State News

Attorney general: Civil rights extend beyond blacks

Posted May 24, 2016 9:30 a.m. EDT
Updated May 25, 2016 5:08 a.m. EDT

— U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch reiterated Tuesday that the federal government believes North Carolina's House Bill 2 violates the civil rights of transgender people, and she took issue with blacks who say officials shouldn't equate their fight for racial equality with transgender bathroom access.

In her first visit to her home state since the U.S. Department of Justice sued North Carolina over House Bill 2, Lynch said the law, which requires transgender people to use public bathrooms that correspond to their birth gender and limits discrimination protections for them, is inconsistent with federal law and with the values of North Carolinians.

Earlier in the day, numerous black ministers rallied outside the State Capitol in support of House Bill 2.

Clarence Henderson, one of the North Carolina A&T State University students who integrated the lunch counter at a Woolworth's store in Greensboro in 1960, said he believes being transgender is a lifestyle choice, and he is insulted by the Obama administration's attempt to draw parallels between LGBT rights and the discrimination he faced five decades ago.

"Biology 101 tells me that I am male. It tells females they are females," Henderson said. "When we try to lump this thing together making it be a racial issue, I totally disagree with that because it has nothing to do with civil rights. I did not sit at that lunch counter about sexual orientation."

Lynch said civil rights are civil rights, regardless of who you are.

"While the civil rights movement, certainly in this state, focused on racial discrimination, civil rights and human rights are not limited to any one particular issue or any one group of people," she said. "Where there are people who feel victimized and are in fact victimized and made vulnerable simply because of a physical characteristic over which they have no control, that is exactly what the civil rights laws are meant to cover."

Fayetteville community policing highlighted

The attorney general was visiting Fayetteville as part of stops she is making nationwide to recognize police departments for their efforts to improve community policing.

Fayetteville was among six communities that excel in areas cited in a report by President Barack Obama's policing task force. The group was created in response to upheaval in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere that exposed the gulf between local law-enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.

Fayetteville Police Chief Harold Medlock in 2014 asked the Justice Department for input on how it could operate better. The federal agency made dozens of suggestions in December and has noted that the racial disparity in police traffic stops is declining.

Lynch met first with members of the police department’s Youth Advisory Council at Terry Sanford High School to talk about issues, problems and solutions. Several students in the group openly admitted they came to the council disliking police and were very critical of the department, but they said having an open dialogue with Medlock has changed their perspective.

"It's very very good to talk to students because, first of all, we know you’ll be honest with us, and second, the kind of interaction that students have with the police department is very personal, very immediate, and it can also be very strong," Lynch said.

The students called for more peer-mentoring programs and asked Lynch for ideas on how to provide more personal interaction between police and teens, noting many distrust law enforcement. Lynch said young people need to participate in an open and respectful dialogue with police.

"You've got bring your complaints, bring your concerns, and you've got to tell not just the police department but me where can we do better, where is there room for improvement, what's the next problem," she said.

Lynch also toured the police department's Crime Information Center, where she said information about crime and police response is available to the public, and discussed the benefits and drawbacks of body cameras, which Fayetteville officers began wearing earlier this year.

In the afternoon, she took part in a community roundtable at Fayetteville State University about local policing.

"No one said to me that things are perfect. What they said to me was that they work together, they talk together, they have a mechanism to address concerns, they feel that they have accountability – not just from the chief but from the rank and file and the management – and that they have the ability to raise those concerns directly to the police department," she said.