Civilization and its Discontents

I thought Frank Stasio did a good job yesterday on The State of Things sorting through the criminal justice issues surrounding the Eve Carson case. Among Frank’s guests were North Carolina Central University Law Professor Irving Joyner, Lewis Pitts, an attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina, Tamar Birckhead, assistant professor of law at UNC-CH, and Keith Woods, Dean of Faculty at the Poynter Institute, discussing media coverage of the case (the program is archived here).

I was “curious” about this comment played from District Court Judge Craig Brown:

“It is curious to me that because the victim in one of these cases was such an amazing young lady — I’m told she was white — that the media has taken so much attention, but I guess I’m not surprised. But I also wonder, when there’s so many black victims to crimes, why that is not necessarily the case.”

I don’t think Eve Carson is getting all this attention just because she was young, gifted and white, though I certainly agree that this is a controversy starting to boil locally. Murder is a rare occurrence in Chapel Hill, you have to go back to 1995 to find the last time a UNC student was murdered. My interest comes, not only in that I live in Chapel Hill and work in Durham, but because my recent history is deeply rooted in the geography of Chapel Hill. I was married at The Horace Williams House, the past three months I’ve spent Tuesday and Thursday mornings at the UNC School of Government as a guest student, The Bolin Creek Trail – which I frequent regularly – weaves through Chapel Hill and eventually ends at my backyard. All of these personal landmarks can be found within a stone’s throw of where Eve Carson lived and died. It’s difficult for me not to pay attention.

Still I understand Judge Brown’s frustration. The region that envelopes Chapel Hill is much more susceptible to violent crime, adequate tools to address this problem have been sorely lacking, and Chapel Hill has remained relatively insulated from this experience. This is why you see Judge Brown using the Eve Carson case as a spring-board to jump start anti-gang legislation; even though the case isn’t necessarily related to gang activities. It is why guests on the State of Things used their time to call for probation reform, and more assistance to meet mental health needs. Legislation, reform, assistance… this is all none-too-subtly coded language calling on the State for more money.

I mentioned yesterday that Orange County was much more likely to communicate with crime victims than Durham County. That comment was a little unfair to Durham; the Durham DA handles a far greater volume of court cases; it simply does not have the resources to respond to the volume of need. And these problems with the justice system in North Carolina have been going on probably since before Eve Carson was born. This is why people are so frustrated, and are calling on the State to make changes to a laundry list of problems. So if Eve Carson can be the catalyst to justice reform in the State (larger state budget appropriations for the courts, for mental health, to combat gang activity) so be it, even though the events surrounding her case have a marginal relationship to some of these issues.


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