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Raleigh | Durham | Chapel Hill January 6, 2021





Recently released inmates are being held at Durham’s Quality Inn. Some say it’s just another prison. S, P. 6 BY LE IG H TAU S

Raleigh W Durham W Chapel Hill VOL. 38 NO. 1

To-go cocktails, p. 22 PHOTO BY JADE WILSON


Inside Durham's COVID motel. BY LEIGH TAUSS

10 Attorney T. Greg Doucette's crusade for justice.



The Durham Council's 2021 priorities. BY THOMASI MCDONALD


How doctors are providing COVID care in Latinx communities. BY ANNE BLYTHE

16 UNC's Greek life under fire after drug bust. BY SARA PEQUEÑO FEATURE 17

Durham's underground car culture revs up.


ARTS & CULTURE 22 Is the to-go cocktail allowance helping bar owners?


23 TheDeeepEnd finesses independent marketing on his new project. BY KYESHA JENNINGS

24 Soul is a thrilling metaphysical adventure.


25 Promising Young Woman is a fresh take on the femme fatale.


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5 Op-Ed


COVER Photo by Jade Wilson


Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald


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Editor in Chief Jane Porter Interim Managing Editor Leigh Tauss Interim A+C Editor Sarah Edwards Interim News Editor Eric Ginsburg


January 6, 2021

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Last month, Leigh Tauss graded the Raleigh City Council’s first year in office, from the mayor’s mishandling of the Black Lives Matter protests to its passing of a series of common-sense reforms.

Raleigh resident JANE HARRISON, who plans to run for the District D council seat, objected to the fact we didn’t fault the council for approving the rezoning for the Downtown South development. “In your writeup of what you’re watching for 2021, you mention NIMBY opposition to Downtown South—a convenient scapegoat to dismiss authentic and varied community concerns,” HARRISON writes. “ONE Wake, a multi-ethnic coalition comprised of 43 faith-based and civic organizations and 50,000 households in Wake County, made their values clear. They insisted on affordable housing and living wage jobs including contracts with minority owned businesses, neither of which were adequately addressed. Similarly Partners for Environmental Justice was seminal in pushing the developer to commit to funding stormwater improvement projects to assist downstream neighbors. Unfortunately, gentrification and displacement of nearby residents are a given without more stringent affordable housing requirements—the type of requirements that City Council could have asked for. Instead, they instructed city staff to craft a ~$200 million TIG (tax increment grant) for consideration in 2021—more public tax dollars to ensure affordable housing and other community benefits. This goes beyond the $80 million affordable housing bond that Raleigh residents voted for in November. Why didn’t Council put the onus on the developer with a project of this scale? I wish that City Council had crafted an innovative community benefit agreement with [developer John] Kane—why not at least require a master plan so that we know what’s coming? And next time, insist on an equity analysis, a recommendation by Planning Commissioner Nicole Bennett. As developers knock on our door, let us have robust community conversations and negotiate to our fullest—in the public’s interest.”

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15 MINUTES Kelsea McLain, 35 Founder of Triangle Abortion Access Coalition BY ANNA MUDD

What led you to found this group? I had an abortion in 2010, and there were protestors at my clinic in Florida. That prompted me to want to do something to make people feel supported. When I was at the clinic, I had a family member there to support me; but as I was looking around, I could see that people seemed to look alone and isolated in the experience. I heard women in the room talking about the protestors and how upsetting they were. I had heard about a group that volunteers at a clinic in Kentucky that does some harrowing things to support people accessing abortion, and I was inspired by their activism.

What do you want people to know about the program? The overwhelming experience we have with patients and staff at the clinic is that our presence is very welcome and needed. The clinic lets us know that any day we don’t have volunteers, protesting is bad and the patient experience is not great. Patients come into the clinic feeling more agitated, judged, and shamed. Very rarely do we see patients stopping to talk to protestors or being receptive to them. Having worked inside the clinic doing one-on-one patient support, I would often talk to patients after they had gone through the gauntlet of protestors on their way in. Their most common statement was, “Why do these people do this? Don’t they understand that everybody’s life is unique and we all have our reasons?”


How do you approach protestors? When we first got started, we would take the bait. We would start fights and make comments or jokes about particularly heinous protestors. But we found it created this toxic and chaotic environment out front: Protestors were getting more and more hostile with escorts. And because we don’t get a lot of support from law enforcement when these things happen, we realized we had to do something to keep ourselves and our clinic safe and to just de-escalate things. Now, we just try to be there to support the patients and pretend the protestors aren’t there and not take the bait. W

January 6, 2021





veryone will eventually be able to receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines, but the limited availability and slow rollout mean prioritizing who gets it first. Here’s a quick breakdown of the order of eligibility, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. W

North Carolina COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Breakdown PHASE 1a Health care workers fighting COVID-19 Long-term care facility staff and residents

PHASE 1b Senior citizens (age 75+) Health care workers Essential workers

PHASE 2 High-risk adults: Ages 65-74 Ages 16-64 with highrisk medical conditions Incarcerated or in close group-living settings Essential workers not yet vaccinated

Vaccines by-the-numbers*




High school students (16+) College students

Everyone else (vaccines not yet been approved for children under 16 years of age)

People Vaccinated by Race* 1% 4% 7%

Number of North Carolinians who have received the first vaccine dose


Number of residents in Durham, Orange, and Wake counties to receive the vaccine

*Numbers as of the end of December


January 6, 2021



American Indian or Alaska Native Asian or Pacific Islander Black or African American White Other


OP - E D

Wrong Hero Alamance County activists take aim at Eric Ginsburg’s recent column for overlooking journalist Tom Boney’s history. BY FORWARD MOTION ALAMANCE ET AL


ear Eric Ginsburg & INDY Week: While we are glad to see the media paying attention to what’s going on in Graham and Alamance, we are disheartened and frankly angered to see the news outlets we trust and rely on uplifting the narrative of Tom Boney Jr. as a heroic journalist standing up against Alamance County’s criminal justice system. In Alamance County, you can be white and run down two Black girls with your vehicle, jumping the curb while calling them racial slurs, and get off with a misdemeanor—even when a police officer witnesses the crime and files felony charges. That’s what happened in Graham on December 8, and somehow your paper completely failed to report this unfortunate reality. The only heroes in the courtroom during that case were Faith Cook and Angela Carpenzano, the two mothers who almost lost their daughters the day Sandrea Warren Brazee attempted to hit them with her truck—not the press, and certainly not Boney. It’s a shame INDY Week didn’t mention them or the two girls who were targeted in this hate crime even once in its recent open editorial letter addressed to Alamance County. We are writing you to set the record straight and ask that you apologize to Aishah and Gianna and their families and uplift their story. One of the Graham 12, Cook was among those pepper-sprayed at the October 31 March to the Polls and was herself arrested outside of the Alamance County Detention Center later that day for singing into a megaphone while waiting for fellow organizers to be released. Her charge: Class 1 Misdemeanor Riot, just one degree less than the A1 Misdemeanor Assault with a Deadly Weapon Brazee received. Her

daughter continues to have nightmares following the attack: “It’s kinda sad that I have to be a 12-year-old scared to walk on the sidewalk just because of the color of my skin tone,” Aishah wrote in her Victim Impact Statement. The primary question we should all be concerned with is: Why did the criminal court system drop Brazee’s charge from a felony to a misdemeanor? We should all be questioning the Alamance County District Attorney in this case; why did they think it was acceptable to interview two minors without their parents’ consent? Why did they value the testimony of a neighbor who was inside his house during the incident over the witness of the police officer who saw the whole thing and filed the felony charges? If you aren’t looking at how race factored into the outcome of this case, you’re not doing your due diligence as a journalist. Painting Boney as an honorable reporter who simply “wanted to do his job” is laughable at best and a slap in the face to the actual victims in this court case at worst. Boney—publisher of The Alamance News (a job he inherited from his father) and a former employee of the notoriously racist North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms—has been covering news about activists demonstrating in Graham with a profound and obvious slant; simply describing it as “conservative coverage,” as INDY Week did in its piece, doesn’t come close; The Alamance

News is a tabloid, the locals’ National Inquirer. As far back as 1990, the Greensboro News and Record reported that the newspaper’s “policies of identifying crime suspects by race and withholding reporters’ names on major investigative stories go against the grain of accepted journalistic practices.” Simply “doing his job,” Boney regularly publishes the mug shots and home addresses of activist arrestees—even publishing photos of their homes. He cherry-picks information and reports back to the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office, allowing known racist sheriff Terry Johnson to define a counter-narrative that demonizes public demonstrations and people who wish to bring change to the systemic racism that plagues Graham. Boney has even gone so far as to equate the Black Lives Matter movement with the KKK and defend Graham’s Confederate monument in his paper. Despite the onslaught of First Amendment rights violations that have been ongoing in Alamance since this summer, it wasn’t until Boney himself felt personally attacked that he chose to use his newspaper to report on it; he didn’t even post pictures of Tomas Murawski—a reporter from his own paper who was arrested during the October 31 March to the Polls—until he was firing back at the court about being kicked out. Part of Graham’s serious and ongoing systemic racism problem is the “good

“Painting Boney as an honorable reporter is laughable at best.”

ol’ boys club,” with Sheriff Johnson as its president. Friends of Terry, including Boney, get VIP access and treatment. We have seen people violently thrown down to the ground while being arrested for acts as innocuous as attending and speaking at a county commissioner’s meeting, and yet Boney gets a nice escort and a pat on the back from law enforcement as his handcuffs are removed right outside of the courthouse. Graham is tired of this good-ol’-boy network. The BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other marginalized communities want the same respect and compassion that white conservatives enjoy in Graham. We are tired of trumped-up charges when we use our First Amendment rights. We are tired of Alamance News getting special access and treatment. We are tired of standing in the shadow of a Confederate monument— erected by white supremacists in 1914, in the same location where our first elected black constable, Wyatt Outlaw, was lynched by the KKK in 1870. As long as a white-haired white man can continue to use his newspaper to constantly smear racial justice work in his community and be praised by news outlets as the hero and victim in a court case where a white woman walks away with a misdemeanor for trying to hit two Black girls with her vehicle, then the change we need to see in Graham will remain elusive. Sincerely, Forward Motion Alamance Faith Cook Revolutionary Love Coalition People for Change Alamance Agents for Change Down Home NC: Alamance W

January 6, 2021



Inside Durham’s “COVID” Motel Recently released inmates from all over the state are being held at Durham’s Quality Inn. Some say it’s just another prison. BY LEIGH TAUSS


eith “Bubba” Lusk just wanted to buy his three kids gifts for Christmas. The stocky 28-year-old had been incarcerated for nearly a year since robbing a drug store in 2019, but his release, scheduled for December 8, 2020, meant he might find a job in time for the holidays. “That all got shot to hell,” Lusk says during a phone call on Monday. For the past 30 days, he has been involuntarily held at the Quality Inn on Hillsborough Road in Durham, the state’s temporary “COVID motel,” with about 100 other former inmates awaiting release into the general public. 6

January 6, 2021

Lusk, who is from Rutherford County, about three hours away, isn’t sure why he’s there. He spent his sentence in isolation and tested negative before leaving prison, he says. On a normal day, he paces his room and tries to get some exercise, but mostly ends up sitting in bed. There’s no washing machine in his room, so he has to wash the one set of clothes he brought from prison in the bathtub, using a small amount of detergent provided by the motel. “Once you run out, they don’t give you no more, so you gotta wash your clothes in water,” Lusk says. “You get treated like crap. They still treat you like you’re an inmate.” He isn’t sure when he’ll be allowed to leave.

While the motel was meant to provide temporary housing for the men while they sought out permanent accommodations during the pandemic, the residents, and the activists who support them, say conditions are nearly as bad as in prison itself: There are bed bugs, cockroaches, a leaky ceiling, and other hygiene concerns, they say. Worse still, the men, who were supposed to be free, are unable to see their families or even receive donations of food and other provisions from the outside world. They can’t leave their rooms other than to smoke cigarettes on the patio, and their only escape is a motel room TV, they say. That’s why on Christmas, a group of volunteers from Rose of Sharon Baptist Church in Durham came by the motel to drop off home-cooked meals for the detainees. But according to the activists, the private security guards hired by the state to oversee the motel turned them away. So the church volunteers took justice into their own hands. On New Year’s Day, the group returned to the motel with care packages for the men and snuck in through a back stairwell. The INDY tagged along to investigate. What we witnessed inside the COVID motel left us with questions about the facility’s legality, some of which remain unanswered.


he program started with good intentions, officials say. Conceived as a temporary place for recently released convicts without a permanent address who may have been exposed to COVID in prison, the City and County of Durham entered into an agreement with the state Department of Public Safety this summer to enact the pilot program, the only one of its kind in North Carolina. Instead of releasing men with nowhere to go into the general public, leasing the 114-room motel would offer a COVID-19-safe alternative for those who had successfully completed their prison sentences while they sought

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accommodations. While there, they would receive medical care and counseling. The state hired a private security company, Lolair Protection Agency, to act as de facto corrections officers on site. While some of the men are under electronic surveillance as a condition of their release, others are not. It’s unclear what role this agency plays in enforcing protocol at the facility beyond “nuisance and non-emergent incidents,” according to the Memorandum of Agreement with the City and County. The $1 million program was funded mostly by the Federal Emergency Management Agency Public Assistance Grant Program (FEMA) and the state CARES Act, according to the DPS. A November memo from the DPS to the City stated that 114 men had cycled through the facility and that most had been released back into the community. Only 10 had left unauthorized, walking out on their own accord. But it’s still a motel. There are no gates or locks on the doors, which would be a fire code violation. Yet leaving isn’t allowed without permission from the inmate’s

parole officer, so fearing further punishment, the majority of men have followed the rules and stayed put. In an email, DPS spokesman Greg Thomas told the INDY that a total of 263 recently released individuals have been housed at the facility since the start of the program and that there are currently 80 onsite. To date, 173 have successfully transitioned to more permanent housing. Thomas confirmed there have been at least four complaints of bed bugs at the facility. Food is prepared at the motel and sometimes provided by local restaurants. Outside donations, however, are prohibited— “for the safety of residents, hotel staff, and the community,” Thomas said. “The offenders are not being held,” Thomas stated. “They are being housed so they may quarantine for their safety and the safety of their families and communities. This housing option is a part of the offender’s conditions of post release supervision. The North Carolina Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission is the controlling authority on housing options as offenders move to post-release

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January 6, 2021


and it is approved by the offenders supervising probation/ parole officer.” After contacting the INDY, DPS sent Durham City Council member Charlie Reece an update on the facility, which he shared with us. That memo stated that most complaints stem from plumbing and electronic issues, such as broken phones or TVs. “They have also received a few complaints of roof leaks” on the third floor and leaks due to mechanical issues on the second and third floors, the memo states. These issues, it continues, were promptly addressed. The state is contracting with Terminix to control bed bugs, treating about a third of the motel on a monthly basis and shuffling residents whose rooms become infested to other parts of the motel. This weekend, the motel received complaints of rodents and roaches on the property, according to the memo. The goal of the program is to find housing placement for the men within two weeks; however, the memo acknowledges that some of the residents, like Lusk, have been detained for much longer. At least one man who was transferred to the facility subsequently tested positive for COVID-19, but the DPS claims the man was isolated on an upper floor and that there was “no further spread.” 8

January 6, 2021

Comparatively, the virus has spread rapidly within the state’s prison system: 9,432 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 and 67 have died since the pandemic began, according to data from the state. There are currently 63 outbreaks being reported at the state’s penitentiaries. The state prison system’s mismanagement of the pandemic is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit from the ACLU and Emancipate NC. The suit claims that the DPS failed to enact safety protocols, resulting in outbreaks within the jails. The advocacy groups are demanding the release of at-risk inmates. While the COVID motel is not directly related to the lawsuit, ACLU attorney Dan Siegel tells the INDY that the state has a responsibility to provide “minimally sanitary and safe conditions” to anyone in its custody. Siegel says the possibility that the state is detaining people beyond their release dates is “troubling.” “Any time their sentence has expired and the state is keeping them in its custody beyond their legal sentence, that creates a serious problem,” Siegel says. “People’s constitutional rights don’t go away in the middle of a pandemic or any other emergency … If the state is going to keep someone in its custody and prevent them from leaving, they have to give them due process and can’t

just prolong someone’s sentence unilaterally because they think it’s a good idea.” Elizabeth Simpson, associate director for Emancipate NC, echoes Siegel’s concerns. “I think it was a good idea, but if the conditions are intolerable and they are being mistreated, then obviously that is not the way it should be done,” Simpson tells the INDY. “My experience of NCDPS, unfortunately, is that they have plans that sound passable and then their implementation is not passable at all.” When reached by the INDY on Monday night, Durham Mayor Steve Schewel said he did not have enough information to comment, but that he’d be looking into the matter.


t was a bait and switch. At the main entrance to the motel on New Year’s Day, older church volunteers knock on the doors to once again attempt to donate homemade vegetarian chili and milk rolls to the men inside, distracting the guards. Meanwhile, a second group mobilizes in the Hilton parking lot next door. With dozens of plastic bags full of food, detergent, and cigarettes strung from their arms, four vigilante activists walk onto the property from the back, climbing a stairwell to gain entry into an unlocked door on the third floor.

“Anytime their sentence has expired and the state is keeping them in custody beyond their legal sentence, that creates a serious problem.” Inside, the motel is dark, with seedy, yellowed walls. It’s eerily quiet. As the activists rush from door to door, dropping off supplies, some of the men open their doors, including Lusk. He is bald with a goatee in a white sweatsuit. He looks older than his 28 years. He picks up the care package and smiles. It’s a humble offering—a few instant meals, fresh fruit, detergent, and cigarettes. “It’s been hell,” he tells me, standing outside his room. “It’s how they treat us.” More men start to open their doors as the activists storm the halls. We linger for a moment with Lusk and try to get a peek inside a room before a guard rushes toward us, forcing us back to the stairwell.

When the guard confronts Gregory Williams, one of the vigilante organizers, he grabs Williams by the collar of his jacket and slams him against the wall. The guard tells us we’re being detained and calls the police. By now, more men are opening their doors and windows. Their joy at this simple kindness is palpable. Some cheer; some shout thank yous at the group. “We’re here to support you guys. We love you,” Williams shouts to a group of men on the third-floor balcony. “We’re just sorry we couldn’t do more,” his wife, Chrissy Nesbitt, says. “You did enough,” one of the men replies. One of the activists is live streaming the affair from an iPhone. For about 20 minutes, we remain cornered by private security guards in the stairwell, awaiting the police. A team of green-hatted legal observers arrives, followed by a police officer. Officer C.W. Bridwell confronts the green hats. He then tells us “No one’s being detained,” and asks us to leave. Despite the ban on donations, the men are allowed to keep the care packages. From a third-floor window, Lusk waves to the vigilante do-gooders as they regroup in the Hilton parking lot. On the first floor, a man tosses an unclaimed care package to the outstretched arm of a detainee leaning from the second-floor balcony. The activists, relieved, seemed to smile beneath their N-95 face masks as they head to their cars. Lusk stands in the window, his arms crossed. W

January 6, 2021


N E WS T. Greg Doucette Photo courtesy of the subject

Legal Eagle Attorney T. Greg Doucette’s social media crusade against hypocrisy, police violence, and big government BY CHRIS KUO


t was five days after the police killing of George Floyd, and T. Greg Doucette was mad. Doucette, a criminal defense and small business attorney in Durham, was angry with the way police were treating protesters: beating them, pepper-spraying them, and, in one case, even trampling them with a horse. And so, around noon on May 30, Doucette did what he often does when he wants to gripe: He tweeted, creating a thread of 10 videos showing instances of police brutality toward protesters. His thread went viral, retweeted by Trevor Noah and John Cusack and scores of others. Twitter analytics showed that 10

January 6, 2021

it reached millions of users. Suddenly, people started sending him thousands of videos of police violence, and Doucette kept adding to the thread, with a counter so people could keep track. He gained 100,000 followers (on top of his previous 30,000). Soon, the “Police Brutality MegaThread” had ballooned to hundreds of clips. “It was like, holy shit, this has gone beyond what I expected,” he says. “And I got to figure out how to manage it.” Doucette’s sudden Twitter fame was partly a reflection of the moment—a nation waking up to the pervasive problem of police violence—and partly a product of his Twitter addiction (he’ll often tweet 100 times a day).

But though the 100,000 Twitter followers were new, the blistering honesty of the thread was not. Whether he’s insulting Jeff Sessions (“human gutter trash”) or skewering the University North Carolina Board of Governors, Doucette will give you his unvarnished opinion. Since 2017, he has hosted a podcast called #Fsck ‘Em All, in which he rails against corruption and abuse in the justice system, as well as what he calls “political f*ckery.” Recently, he’s taken to YouTube to challenge Van Jones, a news commentator who gave a TED Talk titled “What if a U.S. presidential candidate refuses to concede after an election?” In it, Jones explains how a president could exploit “legal loopholes” in the Constitution to stay in office. The Durham lawyer’s response is quintessential Doucette—funny, thorough, nerdy, and crass. His video has attracted over 130,000 views—and some controversy. When someone in the comments section disputed one of his claims, Doucette weighed in: “Basically every comment and reply you’ve made here is wrong, it’s actually impressive! Enjoy the Biden administration.” He’s a rascal and a reformer, a crusader for justice, or— if you’re on the receiving end of his Twitter onslaught—a pain in the neck. “If you’re being a dick, he’ll push back,” says Kahran Myers-Davis, a former attorney at Doucette’s firm. “He’ll push back on you on Twitter, he’ll push back on you in public. He’ll push back on people in his real life who aren’t living their values or who are being unethical or condescending or rude. That’s just who he is.” Both times I interviewed Doucette, he appeared on my screen wearing black headphones and a gray shirt that read “NCCU Trial Advocacy Board.” Bald and 39 years old, he’s a self-described “full-time curmudgeon, part-time Twitter celebrity, occasional attorney.” Doucette talks like he tweets: nonstop, unfiltered, his words laced with zingers and occasional f-bombs, his face lit with an impish smile. Unlike most advocates for criminal justice reform, who come from the left, he’s a conservative, though he abandoned the Republican Party after Trump’s election (he’s now registered as unaffiliated). His watchdog mentality reflects his skepticism about the state. “I don’t trust the government,” he says. “If you allow the government to steamroll people that don’t have power, they’re gonna steamroll the people that do, the first chance they get.” His strategy is simple. “You have to keep the government in its little box. And if it ever steps out of the box, you smack it in the face and you put it back in the box.” Doucette grew up in Virginia Beach, in a home where his mother and stepfather fought a lot. “I grew up in the type of home many would consider ‘white trash,’” Doucette wrote on the website for his state Senate campaign in 2016. “Poor, frequent substance

abuse, more frequent domestic violence (something so ‘normal’ in my life I didn’t even know it was called ‘domestic violence’ until law school).” In high school, he was recruited by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for its computer engineering program, but he decided on attending North Carolina State University because tuition was cheaper. Then, a setback: His parents refused to provide him with tax information, so Doucette couldn’t qualify for financial aid. He dropped out, worked odd jobs, lived out of his truck, and used his girlfriend’s dorm room to shower. When he finally got enough money to enroll, he became president of the UNC Association of Student Governments, a group that includes student representatives from schools across North Carolina, including NC State. He eventually graduated with a degree in computer science. Doucette was fun but in a “nerdy” kind of way, says Ashley Yopp, who met him through the Association of Student Governments. At parties, instead of playing beer pong, Doucette would be deep in conversation with someone about a new idea. “He talks big, but he doesn’t put on airs,” Yopp says. “He is who he is.” In August 2009, Doucette enrolled in North Carolina Central’s School of Law. He picked Central because it was cheaper than UNC. After graduating, he wanted to start a nonprofit called “NC SPICE” that would be an incubator for other attorneys trying to set up their practices. “The logo was a pepper grinder with the scales of justice—really slick, man,” he says, rummaging through his computer for a picture. But Doucette hit a speed bump when the IRS stopped processing applications for nonprofit groups. So Doucette started his own firm “kind of by accident.” He chose Durham because of the resources and connections at Central. He was sworn in as an attorney in 2012. (He eventually founded the nonprofit and now works as its executive director.) He started out focusing on business litigation and higher education law. He fell into criminal law by happenstance. “For whatever reason,” he said, “I still had this old-school Republican notion that criminal defense lawyers are just icky creatures.” In 2013, Doucette took on a client who was a student at Central and had been caught selling weed. It became a turning point in his legal career. During their first conversation, according to Doucette, the student said he wanted to be “Durham’s weed man.” The student

had brought a business plan on how to sell weed, complete with marketing projections and a color-coded map of everywhere in the country it was legal. “You know how you watch movies, and you hear the record-scratch moment, and everyone freezes? That’s how it was during the client interview,” Doucette recalls. Though he thought it would be impossible to help the student receive a lenient sentence, Doucette took on the case. In 2014, Doucette defended the student in court. To his surprise, the court accepted his argument and dismissed the case. Later, in the hallway of the Durham courthouse, the client grabbed Doucette’s arm. “Bro, you are a white Jesus,” Doucette remembers him saying. “That was a miracle. Give me your business cards. I’m going to send all of my customers to you.” Sure enough, Doucette soon got a call. “[The student] said you’re a miracle worker. I caught a charge. I need your help,” the caller told him. The next day, Doucette got two more calls. Then, in March, on his birthday, Doucette received an email announcing someone had bought him a domain: The client had put his marketing skills to work. “So it ended up, by the middle of 2015, most of the people in Durham who were selling weed in a given part of town, I was their defense attorney,” Doucette says. To this day, many of his clients are still charged with drug-related crimes. He also represents protesters, whether from the Moral Mondays movement or Black Lives Matter protests—a part of his practice he describes as his “ministry.” “I do stuff on Twitter, but I also like being in the courtroom and being able to defend people who are being oppressed by their government,” he said. At its peak, his law firm, which is located on 311 East Main Street, had multiple attorneys, interns, and a receptionist. Then, in 2016, he made a longshot bid for state Senate in a district that includes Durham County. Though he won more votes than any Republican to run for the seat and got an endorsement from the INDY, he still lost badly to incumbent Mike Woodard. It was an “incredibly stupid” decision, he said—and it almost bankrupted his firm. Immersing himself in his campaign meant less time for marketing and finding new clients. His business crumpled. His attorneys left. The next year was dreadful. “I’ve fallen into this rat race of churning through cases at the law firm to make rent each month,” he wrote in a blog post in April 2017. “But don’t really feel like

I’m moving forward toward any given objective beyond rent-paying (which is a fantastically low goal in life). It’s terribly frustrating, especially for someone who’s climbed up from how far down I was back in 2000. And the way forward is a complete mystery to me.” Today, Doucette is the only employee at his firm. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, he works most days from home, where he lives with his wife, Jeanne Chen, an optometrist he married in October, and “kids”—a dog and two cats. When he goes into the office two times a week, it’s very quiet, and he keeps iTunes playing in the background. Beneath the cocky exterior, Doucette feels for others. Since 2015, he has organized an annual fundraiser to provide groceries for underprivileged elementary school kids in Durham. This year, he raised over $55,000. Lowes lent him an 18-wheeler to transport the 3,642 bags of groceries. “He had that truly human ability to put himself into people’s situations and to care for them as individuals,” recalls Myers-Davis. “Many of his clients of the firm, even folks that I’ve worked with, have come back and said, ‘You know, I’m doing this and this because Greg gave me advice, not as my attorney, but as a person who really cared about me.’” His strong feelings about police violence aren’t new. He says he has been sharing videos of police misconduct for the past 13 years. “Do I hate police?” he wrote in one of his tweets. “No. I hate raging incompetent cowboys w/badges financed by my tax money who clearly haven’t had an eye exam recently.” Doucette also rants about police misconduct on his podcast, which is a secondary source of income. In his slight Southern drawl, Doucette calls out cops from across the country: a North Carolina sex crimes detective who committed sex crimes, a Florida deputy who framed motorists for drug offenses, Texas cops who beat a domestic violence victim. “He is showing that you don’t have to be Black to call out social injustice,” says Deyaska Sweatman, one of Doucette’s law school classmates. “His megaphone is loud, not just because he’s really good in the Twitterverse. But his megaphone is loud because he really, really cares. He really has been fighting this fight from the beginning.” W

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January 6, 2021




New Year’s Resolutions Durham City Council members outline their 2021 priorities BY THOMASI MCDONALD


ven before the pandemic, the Bull City—recently dubbed one of the happiest cities in America by Men’s Health— was grappling with the issues of gentrification, affordable housing, evictions, racial equity, and near out-of-control gun violence, with young Black men as both victims and perpetrators. Looking forward, here are the issues that the majority of the Durham City Council—including Mayor Steve Schewel and Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson—told the INDY will be their top priorities for 2021. (Javiera Caballero, Mark-Anthony Middleton, and Charlie Reece could not be reached for comment.) The year, they surmise, will be one of pandemic recovery. Pierce Freelon just turned 37. The charismatic musician, youth arts advocate, and educator is the council’s newest and youngest member. He was sworn in on September 3 to fill the Ward 3 seat left vacant by Vernetta Alston, who resigned in April to join the state General Assembly. Freelon says public safety tops his priority list this year. Police reported 37 homicides last year. The city also reached a dismal plateau of more than 800 shootings, with children under the age of 18 on both sides of the gun violence. The gun deaths included 12-year-old Tyvien “Ty” McLean and 15-year-old Anthony Adams. “Addressing [and] reducing violence in the Black community is my numner one priority,” Freelon wrote in an email to the INDY. “To quote KRS-One it’s: ‘number one, two, three, four, and five’ on my list.” Freelon said part of the work includes supporting community-led initiatives such as We Are The Ones, which is addressing the root causes of violence in the 12

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city’s most embattled neighborhoods, where poverty is the most readily apparent crime. The group’s strategies include supporting existing leadership in those communities, providing neighborhood-level support, and strengthening Black and Brown organizations. Freelon noted that We Are The Ones was born out of a series of surveys conducted by the nonprofit Building Leaders for a Solid Tomorrow, (or BLAST), whose members spent the summer hosting socially distant “Safe Zone Fridays” in the city’s public housing communities. “It looks like advocating for more youth programs such as BLAST,” Freelon said of strategies for addressing youth-fueled violence. “It looks like supporting our violence interruption and working with the community to dream up new solutions to create the ‘safe and non-threatening streets’ [that] Auntie Maya Angelou told us were possible.” Johnson, the mayor pro tem, said one of her top priorities this year is keeping the city’s residents safe from COVID-19. “This pandemic is still kicking,” she told the INDY. Johnson noted that the pandemic has continued to worsen, with a potential spike on the way owing to folks traveling over the holidays. The council is working to manage the public health situation in concert with the county’s public health director, Rodney Jenkins, she said. Johnson said that with the rollout of the vaccines, she expects to play a role as an ambassador, while helping to ensure that all residents have access and feel that it’s safe. Johnson echoed the public safety concerns shared by Freelon and voiced support for the We Are The Ones initiative.


She also said the uptick in gun violence and shootings locally and nationally are a consequence of the pandemic. Johnson says the council is working on new models to curb gun violence, including the expansion of a Durham County public health initiative that deploys trained violence interrupters and outreach workers. They try to prevent shootings in the moment by mediating potentially deadly conflicts in neighborhoods and follow up to ensure that the beef is quashed and doesn’t reignite. Johnson says council members have also received an audit of 911 calls that she’s looking forward to reviewing and analyzing, and that they are currently exploring a potential pilot program for “unarmed responses” to emergency situations that involve crisis intervention.

It’s part of the council’s continuing effort to “transform” policing in the community by moving away from involving law enforcement in non-violent crimes, she explained. Racial equity is also a priority. Johnson says the council has received “a ton of recommendations” from the city’s 17-member Racial Equity Task Force that submitted an unflinching and tough-minded—albeit visionary— 60-page report last summer addressing the impact of systemic racism in the Bull City. She notes that the council has already started work on implementing some of the recommendations and that she expects the city’s newly formed racial equity task force to expand the work.

“Local resources alone cannot do the job. We need assistance from Washington badly.” “I’m really looking forward to implementing those recommendations,” Johnson said. Finally, Johnson said affordable housing is always an issue for the city—and one that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic, with the wholesale loss of jobs for so many residents leading to a spike in homelessness. She’s hoping that the city’s $95 million affordable housing bond—the largest in the state’s history—which was overwhelmingly approved by voters last year will help fund traditional agencies like the Durham Housing Authority. Johnson also said a portion of the funds may help “five or six” affordable housing construction developments undertaken by a handful of area nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Johnson said she is disappointed that the most recent COVID-19 relief bill passed by Congress did not include direct aid to cities, but that it does include a “significant amount” for housing subsidies. She’s hoping the city will be able to use those funds to help residents with rental assistance. She says that assistance, coupled with the $300 in unemployment benefits (half of the $600 Americans receiving previously), “will hopefully keep some people in their homes.” For Johnson, that’s of paramount concern in the depths of winter and amid a worsening pandemic. “I’m worried about people being able to stay safe and stay in their homes,” she said. “One big priority is having a home to stay in. That’s true all the time, and it’s especially true with the pandemic.” Councilwoman DeDreana Freeman offered a succinct, weighty summary of her 2021 priorities for the city. “Continuing to build towards an equitable Durham [that’s] focused on social, environmental and economic justice,” Freeman wrote, adding that she wants “a more just Durham for all: where we are safe, healthy and growing sustainably.” She could not be immediately reached to elaborate on how the council can work towards those objectives this year. Mayor Schewel believes the city’s first priority this year “has clearly got

to be to continue to guide our community safely through the pandemic,” he wrote in an email to the INDY. “This means supporting the vaccine roll-out as necessary, continuing to encourage Durham’s excellent compliance with masking and social distancing public health measures, and doing all the things necessary to keep our vulnerable populations safe.” Schewel said the City must support small businesses—“especially our businesses owned by Black and Brown people and women”—in order to help them “survive the pandemic and get back on their feet.” The mayor added that the City has been doing “the best we can without adequate federal support, and we will continue to do this so that we can save our businesses and get our unemployed residents back to work.” Another crucial priority for recovering from the pandemic is “fighting to maintain the eviction moratorium and providing as much rental assistance as we can to our struggling residents,” Schewel said. “Again,” he added, “local resources alone cannot do the job. We need assistance from Washington badly.” While pandemic recovery tops the mayor’s priorities for this year, he points to a bundle of other items on the City’s to-do list. “We’ve got to continue the enormous, exciting momentum we have in affordable housing as more and more city-subsidized units are in design, being financed, breaking ground, or being occupied,” he said. “We’ve got to build on our successful negotiations with Duke Energy to expand the city’s alternative energy usage. We’ve got to continue and build on the work of the Racial Equity Task Force and push their recommendations forward. We’ve got to get the Community Health and Safety Task Force underway soon to reform the ways we keep our city safe.” Schewel later added he had omitted the city’s fight against the rise in gun violence. “Clearly, that is a huge priority too,” he said. W

January 6, 2021



Care Comunidad How Latinx health care providers united against COVID-19 BY ANNE BLYTHE


t was the first Wednesday after Thanksgiving, and Durham County’s COVID-19 cases were surging much more rapidly than Rodney Jenkins, the county health director, wanted to see. Governor Roy Cooper had tried to thwart large gatherings by limiting crowds to no more than 10 people, pleading with people to stay home and to forgo travel over the holiday weekend. Some heeded the governor’s counsel. Others ignored his missives. Jenkins joined a Zoom call at noon that day with words of thanks for a group that has played a pivotal role in helping to get public health messages to a small, but exponentially important, segment of the Durham County community hit disproportionately hard by COVID-19. “Late spring, early summer, our Latinx population was representing up to 78 percent of all of our active cases,” Jenkins told the Zoom call participants. “Seventy-eight percent. As it stands right now, although still over-represented, they represent 20.14 percent of all of our active cases. So again, to go from 78 to 20.14 is a Herculean effort and I just say, Thank you. Thank you to you all. Thank you.” The group attracting the health director’s praise was formed by Viviana Martinez-Bianchi and Gabriela Maradiaga Panayotti, two Duke Health physicians who decided in early March to formalize a discussion that had been going on among the two women and several of their Latina colleagues since August 2019. As the end of 2020 approaches, many have looked back on the work of their group as an unexpected gift during such a staggering year. Maradiaga Panayotti, a Honduran who came to this country in the late 1990s to further her education, was deeply troubled by a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas in late 2019. A young white man from Dallas had opened fire inside the store, targeting Hispanics, killing 23, and injuring 22 others, according to law enforcement, and leaving a community jarred by the alleged motives. 14

January 6, 2021

Pediatrician Gabriela Maradiaga Panayotti gives a thumbs-up while getting a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine PHOTO BY SHAWN ROCCO/DUKE HEALTH

That knotted her. She knew others from south of the U.S. border had to be tied up inside, too, and sought their friendship, support, and counsel for how they could help Latinx patients who were as troubled as they were. At the beginning of the year, the Duke Health colleagues spoke mostly among themselves. Then, in early March, when North Carolina reported its first COVID-19 case, Maradiaga Panayotti, Martinez-Bianchi, and others foresaw the importance of elevating the voices of communities of color during a global pandemic. They came together officially as Latinx Advocacy Team and Interdisciplinary Network for COVID-19, or LATIN-19. Not only has the group been meeting on Zoom weekly since March 18; they welcome others to listen, join in the discussion, and share information about unsung health programs, new COVID-19-related apps, and more. They highlight longstanding and systemic health care access disparities that continue to plague this state and elsewhere. LATIN-19 members helped get the word out to Latinx communities about the importance of mask-wearing and social distancing. They helped stage community testing events and stressed the importance of getting tested, especially for frontline workers.

Lately, they’ve been talking about the promise of COVID-19 vaccines and the challenges of getting them to Latinx residents, while also tackling the thorny questions about the vaccines’ trustworthiness and effectiveness, as well as the science behind them. Maradiaga Panayotti and Martinez-Bianchi received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine last week at Duke Health, sharing photos and videos on social media and Univision to show their trust in the new weapons against the virus. Jenkins has joined the LATIN-19 Zoom sessions more than once, even as workloads in his and other county health departments get more and more daunting. “It’s your advocacy. It’s your willingness to really get the word out that has helped us,” Jenkins said. “But make no mistake about it. We have work to do, because our Latinx population in Durham represents 14 percent [of the population,] so for us to have 20 percent [of cases] is decent at best.” LATIN-19 takes its focus and mission beyond Duke Health and Durham County. Martinez-Bianchi has spoken at statewide press briefings and with people who shape policies, regulations, and crucial messages. The group gets the word out in English and Spanish, with interpreters and a Zoom call interpretation tool that makes it possible for listeners to choose wheth-

er to hear the conversation in English or Spanish. Through sharing the stories from the ground up, LATIN-19 was able to change the visitation policy at Duke Health for children in the hospital’s care. When an infectious disease specialist was a guest on one of their Zoom sessions and heard that Latinx parents were reluctant to bring their sick children in because they did not want to leave them alone, the visitation policy was changed for the pediatric care unit. “That’s huge,” said Kathryn Pollak, a Duke professor in population health sciences who has sat in on the sessions and proposed research projects to evaluate the impact of LATIN-19. Typically in her research, Pollak creates the program she’s going to measure, but LATIN-19 was already in the works when she decided to write about their reach. Pollak had done research on Latinx communities for a while and was well acquainted with Martinez-Bianchi through work. She decided to attend one Zoom session and kept coming back each week. “It’s pretty phenomenal what they’ve been able to do,” Pollak said. Now that vaccines are on the way, the discussion has turned to how to build enthusiasm for a tool so vital to ushering in the end of this pandemic. LATIN-19 leaders know they have hard work ahead. A national survey of 1,050 Black adults and 258 Latinx adults done this fall for UnidosUS, the NAACP, and the COVID Collaborative found that 34 percent of the Latinx Americans and only 14 percent of the Black Americans trusted the safety of a vaccine. The COVID Collaborative, comprised of national health, education, and economic experts, launched a $50 million national vaccine education campaign in late November. “Like all Americans, Latinos want to do what is best for their families and their communities,” Janet Murguía, president of UnidosUS, said in a statement announcing a partnership with the COVID Collaborative to create culturally relevant and language-appropriate messaging. “Through this education and awareness campaign, we will help Hispanic Americans have the accurate and easy-to-understand information they need to protect themselves, their families, and their communities by getting vaccinated,” Murguía added. Here in North Carolina, LATIN-19 has developed many contacts throughout the pandemic and is already attacking some of the questions and even misinformation that have been circulating.

“I feel like I’m in the company of brothers and sisters and members of a community who really care.” In the Zoom discussions, Pablo Friedmann, director of the Durham Public Schools Multilingual Resource Center, often brings questions to the group that he hears from school children and their families. On December 2, he shared questions that came up during a conversation with his mother about people who don’t have health insurance and might experience side effects from the vaccines. “For folks that do have negative side effects from things and they don’t have current insurance, what is going to be their process for getting health coverage and support?” Friedmann asked. “I think these are very real fears and mistrust that are going on. This has always been my fear from the very beginning.” Some have been confused about the meaning of a positive test for COVID-19, and whether they are actively contagious. “As with other things, transparency and clarity is essential, and I think it is so important for us to voice all these concerns and address them head-on,” said Maradiaga Panayotti. She said that transparency needs to extend to colleagues in workplaces and to the public. “As soon as there’s a sense of hiding, or not sharing, the wall will cement itself.” Many groups get together and have lofty discussions about how to help communities in need. What’s different with LATIN19 is that the ideas and projects generated quickly translate into implementation. Jenkins, who became head of the Durham County health department in early 2020, told the group earlier this month how instrumental their help was as he found his way in a new city after eight years as deputy director for the Cumberland County health department.

“Being new, I didn’t know who the players were,” Jenkins told the LATIN-19 members. “But you all step up to the plate. We reached out to you all, and your efforts have really paid dividends.” The group members also have benefitted from working with each other. “I’ve been asked to be representing LATIN-19 in other places, and the one thing I have to say is that I don’t feel alone,” Martinez-Bianchi said. “I feel in the company [of] an amazing group of people. “As a Latina who’s been taking care of members of the comunidad Latina for so many years, I have to say that it is totally the first time I don’t feel so alone in the care that I am providing,” Martinez-Bianchi added. “And in getting what I have been hearing for so many years from my comunidad, from my patients, understood by others, who may not have that connection as a clinician. “I feel like I’m in the company of brothers and sisters and members of a community who really care, and it feels really, really good.” That sentiment of togetherness, empowerment, and a proud sense of moving ideas to “deliverables” was echoed by others in the group. One participant described coming to the Zoom sessions as “like finding a lighthouse.” Durham City Council member Javiera Caballero said the group’s advocacy reminded local government officials of the need to make virtual meetings accessible in Spanish and other languages. “This has been such a tough year for all of us,” Maradiaga Panayotti said. “There has been so much negative news and bad news. This group has been such a good reminder to be aspirational and to realize the power of what can be done when people set their mind to it—and people, as so many of you said, have a vision, and a unified vision, so we all believe in it, and we’re all willing to put in the time. “We’re unstoppable,” she continued. “We can do it.” She said that the group’s work felt “tangible” and was a good reminder of the power of unity, especially in the face of adversity. “So much disastrous stuff that’s happening—I sort of try to remind myself, like, OK, LATIN-19. Look what’s happening, this is amazing,” Maradiaga Panayotti said. “I try to use it as my anchor point of positivity in a world of so much topsy-turvy stuff happening.” W This story is published in partnership with North Carolina Health News, which originally ran a longer version of the article on its website.”

Your week. Every Wednesday.


January 6, 2021



Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz PHOTO BY JON GARDINER/UNC-CHAPEL HILL

High Crimes UNC-Chapel Hill frats implicated in massive federal drug case BY SARA PEQUEÑO


n eleventh-hour announcement from the U.S. Department of Justice and Orange County Sheriff’s Office right at the end of 2020 dropped a bomb on the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. It reverberated across the country. Twenty-one people were indicted for moving serious weight in a small college town with fewer than 60,000 residents. They’re accused of selling over a thousand pounds of marijuana, a few hundred pounds of cocaine, and other narcotics at the university. Three UNC-Chapel Hill fraternities—Beta Theta Pi, Phi Gamma Delta, and Kappa Sigma—were name-dropped by the department as the site of drug sales, and frat brothers were implicated, too. Investigators found that the cocaine was being shipped through USPS from California to the state, while marijuana was being driven in. Cash from the drug sales was also shipped through the postal service, according to law enforcement. 16

January 6, 2021

Another $1.3 million was sent through money orders and mobile apps. The Justice Department doesn’t know how much money was circulated in all because of the drug ring (thanks to the use of paper money), but it was cited to be well over $1.5 million. The four people said to be involved in fraternities were allegedly pretty sloppy: Photos and drug prices were sent through iMessage and a similar platform called GroupMe. Money was sent over Venmo and Paypal. “This is not a situation where you have single users—where you have a 19-yearold sipping a beer, where you have someone taking a puff of a joint on the back porch of a frat house,” U.S. Attorney Matthew G.T. Martin said at the December 17 press conference. “These are 21 hardened drug dealers.” The so-called “hardened drug dealers” are fairly young: 27-year-old Francisco Javier Ochoa Jr., the ring’s accused pri-

mary supplier, is one of the oldest people involved in the case. Over half of those indicted were 22 to 24. (More than half were Triangle residents, while only two lived outside North Carolina.) The youngest of the indicted, David Bayha, was set to graduate from the university in 2021, according to his LinkedIn and Facebook accounts. Despite this, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz says no current students from the school were involved, only former ones. “No one is above the law, including college students and fraternity members at elite universities,” U.S. Attorney Martin said in a statement. “This serious drug trafficking is destructive and reckless, and many lives have been ruined. This investigation reveals that the fraternity culture at these universities is dangerous. University administrators and national chapters cannot turn a blind eye to the impact on these students and the environment on their respective college campuses.” The day after the press conference, Guskiewicz announced the school would suspend the three fraternities named in the investigation. The school’s Phi Gamma Delta chapter was also suspended by its national organization. Suspension, according to the Interfraternity Council’s constitution, means that the three fraternities are in “poor standing.” It’s unclear what that means in terms of punishment; in 2013, Chi Phi was suspended at UNC Chapel Hill after a student pledging the organization died with a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit. Members were allowed to continue living at the house, but any fraternity-related activities (such as mixers, parties, or meetings) were stalled until the investigation was finalized. Chi Phi is still recognized by the university, and recruits pledge classes. Removing these fraternities from campus may seem like a logical next step, but it’s not a simple one. In 2019, the school stripped Sigma Alpha Epsilon of university recognition, meaning it no longer received support or funding from the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and lost the “privileges” of creating fraternity intramural teams and reserving spaces on campus. Their national organization did not release

a statement at the time regarding the closure of its Tar Heel chapter. For UNC-Chapel Hill to remove a fraternity from campus, they’d also have to get past a network of wealthy and notable alumni. Hugh McColl, former CEO of Bank of America, was in Beta. Former N.C. governor Mike Easley was in Phi Gamma Delta, as was UNC building namesake Zebulon Vance (legendary UNC basketball coach Dean Smith was also a brother, but through the fraternity’s Kansas chapter). While Kappa Sigma does not list any notable UNC alumni on its website, U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) was in its chapter at Wake Forest University. The uncovering of the Chapel Hill drug ring also raises questions about drug abuse in the area: While public awareness of the opioid crisis has risen in recent years, cocaine use has slowly increased thanks to its heightened production and availability, according to a 2018 report from the Department of Justice. The same report says North Carolina has seen gang members working in unison with Mexican cartels. UNC-Chapel Hill offers drug counseling to its students through the Carolina Recovery Program, a weekly group meeting currently held online. Narcotics Anonymous separately offers local programs. The county health department partners with other organizations to offer multiple avenues to addiction recovery. UNC Health has an inpatient substance abuse program. The Carolina Recovery Program did not respond to questions regarding specific new or existing addiction outreach efforts within fraternities or in the general student population. UNC Media Relations could not be reached for comment. UNC and Chapel Hill police were in the midst of grappling with Silent Sam protests while a slow burn drug investigation continued just a block away, on Cameron Avenue. When asked about any increase in patrolling since the massive drug indictment, the Chapel Hill Police Department deferred to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. The county office deferred to the U.S. Department of Justice. A U.S. Department of Justice representative could not comment on any future steps that would be taken. W


Durham’s underground car culture revs up BY DREW WAYLAND


he first car pulls into the pit, and white smoke fills the air within seconds. The crowd, about 60 people bundled up in winter coats and gloves, hold phones above their heads in hopes they’ll capture the action on camera. All they can see of the bright teal Lexus are its head and taillights, but the screeching of the tires and the scent of burning rubber are unmistakable. The driver, Nicholas Clark, is putting on a show. He swings his car, custom painted to resemble a can of Arizona Green Tea, in circles around the front left wheel, spinning on a dime and leaving hot black

skids on the cold pavement. He shifts the car into neutral, picks a new pivot point, and this time drifts the car in reverse. The rear of the car comes so close to the crowd they could make out the letters on his glowing neon license plate, if any of them could read Japanese. Two more cars pull into the pit, the makeshift arena set up in a cul-de-sac in Durham’s warehouse district. It’s past midnight, and everyone in attendance found their way here by word of mouth. The two cars, a low-riding Honda and a Subaru with a five-foot-long spoiler, take turns shooting flames out of their exhaust pipes. The noise is like a flurry of gunfire, and what happens next is predictable. Casually, as if pulling into his own driveway, a police officer rolls into the pit. He doesn’t even flash his lights, as if the officer knows that the sight of his vehicle will begin a process that happens nearly every Friday night in Durham. The teenagers in the crowd make a run for it, sprinting down the service road back to their cars, but the older, more experienced drivers take their time, pack up their things, and wait for further instructions. In a few minutes, there will be a call or a text from one person or another, and the new location will be set, maybe at the Big Lots on N.C. 55. The officer might follow them, or he might decide that he has better things to do. This is how Friday nights go for Durhammeetz, and its members never get tired of it. “What we do is provide structure and organization for a culture that usually doesn’t have a whole lot of that,” says Dakota “SD,” the cofounder of Durhammeetz, one of the most active car meets in North Carolina. “We have a really good system of communication that helps keep us under the radar.” The Triangle has had a thriving car culture for decades, but before 2017, car meets in Raleigh and Durham were notorious for being disorganized and sometimes dangerous events. SD founded Durhammeetz as an alternative to promote a supportive, positive-minded community that rejects violence and embraces collaboration. “At the Raleigh meets and at the old Durham meets, sometimes you’d see guys get hot heads about something and start

January 6, 2021


Nicholas Clark

arguing,” he says. “Then all their boys have to back them up, you know, and things get out of hand real fast. I don’t like seeing guns pulled on somebody at an event that’s just supposed to be for fun.” Although these meets draw law enforcement presence on a frequent basis, efforts to reach the Durham Police Department for comment were unsuccessful. SD manages Durhammeetz with the help of some of its longtime members, including Nicholas Clark, the driver of the Arizona Tea car. Clark, 31, works at a body shop in Durham and runs his own graphic design business, the name of which is decaled onto dozens of cars at every meet. “I’m Nick,” he introduces himself—“a.k.a. Cultured Brand.” Keeping the meets safe and positive is a weekly chore, but the core group of drivers leads by example. “We don’t want anyone to feel alienated or boxed out,” Clark says, “because that’s when people try to show off too much and get heated. I try to talk to everybody, make sure they feel welcome and comfortable, talk about their car, and just see what they got going on in their life. Sometimes I hear some real crazy stories, and I tell them they can lean on us if they need to.” The meets don’t start in warehouse back lots, but in brightly lit shopping centers. This is where 50 to 100 cars and their drivers gather from 7 p.m. until 10, when the pit location is decided on by SD, Clark, and others, then passed around. Dozens of people mill about—some with drinks in their hands and others with cigarettes—around cars blasting music out of rear-facing subwoofers, trucks


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Nicholas Clark spins his car


lifted three feet above their axles, and Japanese performance cars with rainbow running lights. One car is wrapped with the exaggerated faces of anime characters; another has two green floodlights pointed at the sky. Two men in what looks like a ’50s-era Formula 1 racer on three wheels roll through the main strip, and everyone points and takes pictures while the driver and his passenger smile with pride. Clark is an enthusiast of “VIP” or “presidential” cars—luxury vehicles with booth seating in the back and tables bolted to the floorboard. “But any kind of modification that somebody puts a lot of time and effort and personality into, I respect that,” he says. Caleb Riley, 23, drives the anime car, a ’97 Honda Prelude in impressive condition for its age. “Lot of people laugh at this set-up, but I’ve worked really hard on it, and the people here know that,” he says. “I don’t care if some guy at fucking Food Lion says it’s wack—I know I’ve got my boys here who appreciate me and what I do.” For many people who immerse themselves in the custom car lifestyle, the community becomes their main social outlet, a place to be with friends and enjoy one another’s craft. “It’s just like an escape from reality where you don’t have to worry about no bills, you don’t gotta worry about no personal problems you have; it’s like you step

out,” Clark says. “And we like to use our cars to express ourselves. It’s almost like Sims, like a virtual reality. You can be a totally different person to who you are on the regular.” Since the beginning of the pandemic, the group’s capacity for empathy and support has shone. Some members have lost jobs and had to give up their cars to help pay their bills, and other members, including SD, have started paying visits to their homes and giving rides when they are needed. Narko Ennes lost his job in April, and now gets rides from his friends to attend Durhammeetz on Friday nights. “This has always been the type of place where if your car breaks down at the meet, ain’t nobody leaving until that thing is up and running again,” he says. “Even if it takes all night, you’re gonna have people here helping you.” Ennes grew up in and out of foster care in Durham, and when he discovered Durhammeetz at age 19, he said it was the closest thing to family he’d ever known. “I’ve got people here who know me, who check in on me, who take me to get my groceries and make sure I’m out here taking care of myself,” he says. “I don’t know what I would do if I ain’t found my people here. There’s so much love.” W This piece was originally published by UNC Media Hub.

January 6, 2021



January 6, 2021


On New Year’s Eve, roughly 20 people gathered outside the Durham County Jail for a noise demonstration. Chanting, “We see you. We love you,” the group set off firecrackers, lit sky lanterns, and made noise with various objects. Cars also circled around the jail and honked their horns. The demonstration supported the continuous effort to free all prisoners from the state’s jails and detention centers. Since the pandemic began, calls to release incarcerated individuals have reached a greater volume. W

January 6, 2021


FO O D & D R I N K

On the Rocks How much is the new cocktail-to-go allowance helping bar owners? BY SARA PEQUEÑO


lcohol can be a touchy subject in North Carolina politics. The pandemic has demonstrated how little bargaining power bars have in the state, and just how much power the ABC Commission has. Well-loved bars like the Criterion in Durham have closed for good, while others are hanging on by a thread. Shortly before Christmas, Governor Roy Cooper signed an executive order permitting bars to serve go-to cocktails beginning at 5 p.m. on December 21. The order—which bar owners have been lobbying for since March—was a bone to an emaciated industry. It was also designed to be short: The order expires on January 31. For bar and restaurant owners, the news, which arrived hours before the order went into effect, left them scrambling to prepare. “This order will help people avoid settings that can contribute to increased viral spread while giving restaurants and bars a financial boost that they need right now,” Governor Cooper said in a statement. In April, there was an attempt to make this temporary provision legal in the first Federal relief bill, but it was blocked over concerns about drunk driving and domestic violence. Since the start of the pandemic, the Associated Press reported in August, the number of states allowing to-go cocktails has surged from two to 33. Since the announcement, bars across the Triangle have rolled out their spin on alcohol takeout menus. Jack Tar has Hemingway daiquiris, Pizzeria Toro is offering Aperol margaritas, and Acme is shaking up Manhattans. And, some bar owners say, the executive order is already making a difference. Since March, Sean Umstead, co-owner of Kingfisher in Durham, has experimented with different avenues to keep the craft cocktail bar (and morale) afloat. He and his wife, co-owner Michelle Vanderwalker, hosted a daily virtual cocktail hour that drew regulars. They launched QueenBurger, a burger pop-up. They opened their outdoor seating. But cocktails, the bread-and-butter of the bar, have been the thing they’ve been hoping to be able to sell. Umstead says they ordered specialty cups for their to-go drinks in April in anticipation of an order like this. When he received an email from the North Carolina Restaurant and 22

January 6, 2021

A to-go cocktail from Kingfisher in Durham


Lodging Association at 1:30 p.m., announcing that to-go cocktails would be allowed starting at 5 p.m., all he and Vanderwalker needed was a to-go website. “It’s been a real blessing for us,” Umstead says. “Everything we’ve tried to do so far requires so much change [and] adjustment to our typical ways of doing things.” The transition doesn’t require a big staff, so Umstead makes the drinks himself. While sales aren’t reaching pre-pandemic numbers, the business is returning to a schedule: busier weekends, slower weekdays, and a steadier flow of cash. He describes the complications as minimal: only being able to serve one drink per person, and making sure Kingfisher’s drinks are up to their usual quality and presentation in spite of where they’re consumed. He’s grateful for the executive order, though he’s not sure all bars are benefitting. “This is really big for Kingfisher, but it’s not a onesize-fits-all solution,” Umstead says. “It’s really important to remember the people that this is not helping as much—which is definitely a vulnerable level of employees of the hospitality industry and probably bars that don’t specialize in mixed drinks.” Chris Carini, the owner of Linda’s Bar & Grill in Chapel Hill, has decided to forego selling to-go cocktails altogether. To him, it isn’t worth the risk. “I find it hard personally to just start accommodating what we are allowed to do,” Carini says. “I feel like there’s a lot of liability issues with selling to-go cock-

tails. I don’t usually trust people to come in and drink normally and drive home without having problems, and right now I don’t want to feel like I’m the person that’s responsible for getting somebody a DUI, or getting an open container violation.” Under normal circumstances, Linda’s sales are evenly split between food and drinks. Since the start of the pandemic, the restaurant has focused on takeout and delivery. “Instead of doing ‘Let’s go sell more booze to people who want to get drunk in the middle of the day while they’re driving home,’ we’re going to open up the downstairs during the day and revamp it from being the downbar to ‘Linda’s tea house,’” Carini says. “Having coffee, a place to do homework, some Wi-Fi, something cool on the TV—a place where you can get food, beer, liquor, Kava teas, kratom teas, regular teas, all that stuff, and you can just hang out. That’s longterm a better choice than ‘Let’s just sling drinks out the window.’” No one is sure how long this will last, or if it will become a permanent fixture of our ABC Commission. It’s hardly a solution to the devastation facing the hospitality industry, but it’s something. And just as people miss bars and clubs, business owners and bartenders alike have missed making drinks. “Almost regardless of if it’s particularly busy or not,” Umstead says, “it’s the first time in a long time I’ve been able to do what this place was set up to do.” W


Her Take: On Carolina Hip Hop


Sold On Growth TheDeeepEnd balances artistry and independent marketing on his latest project—and it pays off BY KYESHA JENNINGS

W | @kyeshajennings

hen the Raleigh rapper Malcolm Brown, also known as theDeeepEnd, was a child, he’d often sneak off to listen to New Orleans native Juvenile or Jay-Z. He found himself drawn to the music—his church-going mother, not so much. Born in New York City, Brown and his mother transplanted to Charlotte, North Carolina, when he was six years old. This move was accompanied by a new relationship with religion for the family. “The first year in Charlotte, my mom randomly takes me to church on a Wednesday

night,” he says. “You know when they do the altar call? I don’t know why, but God picks me. He was like, ‘Yo, tell your mom, let’s go down there.’ She wasn’t gonna go [down to the altar], but I grabbed her hand and was like, ‘Mom, let’s go get saved.’ So we went down and got saved. And you know, it’s a good thing, but at the same time, I didn’t know what I was signing myself up for.” Despite the rigid expectations of religion, beginning when he was seven, Brown found himself scribbling raps in his notebook during church services.

“I literally spent my childhood cast off from hip-hop, listening to Radio Disney and Christian music,” Brown recalls. By middle school, he made the conscious decision to listen to rap, despite his mother’s wishes. His love for Kanye inspired him to not only consume the music, but also to embody it, performing in his seventh-grade talent show. “The day of the talent show, my homie misses school,” Brown says. “So we’re doing the talent show, and it’s my turn to go. I go up there; I spit my verse. Everybody loves it, so I’m feeling myself, and because I’m feeling myself, when his verse comes on, instead of just ending the performance early, I try to freestyle and I have nothing! I choke. Everybody laughs at me.” It took some time for him to get over the embarrassment, but by college, the thriving hip-hop culture embedded in North Carolina State University’s campus, alongside his love of writing poetry, helped him find his way back. In 2013, during his senior year at NC State, he dropped his first project, 13 Feet Deep. It was well-received on campus, and he branched out and began performing shows throughout the Triangle, eventually getting the opportunity to open for Big K.R.I.T. and local superstars Kooley High. Since then, he’s landed prime performance slots at Packapalooza, Hopscotch, and Beats n Bars Festival. Throughout all this, Brown credits God for placing the right people in his life at the right time. Whether it was receiving a used MacBook or beat machine from an old roommate, or networking with a novice videographer interested in creating free visuals for him, making music has always come together in a kinetic, authentic way for Brown. Since his first release, Brown has put out a steady stream of projects: Think Good Thoughts (2017), Calm (2018), Verano (2019), and northern.lights (2020). His newest project, In My Head, was released in early December as a Bandcamp exclusive. The album has since become available on other platforms. With each release, Brown offers listeners a new conceptual theme, ranging from introspective and reflective to uptempo and celebratory. A true Scorpio, he sees

music as the tool he’s most comfortable using to self-reflect. And his stage moniker captures the essence of where he resides, at his core: on “the deeep end.” When describing In My Head, he notes that the project is on a frequency similar to Think Good Thoughts, but “times 1000.” The pandemic quickly shifted our collective understandings of normalcy; for Brown, it forced him into isolation and triggered a series of self-reflective conversations about life. These are all documented on In My Head. With each successive release, Brown has also become more intentional about marketing his projects, often by showcasing his skills as an emcee or producer. This includes his decision to release In My Head through Bandcamp—over, say Spotify or Tidal—as it’s a platform that centers artists and aims to create a more sustainable music economy. The album’s rollout was also impressive: Brown provided his audience with visuals, including short two-to-three-minute “episodes” featuring the creatives who contributed to the project. “My music is too good to not be heard,” Brown says. “It’s not a sense of entitlement, like, ‘People have to hear me,’ but it’s kind of just like, I should be doing everything I can to maximize [every project’s] visibility. One way I’ve grown is I now read and study marketing. I utilize my resources. Also, I’m super focused on the artistry side, because you could do all this marketing stuff, but you also have to have a good project.” Mastering this skill—one most indie artists struggle with—has paid off and allowed him to make more revenue off of In My Head than previous efforts. The project also recently landed on Bandcamp’s “Top 50 Best Selling Hip-Hop Albums” rolling weekly list, an accomplishment worth celebrating. And Brown isn’t letting up, either. He has a clear understanding of where he needs to go. “I’m trying to continue to learn the business,” he says. “This includes figuring out more creative content to post, building my team out, and learning from others. I feel like I’m getting close to my 10,000 hours as a rapper. I just need to make sure my business is correct.” W

January 6, 2021




Free Spirit Soul is a thrilling metaphysical adventure to the Great Beyond BY GLENN MCDONALD



January 6, 2021


Streaming on Disney+

ixar may be the single most reliable name in Hollywood. When a new Pixar movie drops—especially a new original story, as opposed to a sequel—you’re all but assured of a good time. Individual performers and directors sometimes earn this kind of goodwill, but it’s rare for a studio. These days, nobody rushes out to see the new Paramount picture or Warner Brothers joint. “Rushes out” is, of course, not quite the right term this plague-stricken season. Soul, Pixar’s delightful new animated flick, has sidestepped a theater release and is instead being released directly to the Disney+ streaming service. Soul tells the story of down-on-his-luck musician Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a talented jazz pianist who never caught his big break. When he finally does, cruel fate intervenes: Joe falls down a manhole and into the Great Beyond. Killing off your protagonist is a wild way to start an ostensible kids’ movie, but as we soon learn, the filmmakers have some ideas about all that. What follows is a thrilling metaphysical adventure as Joe encounters the Great Beyond, as well as the Great Before, where nascent human


souls begin their time on Earth. There, he meets the unformed soul known as Number 22 (Tina Fey), and the two team up for a story of second thoughts and second chances. Soul has some clever plot twists, so we’ll leave off there, but rest assured that co-directors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers have scripted and delivered a top-shelf family film. Still, it feels weird to call it that, since Soul ultimately deals with the kind of Big Questions that keep adults up at night: Where did we come from? Why are we here? What’s next? Animation is the perfect format for such investigations, and Soul has the kind of emotional intelligence required to keep the film safe—beneficial, even—for kids. The Powers That Be in this film aren’t scary or judgy. Instead, they’re empathetic and helpful, abstracted out into goofy, kinda-cubist, 2D stick figures. The notional limbo planes are friendly, too, and we’re treated to sights like The Zone, that mystical place where we find ourselves when we’re doing the things we love. Each hypothetical plane is given its own animation style and color strategy, similar to Pixar’s great 2015 installment, Inside Out.


The scenes in New York City are just as accomplished, packed to the edges with loving detail and a million sight gags. The script makes time for little moments and one-off jokes concerning stuff like, oh, chakra points, hedge fund managers, therapy cats, the Knicks, and the proper pronunciation of “gyro.” The jokes are themselves a celebration of life on our weirdo planet. Soul is also notable for being the first Pixar film to feature a predominantly Black cast. Like so many other Hollywood institutions, Pixar has been slow to diversify. Joe’s deep love of jazz is critical to the tone and approach of this remarkably ambitious story—and the jazz passages in the film’s score set the rhythm and flow for everything else. For transport to cosmic realms, jazz is the only way to go. If the metaphysics of the script don’t quite add up in the end, well, that’s about right, isn’t it? Apparently, it’s part of the human condition that we’re not allowed to know what’s going on, existentially speaking. Soul takes some humanistic, educated guesses and turns them into A-plus popular entertainment, with jokes. It’s generous and artful. I’m glad I saw it, and I’m glad my kids saw it, too. W



Now playing in theaters

Antiheroine In Emerald Fennell’s fresh take on the femme fatale, revenge is a dish served hot BY LEIGH TAUSS

Home Truth A moving mini-documentary follows a 58-day vigil outside the Governor’s Mansion BY SARAH EDWARDS


Streaming on YouTube and Facebook | Free



he second a slumped, seemingly blackout drunk Carey Mulligan appears draped across a bench in a thumping, neon-lit club as a gaggle of bros chide, “That is just asking for it,” one thing is clear: This won’t end well. Just how badly it will end, nothing can prepare you for. Promising Young Woman, the directorial debut of writer Emerald Fennell (she also co-produced it), delivers a fresh take on the femme fatale for the #MeToo era. It’s a raw, uncompromising thriller with plot twists jagged enough to surprise even the most tenured cinephiles. It’s also a beautifully shot and acted portrait of female rage, pain, and vengeance. The story follows Cassie Thom- Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham in Promising Young Woman as (Mulligan), a thirty-something PHOTO COURTESY OF FOCUS FEATURES med school dropout living at home with her parents and working at a coffee shop. A crusader lost in a cause, Cassie’s White Whale pursuit barista by day, Cassie dons heels and slinky dresses at is a tragic triumph. night to hit bars and clubs, pretending to be in a drunkThe film includes uncharacteristic performances from en haze as she hunts for men grotesque enough to try comedian Bo Burnham and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, better known as Superbad’s McLovin. We also get a dose and take advantage of intoxicated women. When a “nice” bloke takes the bait and lures Cassie of wholesomeness from Laverne Cox, in a supporting back to his midcentury manhole to sexually assault role as Cassie’s boss at the coffee shop; a dash of stuher, Cassie’s eyes suddenly open. “What are you pefaction from Alison Brie, as a former college acquaintance; and a spoonful of somber from Alfred Molina, as doing?” she asks. Her voice steadies, and with unexpected clarity and a lawyer with deep regrets. But all of these performances revolve around the authority, she asks: “I said, what are you doing?” If a man’s worst nightmare in the #MeToo era is nuclear riptide of Mulligan’s calculatedly unhinged perbeing falsely accused of rape, what about being right- formance. It’s definitely a career-best for Mulligan, prefully accused of it in the act? What existential horror viously known as the coy ingenue in An Education and dawns upon these self-proclaimed “nice” guys as they the aloof Daisy in Baz Luhrmann’s ambitiously stiff The realize the unconscious woman they were about to rape Great Gatsby. This time, Mulligan harnesses the unbridled power of is watching them with stone-cold sober eyes? Who do a woman fighting not just against a man, or men, but they fear more: Themselves or her? Cassie, we learn, is a woman on a mission—and the system itself. And by the time the endgame reveals revenge is a dish best-served smoking hot. But like any itself, you’ll be picking your jaw off the floor. W

f you drove past the Executive Mansion at 200 N. Blount Street between Election Day and January 1—the beginning of Governor Roy Cooper’s second term—you would have glimpsed a small group of demonstrators outside. Gathered in camping chairs and holding signs with the names of incarcerated people, these activists stood in rain-or-shine solidarity with the more than 30,000 people, most of them Black, who are incarcerated inside state prisons. Decarcerate NC Now: Let Our People Go, a mini-documentary created by the Wilmington-based arts organization Working Narratives, charts that 58-day vigil. At just over eighteen minutes, the film is a moving testament to the tireless fight for decarceration. “From the beginning, we said we were going to be like our comrades in Hong Kong, who had said their strategy was to be like water,” Kristie Puckett-Williams, statewide manager for the ACLU of North Carolina’s Campaign for Smart Justice, says in the film. “I have a choice to be out here, or not be out here,” says Andrea “Muffin” Hudson, director of the North Carolina Community Bail Fund of Durham. “People who are incarcerated don’t have a choice. I choose to endure, because I want to stand in that gap for them.” The vigil was more than candles or commemoration: It was a direct call to action for the governor, who, at the onset of the demonstration, was the first North Carolina governor in more than 40 years to not exercise clemency powers. That inaction, particularly during a pandemic in which North Carolina’s prisons have seen some of the state’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks, is, activists in the film say, a “violence.” On December 17, the 44th day of the vigil, the governor’s office announced pardons for five men: Ronnie Wallace Long, Kenneth Manzi Kagonyera, Teddy Lamont Isbell Sr., Damian Miguel Mills, and Larry Jerome Williams Jr. Let Our People Go beautifully captures the moments of celebration, as Ronnie Long receives a phone call with the news in a Sheetz parking lot, and Puckett-Williams ecstatically streams it over the Vigil for Freedom and Justice Facebook page. “People are coming home, y’all,” she says. “It’s only five. So by no means are we done. But we got the first of what we know are going to be many people.” W

January 6, 2021




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There is really only one rule to Sudoku: Fill in the game board so that the numbers 1 through 9 occur exactly once in each row, column, and 3x3 box. The numbers can appear in any order and diagonals are not considered. Your initial game board will consist of several numbers that are already placed. Those numbers cannot be changed. Your goal is to fill in the empty squares following the simple rule above.

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January 6, 2021


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