The State of Things

WUNC's The State of Things brings the issues, personalities, and places of North Carolina to you.  The State of Things Podcast presents new stories every weekday with topics from our show.  To subscribe:Get a daily show update and special news. Subscribe to our podcast on Google Play or iTunes.  Or, use the links at the right.Visit the main SOT page.

White polie officer Chris Hickman sits during his trial.
Angela Wilhelm/Asheville Citizen Times

Earlier this month former Asheville police officer Christopher Hickman pled guilty to felony assault in the 2017 case involving black pedestrian Johnny Rush. Hickman was charged in March 2018 after footage of him choking and violently beating Rush was leaked to the media. Now, Hickman could see his charges dismissed after one year if he follows through on a first-of-its-kind restorative justice program.

An IUD is a form of contraception.
Sarah Mirk / Creative Commons

Planned Parenthood pulled out of the Title X program Monday after the Department of Health and Human Services ruled that clinics receiving Title X funding may not refer patients to abortion providers. After months of threats, Planned Parenthood refused to abide by the ruling and opted to give up federal money in favor of maintaining abortion services.  In North Carolina, Planned Parenthood affiliates were stripped of federal funding in May.

Solar panels convert solar energy to usable engergy.
Pxhere

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality recently released a plan to significantly reduce greenhouse gases from electricity production over the next decade. The goal is to get to zero emissions by 2050, starting with a 60 to 70% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030.

The base of the Silent Sam statue stands surrounding by a fence.
Alex Foyler

The future of Silent Sam still remains uncertain. The Confederate statue has been stored in a secret location since its toppling last fall, and the UNC System Board of Governors has indefinitely postponed making a decision about its future.

Brian Lampkin looks down off camera.
Courtesy of Brian Lampkin

In the summer of 1973, three black men from Tarboro were sentenced to die in North Carolina’s gas chamber after being tried and convicted of raping a white woman. The story made national news, and Tarboro became the center of a larger conversation about race, civil rights and criminal justice. The men maintained their innocence and refused plea deals that may have lightened their sentences, but it was not until The Southern Poverty Law Center stepped in did they receive a new trial and a new chance at life.

Pickett measures her patient's height.
Courtesy of UNC Greensboro

When Stephanie Pickett was a nurse at Duke University Medical Center, more than 90% of the patients she saw with kidney failure were black. This shocking racial health disparity both bewildered her and inspired her to take action.

Cecil sits on a stool playing his guitar and sings into a mic.
Courtesy of David Ray Cecil

Singer and guitarist Dave Ray Cecil began writing music when he was six years old. As a child, he strung notes together on the piano and secretly used his brother’s guitar to write songs.

Courtesy Merge Records

As a kid, Laura Ballance was most comfortable slipping into the background. Her introverted nature gave her plenty of space to think and create on her own. As a teenager, she found punk through a music video of Adam and the Ants, and the “otherness” they expressed spoke directly to her.

Image of a nuclear bomb test explosion in the Pacific in 1958.
Nevada National Security Site

More than 500,000 American veterans were exposed to nuclear weapons tests from the 1940s to the early 1990s. These so-called "atomic veterans" were not permitted to speak about their participation in the tests until 1996 when the Nuclear Radiation and Secrecy Agreements Laws were repealed. Now the veterans who were exposed to the radiation from the weapons program will be offered a certificate marking their contribution.

Volunteers in blue vests escort women into a clinic in the face of protestors.
Lindsay Beyerstein & Martyna Starosta / ReWire.News

In their budget, Republican state lawmakers proposed $2.6 million in funding for crisis pregnancy centers and anti-abortion organizations. This funding would quadruple the amount given to one particular nonprofit, despite a report from the state Department of Health and Human Services that does not recommend expanding the program.

Image of soul and hip hop artists Sonny Miles performing with a guitar.
Kai McNeil

Artist Sonny Miles is on a journey back to himself. After a year spent refining mixtape collaborations, he is dropping a new EP: “Gamma.” It is a return to his roots in acoustic soul and pays homage to the last three years he spent learning beat making and hip-hop performance.

Toni Morrison passed away August 5, 2019.
Wikimedia Commons

Last month, President Donald Trump called Baltimore a “rat and rodent-infested mess” and told four Democratic Congresswomen of color to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” These are just the latest examples of a repeated tactic: the president denigrates women and people of color who oppose him and his policies. What power do his words have and how do they affect the people and the cities he attacks? Popular culture experts Mark Anthony Neal and Natalie Bullock Brown take on that topic with host Frank Stasio in the latest installment of #BackChannel, The State of Things’ recurring series connecting culture and context.

Image of hydrocodone pills.
USDA

The opioid epidemic has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans in the past few decades. A newly-released Drug Enforcement Administration database provides insight into how and why this might be happening. The database tracks 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills distributed from 2006 through 2012, and new analysis from The Washington Post draws connections between the number of pills shipped to a particular area and opioid overdose deaths.

Dave DeWitt / WUNC

Orrin Pilkey was sounding the alarm about climate change and sea level rise long before the topics were part of public consciousness. As an early whistleblower, his work was not always well received, but he pressed on and has authored and edited dozens of books about the environment in the past few decades. His latest book, co-authored with his son Keith, takes a look at some of the unexpected ways climate-related sea level rise will affect the lives and livelihoods of people across the United States.

Image of Harper Lee at a desk.
Donald Uhrbrock / The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

What lessons can the now-deceased Harper Lee teach a modern-day investigative journalist? Writer Casey Cep retraced Lee’s footsteps to a small town in Alabama to find out. She reopened a 1970s murder case that Lee had once obsessively followed: a rural preacher named Reverend Willie Maxwell who was accused of killing five of his family members for insurance money.

www.ncleg.net / NC General Assembly

More than 40 days have gone by since the North Carolina budget was supposed to be enacted. Since the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, negotiations between Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Roy Cooper have barely budged. Cooper vetoed the latest Republican House budget citing low pay increases for teachers and the absence of Medicaid expansion.

Yolanda Rabun is a talented singer and storyteller.
Courtesy of Curtis Brown Photography

The musical legacy of Nina Simone is celebrated throughout the world, but to North Carolina she is a special treasure. Simone was born in the town of Tryon, where efforts are underway to turn her childhood home into a space that reflects her dynamic, complex legacy. Last year the National Trust for Historic Preservation officially designated it a “National Treasure.”

Courtesy of Kamal Bell

Sankofa Farms was originally supposed to be a school garden in which middle school students could get away from the pressures of the classroom and get their hands dirty in the soil. After the proposal was rejected by the school’s principal, middle-school science teacher Kamal Bell made a much bigger investment in the idea.

News & Observer

Martha Mobley just cannot stay away from the farm. She grew up on a 1,000 acre livestock operation in Franklin County started by her grandfather in the early 1900s. Some of her earliest memories are of joining her father to deliver sows in a building still standing behind their house.

A vigil in Dayton, Ohio.
Mega Jelinger / AFP/Getty Images

With the nation still in shock and mourning over back-to-back mass shootings in Texas and Ohio last weekend, political leaders are being forced to address gun control. President Donald Trump spent the week speaking out against hate and visiting the impacted areas while also attacking any naysayers on Twitter.

Image of Ralph Snyderman with the Dalai Lama.
Courtesy of Ralph Snyderman

Ralph Snyderman is known as “The Father of Personalized Medicine.” He used to oversee the selection of medical students at Duke University in his role as chancellor for health affairs at Duke University and Dean of the Duke School of Medicine. He focused on admitting students who showed a clear desire for empathy and to serve the needs of others.

Image of Harvey Dalton Arnold
Courtesy of Harvey Dalton Arnold

Harvey Dalton Arnold found fame on Southern stages, rocking out in bell-bottoms topped with big buckles. But before he opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd touring the country with The Outlaws, Arnold was helping his dad sell Ford tractors and raise chickens in Duplin County. He grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Rose Hill, a town of just over 1,500 that breaks out the world’s largest frying pan for its yearly Poultry Jubilee.

Image of the North Carolina State Legislature Building in Raleigh.
Wikimedia Commons

A disagreement over who should control settlement money from Volkswagen could cost North Carolinians $92 million. Volkswagen agreed to pay the state that money for selling cars that cheated on emissions tests, but both Governor Roy Cooper and the Republican-led legislature are claiming the right to dole out the funds. 

The sign of the Ocracoke Health Center.
Erin O'Neal

Ocracoke Health Center CEO Cheryl Ballance estimates that anywhere from 8,000-10,000 people visit Ocracoke Island on any given summer weekend. Many visitors catch a ferry back to Cape Hatteras after less than a day, but hundreds of vacation rentals and hotel rooms are consistently filled from late spring to early fall. During those months, the staff of the tiny clinic are stretched to their limits.

Image of 2019 WUNC Youth Reporting Institute students and leadership.
William Cumbo / WUNC

WUNC’s Youth Reporting Institute wraps up its summer program this week and the offerings from this year’s cohort reflect many of the complex problems our nation has been grappling with — immigration, LGBTQ rights and mass shootings.

A black and white photo of the cast of The Wizard of Oz in costume.
Library of Congress

Somewhere over the rainbow, The State of Things is celebrating the 80th anniversary of the film adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz.” The 1939 movie is best known for its hit musical numbers, fantastical plotline and use of Technicolor. Judy Garland’s career took off after she portrayed Dorothy Gale on her journey through the magical land of Oz, and the film has since become an American cultural touchstone.

Image of the North Carolina State Legislature Building in Raleigh.
Mark Turner / Wikimedia Creative Commons

After two mass shootings this past weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and President Donald Trump joined in support of states passing “red flag” laws. These laws allow a judge to order a temporary removal of firearms from a person threatening violence against themselves or others.

Image of the Appalachian Mountains.
Flickr Creative Commons

Many Americans spend more time looking at screens than they spend outside — or even looking out a window. This increased disconnect between humans and nature comes at a time when scientists warn that the environment is especially vulnerable: the recent National Climate Estimate estimates that annual average temperatures in the U.S. are expected to rise by about 2.5°F in the next few decades. A new collection of nature writing from Appalachia aims to bring readers closer to nature through stories about both the splendor of the mountain region and clear examples of how humans are changing the planet.

Image of the Simmons family.
Courtesy of Melody Hunter-Pillion

The number of black farmers in the United States has dropped exponentially since the beginning of the 20th century.  2017 data from the Department of Agriculture shows African Americans make up less than 2 percent of the country’s 3.4 million farmers. That year, there were just over 2,000 black farmers in North Carolina.

One of the three voting systems being considered for certification by the State Board of Elections.
Rusty Jacobs / WUNC

The response to mass shootings in Texas and Ohio this weekend illuminated stark differences in state and national political candidates’ stances on gun reform. Among those were Dan McCready and Dan Bishop, two men running in a special election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.

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