Durham District Attorney: Satana Deberry

Read her candidate questionnaire here.

When Durham voters first elected Satana Deberry in 2019, she was often cited as part of a group of reformist DAs from across the country, including Rachael Rollins in Boston and Larry Krasner in Philadelphia. Deberry cited Krasner as a model, someone who argued that a system born from reactionary zero-tolerance, tough-on-crime policies was intrinsically racist and counterproductive, producing a carceral state that had ripped apart communities of color.

“We’re looking at different ways we can protect children in Durham County,” Deberry said two years ago after announcing her office would no longer accept court referrals for school-based incidents and would stop threatening criminal charges against parents of students who miss school. “We want to focus on getting kids what they need instead of locking them up.”

Six months into her tenure as the county’s top prosecutor, Deberry made public nearly 20 policies designed to limit county residents’ involvement with the justice system while freeing it up to focus on serious crimes that harm community members. Along with partnering with the Durham Expunction and Restoration (DEAR) program that has led to the dismissal of thousands of old traffic charges and the restoration of driver’s licenses, Deberry’s office partnered with defense attorneys and judges to safely reduce the jail population to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Deberry’s work has not gone unnoticed. Last month, Deberry told members of the US House Judiciary subcommittee there is no evidence that the rise in gun violence across the country is linked to criminal justice reforms.

We endorse Deberry for another term.

Other candidates: Daniel Meier, Jonathan Wilson

Durham Clerk of Court: Archie Smith and Aminah Thompson

Read Thompson’s candidate questionnaire here.

Read Smith’s candidate questionnaire here. 

The INDY endorses incumbent Archie Smith, but also endorses challenger Aminah Thompson, who has secured endorsements from the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the People’s Alliance.

Smith, who was first elected in 2002, told the INDY recently that since being elected, his office has deposited over $311 million received by the court system.

“People forgive you for a lot of things,” Smith said at the time, “but they don’t forgive you for messing with the money.”

Smith, who has been endorsed by the Friends of Durham, said that his overarching mission has been to create a diverse workplace with qualified people who are responsive to the needs of people on the other side of the counter.

Thompson is a formidable opponent. She works as a magistrate judge, and her previous political experience includes serving as vice-chair of legal redress with the Durham Committee and co-leading the People’s Alliance Racial Equity Action Team.

Thompson says she wants to improve people’s ability to navigate the county’s complicated court system and advocate for more accountability throughout the judiciary.

She also wants to create a community-based law library and resource center, and partner with the sheriff’s office, along with superior and district court judges, to create more remote court hearings and night court to “alleviate some of the barriers to access that comes with job, school, and childcare constraints.”

Other candidates: LiBria Stephens

Durham County Sheriff: Clarence Birkhead

Read his candidate questionnaire here.

The INDY endorses incumbent Clarence Birkhead, but with several caveats.

Birkhead was first elected in 2018 among a wave of Black candidates elected to serve as sheriff in seven of the state’s largest counties. He says the highlights of his first term includes navigating the county through the pandemic and mandating that all sheriff’s office employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine, providing leadership during a period of civil unrest following the police murder of George Floyd, and partnering with the nonpartisan “You Can Vote” initiative in order to educate and assist pre-trial detainees and residents serving misdemeanor sentences with the opportunity to register to vote, along with opposing the 2019 NC House Bill 370, which would have required sheriffs to comply with immigration detainers for residents accused of being in the country illegally.

But there have been several misfires. The most recent was this month when the INDY reported that the sheriff’s office has a mutual aid agreement with Alamance County that enables the patrolling of Bull City streets with deputies from one of the most conservative counties in the state and led by a sheriff who is known for his anti-immigration trash talk and pro-Confederate monument values. There are also questions of transparency after the mysterious death of J’Mauri Bumpass, the 18-year-old who died in late 2019 during a sheriff’s deputy’s traffic stop. The deputies first said he died as a result of crashing his car into a power pole, but later said he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The teen’s family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit that accuses the two deputies who pulled over Bumpass of killing him and conspiring to cover it up. Birkhead was among those named in the complaint for his role in the alleged conspiracy.

On the other hand, Birkhead’s opponent, Paul Martin, does not appear to be a serious contender for the office.

Other candidates: Paul Martin

Durham Board of Education, District 1: Emily Chávez

Read her candidate questionnaire here.

The INDY endorses Emily Chávez, who is director of DREAM, a UNC-Chapel Hill School of education program that was created in partnership with Durham Public Schools (DPS) “to recruit and retain teachers of color and those from underrepresented backgrounds” on behalf of DPS.

Chávez cites racial equity, greater support for LGBTQ students, and teacher working conditions and wellness as her highest priorities. Chávez is running for the seat left vacant by school board member and former chair Mike Lee. She has won an endorsement from the Durham Association of Educators and the People’s Alliance.

Opponent Jasper Fleming has been endorsed by the Durham Committee and the Friends of Durham, who described him as “a young father with children” who attend DPS, and “a relentless researcher” who will find “cost-effective ways to improve student achievement.”

Other candidates: Jasper Fleming, Curtis Hrischuk

Durham Board of Education, District 2: Bettina Umstead

Read her candidate questionnaire here.

Bettina Umstead, who works as an associate with the Equity Collaborative, a group that supports school systems in promoting equity in schools across the country, was appointed to the DPS Board in 2016. Umstead won election to the board in 2018 and was appointed vice chair. She was then appointed to chair the board in 2020, a role she still holds.

A career-long educator, Umstead successfully helped the DPS system navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, helped develop the Racial and Educational Equity policy for the district, and worked with the City of Durham and Duke University to expand internet access to the Durham Housing Authority communities.

Umstead, described as an adept listener and communicator by those who know and work with her, takes a collaborative approach to policy-making, and maintains a focus on improving equity in the district.

Umstead’s opponent, Donald Hughes, has some interesting ideas around extending learning times for students who have fallen behind during the pandemic and addressing mental health in schools. But Umstead has proven herself to be effective on the board and her work and experience have earned her another term. Christopher Burns, another opponent, has no public presence and is one of the ostensibly conservative Better Board, Better Schools slate of candidates.

Other candidates: Donald Hughes, Christopher Burns

Durham Board of Education, District 3: Matt Sears

Read his candidate questionnaire here.

Former Hillside High School math teacher, and current director of education programs with Duke University’s Talent Identification Program, incumbent Matt Sears told the INDY in 2018 that he was most proud of his record of challenging the Durham Public Schools’ “status quo that has produced unacceptable outcomes for students over the last 25 years despite the amazing work of teachers and some school leaders.”

He also took aim at legislation that lifted the cap to limit the number of charter schools as having a “devastating” impact on public education, adding that “communities can now pop up charter schools on a whim” and that, far from charters being “petri dishes of innovation,” they are “places of institutionalized racism in our community.”  He’s also no fan of SROs in schools.

Sears’s challenger Gayathri Rajaraman has no political experience and is running with the conservative Better Board, Better Schools slate of candidates.

Other candidates: Gayathri Rajaraman

Durham Board of Education, District 4: Natalie Beyer

Read her candidate questionnaire here.

In what will probably shape up to be a highly contested race, the INDY endorses incumbent Natalie Beyer. In our 2018 endorsement of Beyer, we noted that she “has long demonstrated a commitment to Durham Public Schools and an ability to stand on her principles.”

That commitment has been readily evident in recent months. Beyer and her fellow board members unanimously approved a $1,000 retention bonus for DPS’s 4,900 full-time employees and permanent part-time employees.

And in November, when more than a quarter of DPS employees were not in compliance with a DPS vaccination mandate two months before, Beyer took the school employees to task.

“This board set a mandate and this is the expectation for our employees,” she said. “We are charged in an amazing way with caring for children. Some of them are as young as four. Some of them are medically fragile and unable to be vaccinated. And some of our co-workers and colleagues cannot be vaccinated for immunocompromised reasons. … This is to save and protect yourself and your family, and your work with Durham Public Schools.”

Beyer will face a stiff challenge from Myca Jeter, who has been endorsed by the Durham Committee for the Affairs of Black People. Jeter is a longtime social worker and DPS parent who says that “education can be a vehicle for equity, healing, opportunity, and a thriving future for every student that attends DPS,” according to her website.

Beyer, endorsed by the Durham Association of Educators, the People’s Alliance, and the Friends of Durham, took state legislators to the woodshed last year for the GOP-led House Bill 324 that sought to make white people feel less uncomfortable with the negative aspects of this country’s history.

“It’s important for teachers to be able to teach children to think critically from primary sources,” Beyer told the INDY. “And as we are more honest about our history we can learn from the past. We don’t censor teachers. We don’t ban books. We teach children to be anti-racist.”

Other candidates: Valarie Jarvis, Myca Jeter

Durham Board of Education, District B: Millicent Rogers

Read her candidate questionnaire here.

The INDY endorses newcomer and former People’s Alliance co-president Millicent Rogers. In February, while announcing her intent to run for a school board seat, Rogers denounced state legislators who called for the banning of books in public schools and Lt. Mark Robinson’s assertion that teachers should be punished for being “culturally responsive.”

Rogers also criticized “years of underfunding” by the state and county education administrators, with the end result being “a dearth of nurses, school counselors, and social workers and unequally resourced neighborhood schools.”

Rogers, who serves as advocacy committee chair of the NC Parent Teacher Association, has been endorsed by the People’s Alliance and the Durham Association of Educators. The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the Friends of Durham both endorsed Ravin. The FOD describes Ravin as a “calming influence” whose strong background in technology and fiscal accountability, two of the most important issues facing our schools, will serve our county well.” But we think some of Ravin’s votes on COVID measures, including one to prematurely end the masking requirement for students and staff, were ill-advised.

Other candidates: Frederick Ravin III

NC District Court 14, Seat 1: 

Read his candidate questionnaire here.

Incumbent Dave Hall brings first-hand experience to a city in the throes of a gun violence epidemic: in 2013 he was an innocent bystander when he was struck by gunfire. The NC Central Law School graduate says he left private practice to determine what safety looked like for his family and community. He concluded that it begins with accountability and opportunity for individuals who come into contact with the legal system.

First elected as district court judge in 2018, Hall previously worked to end mass incarceration as a civil rights attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, along with working to expunge criminal records for more than 5,000 clients, and helping them restore their driver’s licenses.

While working with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Hall was involved with the lobbying efforts of the Raleigh-based NC Second Chance Alliance, a nonpartisan agency that advocates on behalf of justice-involved individuals.

“That lobbying work led to dismissed charges being automatically expunged,” Hall told the INDY this week. “Now that I’m on the bench it’s exciting to see the work we did come to fruition with automatic expungements.”

Opponent Jessica Major would likely make a fine judge, too. But Hall is more experienced.

Other candidates: Jessica Major

NC District Court 14, Seat 3: Kevin Jones

Read his candidate questionnaire here.

First elected in 2002, incumbent Pat Evans did not garner endorsements from the city’s two leading political action committees, the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, or the People’s Alliance. However, the veteran judge is endorsed by the nonpartisan Friends of Durham PAC who describes her as an experienced and caring judge who demonstrates a “tough love approach” to young offenders who have made poor choices, but need a second chance to become productive citizens.

Her challenger, Kevin Jones, a former elementary school teacher who has practiced law in the Bull City for more than two decades, did win Durham Committee and People Alliance’s influential PACs’ endorsements. The INDY, too, is impressed with Jones’ progressive vision and shares his concern about a judicial disconnect from ordinary people’s lives often leading to unfair prison sentences and unrealistic court fines. The INDY also agrees with Jones’ assertion that “in an effort to avoid being labeled ‘soft on crime’ those who are tasked with the responsibility of administering justice are ‘hard on people.’”

We endorse Jones.

Other candidates: Pat Evans

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