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Cooper vetoes 'critical race theory,' rioting bills

Posted September 10, 2021 4:28 p.m. EDT
Updated September 10, 2021 7:17 p.m. EDT

— Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday vetoed two bills authored by GOP legislative leaders that would have prohibited the teaching of critical race theory in North Carolina public schools and would have increased the penalties for rioting.

House Bill 324, crafted by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, laid out a number of topics teachers would have been forbidden to promote, such as that one race is superior to another, that anyone should feel guilt over their race and that a meritocracy is "inherently racist."

The idea as described by Republican supporters was to ensure equality in the classroom. Berger, R-Rockingham, claimed the bill was needed as a bulwark against "indoctrination" and fringe concepts on race and racism bleeding into the classroom.

​Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who appointed a committee to look at complaints of classroom indoctrination, also advocated for the bill.

Democrats saw something more insidious and argued the measure would have a chilling effect on education, putting teachers under the microscope for having frank conversations on the role racism has played in American history.

Cooper said the bill was a misguided attempt to push "calculated, conspiracy-laden politics into public education."

"The legislature should be focused on supporting teachers, helping students recover lost learning and investing in our public schools," he said in a statement.​

"Critical race theory," as Republicans have described anti-racist philosophy, has been one of the year's main topics in right-wing media. Dozens of state legislatures have seen bills filed to ban it.

No Democrats in either chamber voted in favor of the legislation, so a veto override is unlikely to succeed.

Berger called the veto "perplexing."

"[Cooper's] invented excuse is so plainly refuted by the text of the bill that I question whether he even read it,” he said in a statement. “More broadly, Democrats’ choice to oppose a bill saying schools can’t force kids to believe one race is superior to another really shows how far off the rails the mainstream Democratic Party has gone.”

"This lazy response is the same one that the governor has used for weeks to avoid addressing a serious issue that is plaguing public education in North Carolina," Robinson said in a statement. "For the governor to say that this bill is pushing 'conspiracy-laden politics' does a disservice to the teachers, students and parents across our state who have voiced their concerns."

However, Chantal Stevens, state director for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the veto "the only acceptable outcome."

“This legislation is part of a nationwide coordinated effort to pass classroom censorship laws that silence critical race theory, diversity curricula and discussions about racism, sexism, and inequity," Stevens said in a statement.

Cooper also vetoed House Bill 805, which was sponsored by House Speaker Tim Moore. The legislation would have created new penalties and increased others for taking part in a riot, inciting a riot, damaging property during a riot or injuring or even threatening to injure a law enforcement officer or first responder at the scene of a riot.

Moore, R-Cleveland, said he was inspired to file the bill after watching the chaos that unfolded in Raleigh in May 2020 after protests denouncing the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota.

However, critics said the bill's true intent was to have a chilling effect on future protests, since anyone accused of rioting or inciting a riot could be thrown in jail for 48 hours before a judge even heard the charges.

Similar proposals filed and passed in states around the country have been described by some civil rights leaders as "anti-Black Lives Matter bills."

"People who commit crimes during riots and at other times should be prosecuted, and our laws provide for that," Cooper said in his veto statement, "but this legislation is unnecessary and is intended to intimidate and deter people from exercising their constitutional rights to peacefully protest."

Two Democrats in the House voted for the bill, but no Senate Democrats did, so a veto override seems unlikely on this as well.

Moore accused Cooper of "pandering to the left."

"Last year, I watched rioters cause enormous damage to downtown Raleigh while the governor did nothing," he said in a statement. "Today’s veto is another slap in the face to the small-business owners and residents of cities and towns across this state that were damaged by lawless riots.”

Meanwhile, the state ACLU praised the veto.

“This proposal was clearly retaliatory legislation in response to the public demands for racial justice we witnessed last year," Stevens said in a statement. "Had this become law, it would have dissuaded people from engaging in constitutionally protected acts of protest and empowered law enforcement to target those who organize and frequently attend protests and demonstrations."

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