrboro Celebrates Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass, (Blake Chamberlain, Social Visionaries Re-imagined)

On Monday, February 5, Carrboro joins in on the countywide celebration of the 200th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’s birth.

Come out to the Century Century to learn from and celebrate with James Williams, former public defender for Orange and Chatham Counties; Michelle Lanier, executive director of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission; and Jaki Shelton Green, 2009 Piedmont Laureate and 2003 recipient of the North Carolina Award for Literature.

Plan to attend other events throughout Orange County into the spring: http://www.orangecountync.gov/…/frederick_douglass_200th.php.

Community Service

Moral March on Raleigh 2017

Moral March on Raleigh 2017 (See more photos.)

Many of you know that I was arrested in December at the North Carolina Legislative Building while protesting the General Assembly’s outrageous fourth special session. That sham session, called under dubious legal circumstances, featured bills that would diminish the new Democratic governor’s ability to make appointments to the cabinet and to UNC schools’ boards of trustees, change the makeup of boards of elections and merge the state board of ethics and the state board of elections, and delegate greater authority to the new Republican superintendent of public instruction. Basically, the fourth special session was a power grab.

In the aftermath of my arrest, I have agreed to complete community service hours. These won’t be just any community service hours. I plan to highlight the work of several nonprofit organizations in North Carolina that are advancing causes and serving communities under direct attack by our reactionary General Assembly.

Today, I served as the volunteer social media manager for the NC AIDS Action Network during the Moral March on Raleigh. I met people from all over North Carolina and talked with them about what brought them to the Moral March. See the NC AIDS Action Network’s Instagram feed at https://www.instagram.com/ncaidsaction/.

NC AIDS Action works to secure affordable, high-quality health care for all and advocates for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention in North Carolina and the South. At today’s march, we gathered commitments of support for maintaining the Affordable Care Act. The People’s Agenda calls for health care for all. We must “reject efforts to repeal the national health care reform law and fully implement it in NC; preserve state funding for Medicaid, Health Choice and other essential programs; act immediately to address the crisis in the treatment and placement for persons with mental illnesses, developmental disabilities and substance abuse problems; triple funding for the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities and state HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs.”

Open Letter to the President-Elect

Mayor Lydia Lavelle and I have joined 154 other lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender elected officials from across the country in sending a letter to the President-elect. We have concerns, naturally.

Read the open letter here: http://bit.ly/2jM3VTy.

The letter expresses our concerns about the President-elect’s nominees to his administration. Nearly all of them have espoused anti-LGBT views aimed at denying us acceptance and inclusion in the law, in our families, and in our communities. Many of them proudly tout legislative records opposing basic legal rights for LGBT Americans, and some have openly denigrated our lives and our personal relationships.

The letter urges the President-elect to govern with the values of inclusion, fairness, and justice. We are committed to ensuring that all of our constituents have a voice during the next administration.

Victory Institute Open Letter

Comments on House Bill 232 Study Report

Today I submitted the comments below to the North Carolina Department of Transportation regarding the H 232 Bicycle Safety Laws Study Report. This report makes recommendations to state legislators for changes to state laws on bicycle safety.

Most of the recommendations are sensible and will promote the safety of cyclists, which is the stated purpose of House Bill 232, the legislation that called for the report. A few of the recommendations, however, would lead to the opposite of cyclist safety.

Read more about the legislation and the study report at ncdot.gov/bikeped/lawspolicies/. More resources are available from BikeWalk NC.

Latest Notes on Carrboro Policing

In a previous post, I discussed the important policy and training work that the Carrboro Police Department has done over the past year. Some of this work—such as developing a policy for the use of police cameras—predates the latest national wave of attention on law enforcement issues. Other work by the department is underway in response to questions and concerns that community members shared during the town’s October community forum on policing.

(I neglected to mention in my last post that the department also spent the past year training officers in the use of naloxone kits to reverse effects of heroin and other opiate overdoses. This initiative has already saved a life in Carrboro, the first such incident in North Carolina. It’s a good example of the department’s human services model of policing and another demonstration of Carrboro leading the way.)

Today I’m writing to provide an update on early progress on items in my previous summary and to share some notes from three meetings I attended recently.

First, a Few Updates

  • In early December, Police Chief Walter Horton and both police captains attended an Organizing Against Racism racial equity workshop. The department is exploring opportunities for future training opportunities for administrative staff.
  • The department is partnering with other law enforcement agencies in Orange and Durham Counties to enroll officers in the Fair and Impartial Policing “train the trainer” program, tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2015.
  • The department is working with Orange County public defender James Williams and civil rights attorney Ian Mance of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice to develop reports for tracking data in the department’s record-keeping system. Also, at James Williams’s suggestion, the department has been in contact with the UCLA Center for Policing Equity to make arrangements for review of the department’s data.
  • The department is planning another community forum on policing for June 2015.
  • The department is in contact with the Durham Police Department to obtain information about its recently adopted policy to require written consent for searches.
  • Finally, I expect that the Board of Aldermen will consider including body-worn police cameras in the town’s budget for the next fiscal year.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Forum

I was pleased to be able to attend a forum on January 3 at the Rogers Road Community Center hosted by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Branch of the North Carolina NAACP. The forum, moderated by Carrboro activist Diane Robertson, featured a question-and-answer session with Chief Horton, Chief Chris Blue of Chapel Hill, and Sheriff Charles Blackwood.

A good summary of the event is available on OrangePolitics. A complete audio recording is available at Chapelboro.com.

The forum reaffirmed for me the central importance of acknowledging, understanding, and addressing racial disparities in law enforcement. Attendees of the forum also expressed interest in greater transparency related to law enforcement agency policies (for example, policies on the use of force) and procedures for filing and resolving complaints.

Meeting With Residents

Also on January 3, Alderwoman Michelle Johnson and I had the opportunity to meet with two Carrboro residents, Geoff Gilson and Amanda Ashley, who have been paying close attention to policing issues and advocating for changes in policing policies and methods.

As in the NAACP forum, an important feature of our conversation was transparency. We talked about the possibility of making existing policies more readily available. Questions related to whether policies could be published on the town website; rules of engagement and policies on the use of force; and the process for investigating uses of force (specifically, deadly force).

We also discussed bringing greater structure to ongoing efforts to engage the community in shaping law enforcement policy, and being clearer about next steps so that community members know about opportunities for participation. For example, we talked about formalizing the structure of upcoming community forums, particularly in relation to making the forums goal-oriented and requiring a follow-up report to the Board of Aldermen after each forum.

Shortly after the October community forum, the police chief raised the idea of focusing each subsequent forum on a particular policing topic. I like the idea of devoting forums to particular topics, identifying important questions and concerns on the basis of community participation in those forums, setting clear goals, and measuring and reporting outcomes. Stay tuned for the next forum, tentatively planned for June 2015.

UNC Law School Conference

Finally, on January 23, I was able to attend most of a daylong program on policing at the UNC School of Law. The conference, “Police Violence in the Wake of Ferguson and Staten Island,” was sponsored by the UNC Law Clinical Programs and the UNC Center for Civil Rights. (For a collection of tweets from the conference, including my own, check out the #UNC2Ferguson hashtag on Twitter.)

Speaker after remarkable speaker at the conference—scholars, lawyers, civil rights activists, and community organizers—offered insights into the racialized history of law enforcement in the United States, troubling overviews of traffic stop data in North Carolina municipalities (including dramatic numbers from Carrboro), and strategies for reducing racial disparities in policing.

A few links:

I was glad to hear speakers talk not only about history and context, but also about solutions. Sherillyn Ifill offered three thoughts:

  • Implicit bias training for law enforcement officers and other people in positions of public trust. This training should be seen as a part of the professionalism of policing.
  • Body-worn cameras.
  • Don’t simply stop implementing bad policies and making bad investments. Undertake policy changes and make investments that reverse the negative effects of previous and existing policies and investments.

Mark-Anthony Middleton, a pastor and community organizer, spoke about recent successes in Durham:

  • mandatory periodic review of traffic stop data;
  • mandatory racial equity training;
  • less emphasis on enforcement of marijuana-related violations; and
  • mandatory written consent for consensual searches of vehicles and homes.

These approaches are good starting points for discussion, and most are already under consideration in Carrboro. Please continue to be in touch with the Board of Aldermen at boa@townofcarrboro.org if you have thoughts about policing and other issues. We want and need to hear from you.

Next Steps in Carrboro Policing

Renewed focus on law enforcement after yet more instances of police violence around the country—most notably in Ferguson, Missouri—has brought many of us together to consider a local response. A variety of steps by the Town of Carrboro in the past year present a good opportunity to catalog some of the work going on with our Police Department. Most important is a set of first steps being taken by town staff, informed by conversation with community members in a recent community forum, which I summarize below. I then describe a few other items of interest related to Carrboro (and Orange County) policing. My fellow board members and I welcome your thoughts about these issues. You can reach us by e-mail at boa@townofcarrboro.org.

Community Forum and Next Steps

On October 6, the town hosted a forum to hear community members’ concerns, questions, and ideas about policing in Carrboro. Several dozen community members attended the forum. Police Chief Walter Horton, the town manager, several other members of town staff, and members of the Board of Aldermen were also present.

On November 18, in follow-up to the forum, Chief Horton presented a report to the Board of Aldermen in which he identified the major themes that emerged during the forum on the basis of attendees’ comments: racial equity training, racial profiling and bias, fear of police by people of color, community and citizen engagement, and restorative justice. (Agenda materials and video from the meeting are available on the town website.)

Chief Horton identified several actions as a first step in addressing the issues raised in the forum. These actions include:

  • racial equity training of police personnel;
  • improved records management and statistical data and work with the public defender’s office to identify racial profiling and alter policing methods accordingly;
  • targeted conversations with specific community groups, especially young people of color; and
  • additional community engagement activities, including at least 2 community forums per year, the next tentatively scheduled for June 2015.

In addition to the actions identified in Chief Horton’s report, the Board of Aldermen directed the staff to include the following items in their next update:

  • update on participation of the chief and the captains in the Organizing Against Racism program;
  • update on participation in the Fair and Impartial Policing program, including cooperation with other local police departments;
  • update on the potential for implementing a citizens’ police academy;
  • update on further conversations and work with the Orange County public defender’s office, including improvements to the Police Department’s record keeping and statistics reporting;
  • update on planning for the next community forum or listening session, possibly in June 2015;
  • information about the City of Durham’s recent adoption of a requirement to obtain written consent for searches and what such a policy might look like in Carrboro;
  • information about how the Police Department’s law enforcement resources are currently allocated in terms of the share of arrests, citations, etc for different kinds of incidents;
  • plan to include in upcoming budget discussions the possibility of staff-wide racial equity training;
  • update on a follow-up with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools about student safety concerns in the schools;
  • information about a potential forum or conversation with persons interested in discussing domestic violence; and
  • information about other resources or support the Police Department may need from the Board.

Stay tuned for coming opportunities to shape policing policy in our town, including additional community forums, departmental outreach efforts to neighborhoods and community groups, and more.

Other Issues

There’s more going on in our local law enforcement world, some of which I summarize below.

  • I’ll begin with an exciting development that came up this week. During Monday’s meeting of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, Commissioner Mark Dorosin petitioned the board to work with newly elected Sheriff Charles Blackwood on a gun buyback program for the county. Sheriff Blackwood confirmed that he is interested in initiating such a program. When I spoke with the sheriff after the meeting, he raised the idea of a joint program with the Town of Carrboro and other municipalities. Stay tuned.
  • In July, the Police Department launched the Police to Citizen (P2C) incident reporting system, which enables public access to police incident reports, arrest reports, and traffic crash reports. P2C allows users to search, map, download, and print police reports.
  • In June 2013, the Board of Aldermen approved the purchase of in-car cameras for police vehicles. The cameras went into use this fall after several months of work with the Police Department, legal staff of the ACLU of North Carolina, and others to develop a policy that addresses concerns about the cameras’ proper use. The mobile recording system policy addresses when the cameras are activated and deactivated, access to and retention of recordings, disciplinary actions for violations of the policy, and more. I hope that this comprehensive policy can become a model for other communities in North Carolina.
  • Finally, some community members (including the police chief) have expressed interest in acquiring body-worn cameras for police officers. The Board of Aldermen will likely consider this issue in the next budget cycle. An important concern for me in this decision is the same concern I expressed about dashboard cameras: having an appropriate policy governing their use. The Police Department has already begun drafting such a policy, similar to the in-car camera policy, in consultation with the ACLU of North Carolina and others. I’m interested in knowing your thoughts about whether body cameras are the way to go for Carrboro. Meanwhile, below is a collection of tweets from Seth Stoughton (@policelawprof)—a former police officer and now assistant professor of law at the University of South Carolina—regarding the benefits and limitations of body cameras. (Thanks to Bethany Chaney [@Chaney4Carrboro] for the tip.)