Faith and city leaders in Kinston plead for peace after three shootings in one week
KINSTON, N.C. (WITN) - Residents of Kinston are shaken by three separate shootings in the first week of July. It sparked the city’s mayor and police chief to turn to faith to put an end to the violence.
“The Bible says, ‘When two or three are gathered, I will be in your midst,’” recited pastor Merwyn Smith. He stood on the steps of city hall calling for prayer and action.
Joined by the mayor and the chief of police, faith leaders asked the community to help them put an end to senseless gun violence.
“And a lot of times they think, ‘Okay, now I can get away with more.’ So, it’s important for citizens to speak up, take back their community,” said Police Chief Jenee Spencer. “Say, ‘We’re not going to allow this, and if I see you doing something wrong, I’m going to tell on it because I want you out of my community. If you are not a good citizen, then you don’t have to be here.’”
The police department is ramping up its Police Community Action Team once again. The force was disbanded to bulk up patrol staff, but the need is back.
The faith leaders say there are more tools a person can use to cope.
“You know, in these stressful times, we’ve got to learn how to depend on things like prayer and meditation that will bring us to a place of peace, an inward peace,” said Jumping Run Church pastor Anthony Lawson.
Those who gathered say that peace needs to be balanced with proactivity.
“We don’t ever want it to be the norm. We don’t ever want to be numb to gun violence,” said Mayor Don Hardy. “We must take action, affirmative action, by coming together.”
For those with their hands on the trigger, Hardy has a message.
“Think about every action, everything that you do. And think about the consequences of your actions because it’s a no-win situation,” warned Hardy. “Because the family loses their loved one from their home, and the other loved one is in the ground, dead.”
Though not all of the shootings in Kinston earlier this month were found to be gang-related, they are considered targeted violence. All three investigations are ongoing.
Leaders now hope their plea will bring the city back to what it once was.
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Gov. Cooper tackled issues with access to reproductive care alongside Planned Parenthood leadership in Raleigh Wednesday.
But with the closest Planned Parenthood locations anywhere from 50 to 100 miles away from Eastern Carolina, women face even more hurdles to receive that care.
Given that abortion, regardless of medical necessity, is still legal in our state until fetal viability, there are a few options for women seeking that care.
Medications can be prescribed at up to 10 weeks gestation. There is also a surgical abortion where a suction removes the pregnant tissue from the uterus.
With high gas prices and the 20-week ban lingering over their heads, women in the East are looking at even more challenges.
“Clients come to us, and they don’t have any insurance, and it’s really, really hard to get in anywhere if you have no insurance,” Melissa Radomicki said. “You’re going to be charged a ridiculous amount of money for a very minimal service.”
Radomicki works with victims of abuse at the Onslow Women’s Center. When she has to tell them how far they need to travel to get to an abortion clinic, she notices their discouragement.
They have to travel anywhere from 50 to 100 miles to a clinic, like Planned Parenthood, before they can find a medical provider to perform the procedures.
"As far as getting clients to those places, which is another hurdle because a lot of our clients don’t have transportation, or they can’t afford the gas prices right now...” Radomicki explained. “We do work with them to try to mitigate those barriers if abortion is the option that they want to go with.”
Cooper spoke at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh to address those hurdles for women across the state and signed an executive order protecting providers from prosecution by other states for performing abortion procedures.
“This order can help us make sure patients can get the care they need in North Carolina, even if they come from out of state,” Cooper said. “Politicians should not be in that exam room with a patient and her doctor.”
Still, advocates at the Onslow Women’s Center have a wish list of their own.
“I’d love to see some more low-income clinics. I’d love to see some more women’s centered clinics,” Radomicki said. “I think that’s another issue with healthcare in general, is that there’s not a lot of representation.”
According to data from the state Center for Health Statistics, more than 30,000 abortions were reported in our state in 2020, which is an increase of 5% from the year before.
Rep. Murphy responds to deleted tweet reading ‘No one forces anyone to have sex’
N.C. (WITN) - U.S. Congressman Greg Murphy is receiving backlash for a tweet he sent and then deleted a few hours later.
The tweet read: “No one forces anyone to have sex” and was sent just days after the overturning of Roe v. Wade removed the federal protection of abortions.
WITN reached out to the congressman, who denied an on-camera interview, but gave the following statement:
“Sex is a term I’ve always used when dealing with consensual action. Intercourse when forced or nonconsensual is assault or rape, and that is abhorrent. I deleted the tweet when I noticed it was being misinterpreted or misconstrued. I regret any confusion this has caused.”
Murphy’s upcoming challenger at the voting polls responded to the deleted tweet and Murphy’s explanation.
“I am in agreeance that sometimes things can be misconstrued, but as a woman, I personally refuse to step back,” Barbara Gaskins, North Carolina 3rd District candidate said.
One victim advocate in Pitt County says the tweet could cause sexual assault survivors to be more fearful and keep them from coming forward.
“It just makes a person who has been victimized say, ‘well, if there are people out here who don’t believe that rape is real or forced sex is real, then why would I even come forward?” Deborah Sheppard said.
Sheppard not only works with victims of abuse daily, but she also has a special connection to their struggle. “I am a survivor of abuse, so I do understand the fear of speaking up.”
She also shared a message for anyone feeling that intense fear.
“It’s easier to say this than for someone to do it, so just be patient with yourself and know that there are people out here that will help you when you’re ready.”
There are national and local resources available for survivors of rape and sexual assault. In Pitt County, Sheppard’s team makes sure victims understand their rights and then they help them cope with the consequences of the crime, and work through some of the paperwork for court proceedings and compensation.
In Greenville alone, 27 rapes were reported in 2020, a 35% increase from the year before.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline is 1-800-656-4673. That number offers 24-hour confidential support to victims.
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - City Council leaders are moving forward with a project in Greenville that will change the price of visiting the Uptown Greenville area.
During the public comment period, direct addresses to the council showed some people disagreed with what was on the table.
“It’s unfair and it has created a sense of fear for loss of business once it is enforced,” said Jana Palmiter, an employee of Starlight Café on 5th Street.
In a 4-1 vote, with Will Bell not in attendance and Marion Blackburn in opposition, the plan was approved.
From 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., parking on the street of the Uptown district will be free for the first hour and one dollar an hour after that for up to three hours.
In surface lots during those times, the first hour is free and each hour after that is 75 cents.
For residents and workers of the Uptown area, there are a few options when it comes to leasing a parking spot.
Those who live Uptown can pay $70.00 a month for a reserved space or $50.00 a month for unreserved space.
Business owners and employees will pay $20.00 a month per driver.
The leasing rates are a stark year over jump of 220% for workers and 700% for residents with an E-tag permit.
“Now, it’s not the $75.00 for the blanket E-tag,” said Deputy City Manager Michael Cowin, “This is still much more affordable to lease Uptown and live Uptown than they would see in a private lot.”
The pricing still has opposition.
“The city of Greenville claims to support and be an area where small businesses thrive,” said Palmiter. “Please consider the effects in the small businesses downtown and the hundreds of employees who depend on them for their livelihood, such as myself.”
Even with that kind of opposition, the plan will take effect next year.
Applications for residential leases and employer permits will be open in November 2022.
The new rates will begin for street and surface lot parking in January 2023.
Eastern Carolinians navigate heat & high gas prices as summer officially arrives
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Tuesday marks the longest day of the year and the official start of summer, but with gas prices in Eastern Carolina flirting with $5 a gallon, plans are shifting for motorists.
The Summer Solstice means people are looking at more than 14 and a half hours of daylight, the most seen this year. The amount of sunlight means people have a lot of time to work with this summer, but increased inflation means quite another thing for families and their plans.
After Juneteenth and Father’s Day, drivers are hoping for another special day, a gas tax holiday. The day would look like an 18.3 cent discount per gallon when people go to fill up. However, it would require congressional action, and lawmakers aren’t yet jumping into motion.
President Biden is also considering a gas rebate card system as part of the operation. The administration’s course of action should be laid out later this week.
Until then, drivers in the East are working with what they have.
“As you see right now, I’ve got a load,” driver Malyle Braxton says. “It’s more than $85 to fill up every other day because I ride all day. Shoot, it’s been hot since April. Heat, heat! You better have a hat or something.”
The heat has been something Eastern Carolinians have been dealing with for months now, as Braxton alludes to.
Congressional Democrats have not been quick to back the president on the gas tax holiday, saying that the legislation would not provide much relief, particularly if retailers raise their base price per gallon in response.
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - The Eastern North Carolina Rescue Squad is planning to perform safe-and-well checks from Monday until Friday due to the severe heat our region is experiencing.
The checks will be for anyone who may be without access to air conditioning, cold water, or ice. The service is completely free for those within the limits of Pitt County.
The squad is self-described as equal parts intervention and education, and the entire team is made up of volunteers.
The rescue squad did something similar a few months ago when the East was dealing with the opposite kind of extreme weather: freezing temperatures.
Now with temperatures getting close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the squad is looking to make rounds on any elderly neighbors or folks experiencing house insecurity or health problems.
“A lot of the populations, when we go out there, especially people who don’t have air conditioning, they don’t open their windows, they don’t have a lot of access to the safety information that they need in order to mitigate the loss of power or no air conditioning... things like that,” Mathias Tschrnko, ENC Rescue Squad chief officer said.
Anyone interested in the service can head over to the Eastern North Carolina Rescue Squad’s Facebook page. There you will find a form to fill out the required information like address, safety concerns, and more.
The rescue squad will stop by with water, ice, and information about how to stay safe.
ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (WITN) - A nationally-known civil rights attorney said the family of Andrew Brown, Jr. will be taken care of with a $3 million dollar settlement against Pasquotank County.
The family of Brown filed a $30 million civil rights lawsuit last year after the man was killed in April of 2021 by Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies while they were serving drug-related warrants at his Elizabeth City home.
The killing captured national attention and sparked protests calling for justice. A protest was held as recently as April of this year to mark the one-year anniversary of Brown’s death.
The county’s insurance policy, which was provided by the North Carolina Counties Liability and Property Joint Risk Management Agency, will pay the limits of its policy, which is $2 million.
The remaining $1 million will be paid by a special appropriation approved by the Pasquotank County Commissioners.
“I still want to give my sincerest condolences to the Brown family,” Sheriff Tommy Wooten said during a Tuesday afternoon news conference in front of the Pasquotank County Courthouse. “Not a whole lot to say to make that much better. But it happened and we’re gonna try to stay positive and move forward from here.”
No state charges were brought against the deputies involved in the shooting, but the U.S. Justice Department has an ongoing federal investigation to see if any federal civil rights laws were violated.
Attorney Harry Daniels told reporters today that no amount of money can take the place of Brown who is survived by seven children.
“The settlement was designed to make sure Andrew Brown Jr.’s children are taken care of. It does that for years to come,” said Daniels. “You can read between the lines, as such, but they are satisfied with the settlement. Actually, they want other things to take place but at this point as far as the civil matter they are satisfied.”
Wooten said he hopes the settlement brings some closure to the events that have taken place and that a lot has happened over the past year, pointing out that his deputies are better trained now. “We have severely advanced our training to be able to do our job more efficiently,” said the sheriff.
When asked how much of the settlement money the family will receive, Daniels said that was confidential.
GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - City of Greenville leaders are picking up where they left off before the pandemic in revising the Uptown District’s parking system.
On Tuesday, these leaders held a public input session before moving forward to put the 2020-developed plans into place.
The city is looking to alter several things.
Free street parking could soon be a concept of the past. In the new plan, drivers will pay $1 an hour for up to three hours to be at a metered street spot.
Not much will change for hourly rates of surface lots and parking decks. Right now, the rate is 75 cents an hour with various max limits from two to eight hours.
Under the new guidelines, the first hour in a lot will be free and a 75-cent charge would start after that, with no max limit, except for the Chico’s lot on Reade Circle.
The biggest rate increase comes to those who work and live in the district. Currently, those people can lease a parking spot from the city for $66 a month or purchase an E-tag that grants access to select lots and street spots for $75 a year.
With the city’s proposition, people who live in Uptown Greenville would now have to pay $660 a year for an unreserved spot across the Uptown lots or $840 a year for a reserved spot where towing enforcement is the leaser’s responsibility.
People who work in Uptown Greenville would have to pay $480 a year to park near their jobs.
City leaders say they are taking into account the elements area stakeholders are concerned about.
“Maybe allowing a little bit more on-street free parking. We’ll also look at the timeframe that the parking rules are in place: should it end at 7:00 or 9:00 at night?” Michael Cowin, deputy city manager says. “And we’ll also look and see if we can look at the rates that would be required for employee/employer parking of Uptown.”
Still, before the plan makes it to the city council’s desks, it undergoes another round of public input.
“We need to find the other 100 people that were here in February and get everybody in a room together,” Michael Glenn, a property owner in Uptown Greenville said.
Glenn was surprised at the meeting because he noticed four people there, which was much different from the almost-full room the last time the city held a public input meeting.
“This is incredibly alarming that we’re having conversations about something as impactful as this and there’s four people here,” Glenn said.
Stakeholders hope the city will encourage more people to show up next time.
The final parking plan presentation is set to go before the Greenville City Council in June. If approved, its implementation would start as soon as July of this year.
ADVERTISEMENT$20 million worth of improvements coming to Eastern Carolina airport
WASHINGTON, N.C. (WITN) - New improvements are underway for an airport in the East that caught the attention of state lawmakers.
North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore and state Rep. Keith Kidwell were among the leaders shoveling the first scoops of dirt at the Washington-Warren Airport, symbolizing the start of the aerospace future of Beaufort County.
With $20 million of state funds promised to the airport, Washington-Warren Airport Manager Earl Malpass joined the crew with a promise.
“The quality of life for the employees is going to go up dramatically,” Malpass said.
With Eastern Carolina situated about halfway between New York and Miami, the improvements are anticipated to keep the good news coming.
“An expansion of the airport, of course, is going to allow folks to travel into the region easier. It’s going to allow you to have larger jets, you’re going to be able to have more aircraft parked here,” Moore said. “But it’s also going to allow an opportunity for industries or companies that are centered around aviation to be able to open here.”
The money comes from a General Assembly allocation originally presented to the airport in December 2021.
“We’re talking about hundreds of jobs per firm, so that’s going to multiply,” Malpass said. “It may not be ginormous with something like Amazon, but for Beaufort County, you get a thousand good-paying jobs and that’s going to make an impact.”
Aviation jobs hope to offer upward mobility and competitive salaries to the communities around the airport.
“One of the challenges that a lot of rural counties, like this county, like where I live, is that folks will sometimes graduate high school or graduate college and they struggle about where are they going to work? Where are they going to find a job?” Moore said, “and the aviation industry is one of the fastest-growing areas of the economy. "
The $20 million appropriation isn’t just going to benefit the future employees of the airport, but also those currently working the tarmac.
Equipment upgrades like lights on the runways and better aircraft taxi tractors are included in the plans.
The current fleet of aircraft at the Washington-Warren Airport is made up of mostly single-engine planes, with one multi-engine plane, one jet, and one helicopter also part of the mix.
Future plans include expanding aircraft capacity and also branching into the marine industry, providing access for houseboat and yacht owners along the coast to the skies.
MARTIN COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - People in Martin County in need of safe drinking water will soon see that flowing.
Congressman G.K. Butterfield (NC-D) was in the East Wednesday to present county leaders with a check to improve the water system there.
With the water system infringing on residents’ most basic needs, the money is expected to change lives.
“We would benefit greatly from having a source of potable water,” said Martin County resident Early Whitehurst, Jr.
For Whitehurst and his neighbors, if they want freshwater, they have to treat their well supply with a myriad of salt and minerals to make it safe.
But Whitehurst says most of his neighbors are retirees that can’t afford the added sodium in their meal plans.
“So, it’s kind of a dietary issue, along with the rust and the appliance issues,” added Whitehurst.
The county applied for a federal grant through Butterfield’s office. Wednesday they received a big check, in more ways than one.
“There’s nothing more important than safe, clean water,” expressed Butterfield. “So many communities now are suffering from contaminated wells and aquifers are being infiltrated with toxins and the water is not safe.”
Nearly $3.5 million was allocated to improve county water systems through a Community Project Fund grant.
The money will help bare another load for Whitehurst and his neighbors. For those on a fixed income, added bills to clean their well supply don’t make budgeting easy.
Whitehurst says the water bill can be an additional $60.00 to $100.00 a month to factor in, and he has a suggestion for the next issue to tackle.
Right now Whitehurst says he has to pay for satellite TV, Dish internet, and a landline phone all separately.
“We feel if we could get broadband in the community, we could combine all three items on one bill,” said Whitehurst.
Congressman Butterfield’s office will be taking a look at the next round of appropriations submissions for the 2023 fiscal year soon. The deadline to submit proposals comes at 5:00 p.m. Thursday afternoon.
From those submissions, the congressman can select up to 15 project funding requests for further consideration.
Every story you see here is written, filmed, edited, fronted, and day-turned by Maddie. As an MMJ with WITN, she really does it all!