Grieving is never easy. Doing so in public in a parking lot at Hanes Mall, while the emotional wounds were fresh and raw, looked — and felt — far worse.
Yet close friends of Julius “Juice” Sampson, the 32-year man shot to death in broad daylight outside BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, found themselves in such a place Wednesday evening at a candlelight vigil.
Young men hugged tightly and clasped hands. Tears flowed freely, and fresh bouquets were left on a curb where Sampson fell and drew his last breath.
Anger, too, bubbled just under the surface. And that’s understandable as family, friends and total strangers asked questions that investigators can’t — or won’t — address.
Whether or not it’s officially acknowledged, race — one deliberate, hateful word in particular — almost certainly played a role in Sampson’s killing.
Behind the scenes, someone close to the investigation says authorities are struggling to determine just how much of a role racial animosity played. The “N” word was tossed out during the argument that led to the squeeze of a trigger.
But was the use of a racial slur THE reason for a man’s death? Or was it an add-on, an accelerant thrown carelessly into a simmering cauldron?
“I need answers. I need answers,” wailed one particularly distraught young man.
“Juice was my only friend when I moved here. I moved here ... to get away from this sh-t. On my soul … Justice for Juice.”
It was all so sad and so unnecessary. And yet it’s entirely predictable.
The ingredients for an explosion in the community have been building for some time.
Lately, it’s cropped up in the still-to-be determined debate over changing the name of the Dixie Classic Fair. It was manifest in the back-and-forth over the removal earlier this year of a Confederate monument that stood next to the old Forsyth County Courthouse for more than a century.
Before that, tensions were present in the arrest, prosecution and eventual rightful exoneration of Darryl Hunt, a black man wrongfully convicted in the murder of a white woman downtown.
Anybody remember the grumbling over naming the then-new coliseum to honor Lawrence Joel, a black U.S. Army medic and recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor? That, too, as mind-boggling as it seems for a soldier deemed worthy of the nation’s highest award for bravery, was tarnished.
Go back as far as you’d care. The sit-ins and the push for civil rights. Jim Crow, segregated schools and parks. Racial tension, racist undertones and casual, careless use of hateful words are as old as the republic.
Think Lawrence Joel wasn’t called the “N” word at some point?
It’s really no wonder, then, that friends of Juice Sampson are angry. Especially after word about the circumstances surrounding his death circulated.
A fight started Tuesday inside BJ’s. Investigators aren’t saying so publicly, but they believe the man charged in connection with killing Sampson, a white guy named Robert Anthony Granato, got mouthy with a bartender.
Sampson, and probably at least one other man, took umbrage and stood up for her. A fight was coming, and the n word came out.
Chief Catrina Thompson of the Winston-Salem Police Department openly confirmed that victim and gunman both hurled racial epithets.
“Word on the street, whatever you want to call it and you know how that goes, is that Juice was standing up for somebody else,” said city Councilman James Taylor. “To me, that makes him a hero.”
Why police can’t (or won’t) openly confirm that detail is strange. By now, investigators must have nailed down a half-dozen witness accounts and reviewed surveillance video that nails it down.
Regardless, a fight broke out and, at minimum, was escalated by inciting language.
The rest, fueled and amplified by social media, remains murky.
Online images of Granato posing with (and firing) guns bounced around the community at the speed of a mouse click. And was he flashing a hand signal associated with white supremacy in others?
Only he knows for sure. And the guess here, if he has even an ounce of sense, is that he’s not saying.
Racial animosity was present Tuesday afternoon in the barroom. As so were its aftereffects Wednesday in a parking lot at Hanes Mall.
There’s no sense denying or hiding from it.
But was hateful language an actual or proximate cause of a shooting death? Or was in a contributory factor, an amplifier? There is no manifesto, no note, no definitive online activity that we know of so far that would prove anything.
At this point, more than a fair number of people in our community, certainly guided by their own personal experiences, have decided that race played a role.
So the question in the coming days is, what are we going to do about it?
Some in officialdom are advising caution. “The thing you have to understand is that it takes time to complete an investigation,” said District Attorney Jim O’Neill.
From him, that’s understandable. The job is to convict a killer and prove beyond doubt answers to the basic questions: who, what, where, when and how. Answering the why isn’t typically a prime concern.
Still, that’s not staunching the growing crescendo of anguished cries for answers.
At different points during Wednesday’s vigil for Juice Sampson, other community leaders spoke messages of patience, unity and, in some cases, calls for action on gun violence and racism.
“I’m angry,” said Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough. “We’ve got to stand together strong. We can’t be divided. I’m with you.”
Easy words. Appropriate. Necessary, too.
But for some of the young people present, those grieving the hardest, a vigil to honor a young man lost to yet another gun crime, lectures about settling disputes with firearms or well-meaning calls urging them to vote, was just too much, too soon.
“This is not that,” a young woman told a friend.
No, it’s not.
The Rev. Paul Robeson Ford, called to speak near the end of the vigil, said it best in his prayers.
“We’re asking truth and transparency about what led to this senseless crime,” he said. “I know we’re living in troubled times. We need the truth. Peace with justice.”
Amen, reverend. Amen.
When Angela Pringle was introduced Wednesday as the new superintendent for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, she said she looked forward to working on behalf of children here.
“I hope to do the best we can do for children,” Pringle said during a press conference. “Our goal is certainly to have our children perform at high levels. That’s going to take us working with our teachers, our administrators and our community.”
Pringle, who grew up in Virginia, is currently the superintendent for the Richmond County School System in Augusta, Ga.
She will start her new job with WS/FCS on Sept. 3.
Malishai Woodbury, the chairwoman of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education, said Wednesday that the board was excited about Pringle joining the school district.
“We know that this community will work with her to make sure that all of our students move forward,” Woodbury said.
She said that the school board had about 14 different qualities and characteristics in the new superintendent that the community wanted and the board agreed with, including a superintendent who had been a teacher.
“This community was looking for someone that was an educator from the ground up,” Woodbury said. “If you did not teach, have a principal or assistant principal experience, up to the superintendent position, this board was very clear about staying true to what our community asked us to look for to determine the next superintendent.”
On Friday, she stressed again that Pringle is the best choice for WS/FCS because she met all of the experiences and qualifications expressed by staff, students, community and board members.
“She has a proven track record of success as an education leader,” Woodbury said.
She added that the board will rely on Pringle to decide which projects will take priority.
“However, I am very concerned about the high concentration of failing schools in District 1,” Woodbury said.
Woodbury has said that Pringle impressed her by being cool and calm in everything she did.
“She has a way with handling business and just a calm spirit,” Woodbury said. “I said, ‘When things get hot and low and even in between, we can count on her to stay steady.’”
Lida Calvert-Hayes, a member of the school board, said Friday that the board saw a lot of candidates but what impressed her the most about Pringle was that she took the time to drive to every school in the school district, even if she wasn’t able to go inside all of them.
“I thought that really showed true dedication of wanting to be in our city,” Calvert-Hayes said.
She was also impressed, she said, by the fact that Pringle has visited the area and knows a lot about it, primarily because she has a daughter who graduated from Wake Forest University.
Calvert-Hayes said that WS/FCS really needs to pull its graduation rates up and Pringle has done that in the Richmond County School System.
“I was really interested in what did you do, what can you bring to Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools to be able to help us with that?” Calvert-Hayes said of the interview process with Pringle.
She said that Pringle has been involved with failing and turnaround schools.
“That is a main focus for us right now,” Calvert-Hayes said.
Pringle is taking the helm of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools at a time when it showed little growth for most of the district, based on North Carolina test scores for 2017-2018.
However, the state did make several changes to its accountability formula for that fiscal year because of the new federal government accountability standard, Every Student Succeeds Act. This made it difficult to compare previous years.
The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system has 54,105 students in 80 schools, according to the 2017-18 state report card for the school district. In overall performance, eight schools received an “A,” and there were 13 “B” schools, 19 “C” schools, 21 “D” schools and 11 “F” schools.
Cook Literacy Model School was one school that had an F but exceeded expected growth with a grade level proficiency score of 22.7, up seven points from its score in 2016-17.
Pringle is leaving a school district in historic Augusta, Ga. The Richmond County School System averages about 32,000 students in 56 schools.
According to a 2018 schools/district performance report from The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement Georgia School Grades Report, RCSS received a “D,” or 68.3, rating, which is up from an “F,” or 57.9, score in 2016. The report showed that 52 percent of students were economically disadvantaged.
The report also showed that Richmond County’s overall performance is higher than 34 percent of districts in Georgia, 33.1 percent of its third grade students are reading at or above the grade level target, 49.5 percent of its eighth grade students are reading at or above the grade level target.
Its four-year graduation rate is 77.7 percent, which is higher than 4 percent of districts in Georgia.
The school district has eight low-performing schools.
“We’re proud of the fact that we’ve reduced the number of schools that need support from the department of education,” Pringle said. “We also, since 2014, had a 24 percent increase in our graduation rate. We went from 61.8 this past year to 78 and right now we are trending at just above 80 percent.”
She said that the school district has seen a lot of success at the elementary level in increased scores and expects to see similar success over the next two years in upper grade levels.
“We focus a lot on literacy at the elementary level,” she said.
Pringle also said that Richmond County has a good number of private schools.
“A great number of our children over the years matriculated to private schools,” she said. “We’re pulling some of them back but that does impact the socioeconomic makeup of the public school setting.”
She said that the school district over the last two years closed six schools and made other changes to better serve students and be more efficient.
“That has helped us save dollars and spend dollars in the right places, and we’ve been able to give our teachers raises and employees raises, actually for the last four years by being more efficient,” she said.
One similarity that Pringle has noticed in both Richmond County and Forsyth County is that there are a lot of interest in business partnerships.
“People in the community really want to engage in education, to really develop the workforce,” she said.
On Friday, Woodbury said that although the district Pringle is leaving is smaller, it has similar demographics of students as WS/FCS.
“According to Dr. Pringle, poverty is greater there than in WSFCS,” Woodbury said.
The board plans to schedule a meet and greet event with Pringle that will be open to the public.(tncms-asset)022f6d24-b984-11e9-a9e0-00163ec2aa770 —(/tncms-asset)
For more than 10 months, participants in the State Health Plan feared the possibility of being out-of-network for 126 hospitals and health-care systems in North Carolina.
In the end, however, the Clear Pricing Project contract initiative of state Treasurer Dale Folwell failed to crack the resolve of the hospitals.
As a result, more than 727,000 SHP participants will stay in-network during the 2020 coverage period with the same Blue Options preferred provider organization (PPO) plans.
“It is my understanding that state employees will practically see no difference in provider network access for 2020 as compared to what they have in 2019,” said Hughes Waren, chairman of the N.C. Association of Health Underwriters’ General Assembly action committee.
That was not the projected outcome in October 2018 when the SHP and Folwell said a new coverage network was being launched for Jan. 1, 2020. They said hospitals and more than 61,000 providers had to sign up by July 1 to stay in-network for the SHP.
The Clear Pricing Project contract is Folwell’s attempt to move the SHP to a government pricing model tied to Medicare rates that would result in lower reimbursement rates to providers and cost savings to the SHP.
SHP participants were warned the CPP network would be their only in-network plan option, and that they needed to lobby, if not pressure, their providers to sign the contract.
For example, the State Employees Association of N.C. promoted a Facebook campaign in which health-care systems’ board of directors were identified with contact information.
The SHP and Folwell were convinced that leverage was on their side given the plan has more than 727,000 participants that include current and retired state employees, teachers and legislators. It is North Carolina’s largest purchaser of medical and pharmaceutical services at $3.2 billion in 2017.
However, on Thursday, the SHP, Folwell and Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.C. said 2020 coverage would include Blue Options plans as part of a hybrid network. The SHP could change some Blue Options plan designs before open enrollment begins in October.
A limited CPP network would be added, covering the five hospitals and 27,000 providers that did sign the contract. That represents a net gain of 7,000 providers not already in the Blue Options network.
The SHP said providers that signed on to the CPP “will eventually be offered the opportunity to participate in alternative payment arrangements.”
“These arrangements, or models, include medical-procedure bundling, accountable care organizations, as well as other outcome and evidence-based programs designed to deliver quality care at affordable prices.”
Waren said SHP participants “who use the CPP providers would actually see lower out-of-pocket cost at those facilities if they have a claim.”
The N.C. Healthcare Association and N.C. Association of Educators confirmed the status-quo outcome for the SHP network for 2020.
“The network of hospitals and providers is essentially the same as what teachers, state employees and retirees currently have,” NCHA spokeswoman Cynthia Charles said.
“We do not yet know how the 2020 plan benefits or structure will compare to the current Blue Options plan, or if rates might change.”
Mark Jewell, president of the NCAE, sent a letter to Folwell on Wednesday in which he pointedly described the group’s concerns about public school educators and staff potentially having to pay higher costs for out-of-network health care, or having in-network options not accessible, particularly in rural areas.
The NCAE represents 165,000 public-school educators and about 260,000 SHP participants overall when counting family members, or about 36% of the 727,000 participants.
“SHP members are rightfully frightened and frustrated at the lack of information coming out of your office, and we feel strongly that it is time to stop playing political games and put the best interests of members first,” Jewell wrote.
“N.C. educators need you to do your job, so they can concentrate on doing their jobs.”
As the consequences of the CPP contract became more understood, the pushback against the initiative increased, led by the NCHA launching a statewide public-relations campaign that also targeted Folwell.
The Republican-controlled state legislature recently gave the treasurer the authority to decide on reimbursement cuts to hospitals and providers as part of a mandate to reduce overall SHP expenses.
House Bill 184, which would halt Folwell’s initiative for at least a year in favor of a legislative study report, cleared the state House by a 75-36 vote April 3.
It has yet to be acted upon in the Senate since being sent to the Rules and Operations committee April 4. Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, has signaled he has no desire to address HB184.
As the clock ticked toward the July 1 deadline for signing the contract, SHP participants grew increasingly worried about being out of network.
However, when just five hospitals and 27,000 providers had signed the contract by Monday’s end of a second sign-up period, pressure began to mount on the SHP and Folwell to either offer a Plan B or keep the 2019 network intact for 2020.
“With only (five) hospitals signed onto the program, and the largest health systems completely absent from the program, there would be hundreds of thousands of SHP members who are functionally unable to access quality, affordable, ongoing medical care within a reasonable distance of their home,” Jewell wrote to Folwell.
Jewell asked Folwell to “fully explain your proposed solution to the current impasse, including a detailed timeline for implementation.”
Dr. Patrick Conway, Blue Cross NC’s president and chief executive, said in a statement that the combined network will “ensure that teachers and state employees have uninterrupted access to quality care.”
The NCAE and NCHA said they were pleased with the Blue Options network being retained in the SHP offerings.
“We are relieved that all State Health Plan participants will have access to quality, affordable health-care next year, and that our members will not have the prospect of their local hospital or doctor being out-of-network hanging over their heads as they prepare for the start of the upcoming school year,” Jewell said.
“It appears the combination of the Blue Options network and the new State Health Plan network will give members sufficient choice and access for their healthcare needs.”
The NCHA said that “while the specific benefit design for this plan has yet to be seen, this move will help maintain access to in-network care for them (SHP participants).”
“NCHA and our members look forward to working with the treasurer and the General Assembly to develop a stronger, sustainable, transparent future for the State Health Plan.”
Robert Broome, executive director of the State Employees Association of N.C., told The Charlotte Observer that “it’s a mixed bag” that while the CPP got 28,000 providers to sign on, 121 hospitals declined to do so.
Broome said that “for us, the fight continues, and we will not rest until we make health care affordable for the members of our plan.”
A controversial movie directed by an alumnus of UNC School of the Arts has been pulled from distribution one day after President Donald Trump appeared to criticize it on Twitter.
“The Hunt,” a satirical thriller, was directed by Craig Zobel, a 1999 graduate of UNCSA’s filmmaking program. The film follows a group of strangers who are abducted by rich elites who set about hunting them down on a remote estate. Some pundits have said the film is about liberals hunting down conservatives, and others expressed concern that its release date was too soon after recent tragedies.
Last week, Universal Pictures, which was to distribute the film, “paused its marketing campaign” in light of recent mass shootings in Ohio, Texas and California. Then on Friday, Trump tweeted to complain about “liberal Hollywood” and, while not specifically naming “The Hunt,” went on to say that “the movie coming out is made in order to inflame and cause chaos. They create their own violence, and then try to blame others.”
On Saturday, Universal canceled its plans to release the film on Sept. 27. The studio left open the possibilities of releasing it later in theaters or on video streaming services.
The script is by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindolof and the film was produced by Blumhouse Productions, the company behind such popular horror franchises as “Paranormal Activity,” “Insidious” and “The Purge,” which also blends political satire and horror.
Zobel, 43, previously directed such films as “Great World of Sound,” a comedy about the music industry; “Z For Zachariah,” a post-apocalyptic drama starring Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Chris Pine; and “Compliance,” a provocative thriller about a manager manipulated into psychologically abusing one of her employees.
In a statement on the film’s website, Universal Pictures said, “We stand by our filmmakers and will continue to distribute films in partnership with bold and visionary creators, like those associated with this satirical social thriller, but we understand that now is not the right time to release this film.”
Greg Gutfeld, a conservative pundit on the Fox News talk show “The Five,” said on that show that he felt the controversy was “much ado about nothing.”
“This is an old idea, the ‘Most Dangerous Game,’” he said in an article on FoxNews.com, referring to a 1924 short story that has been adapted to film several times, depicting a character being hunted by a rich, sadistic antagonist.
“There’s a lot of movies about hunting humans and we have no idea who becomes victorious in this. This is a satire,” Gutfeld said in the article. “I think we immediately go, ‘oh my God, they’re hunting conservatives.’ I guarantee you the conservative will probably win and that’s the twist in this.”
The trailer revolves around a character played by Betty Gilpin of the Netflix series “GLOW” who is one of the hunted but turns the tables on her pursuers. The elites depicted in the trailer include characters played by Hilary Swank and Glenn Howerton, with Swank’s character saying that the people they are hunting are “not human beings.”
The cast also includes Emma Roberts and Justin Hartley as fellow targets, and UNCSA alumnus Steve Coulter in an unspecified role.
Several months ago, after filming was finished in New Orleans, Coulter said, “I think the film is going to cause a stir.” He described it as “a great action thriller, very darkly funny and will cause a good bit of chatter on both the right and the left.”
Asked Saturday about the controversy, Coulter said, “It’s always curious when people are outraged about a film that they haven’t even seen yet. The movie is a satire that points its finger at both blue and red staters. One of the smartest scripts I’ve read in years. I hope Universal decides to release it down the road.”