Reform and community groups oppose use of $40,000 in North Carolina drug tax funding to build Wilmington police museum

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At Tuesday night’s meeting, the Wilmington City Council will consider whether to authorize the use of $40,000 in NC Drug Tax funding to build a museum.

According to the proposed order, the “Wilmington Police Department Law Enforcement Museum” “will feature the history of the department,” including artifacts currently stored away from public view. WPD leader Donny Williams recently told city council at Monday morning’s agenda meeting that he hoped the museum would strengthen community engagement – and encourage the public to visit the existing memorial of the fallen officers.

Critique of the museum proposal

In a letter to the Wilmington City Council, signed by the New Hanover County chapter of the Second Chance Alliance, the North Carolina Justice Center and others, the attorneys asked that the money be spent in a different way. NC Second Chance Alliance is “a statewide alliance of people with criminal records, their family members, service providers, congregations, community leaders and concerned citizens who have come together to s ‘addressing the causes of criminal records and the obstacles they create for successful reintegration.’

For Daquan Peters, New Hannover County Coordinator for the Second Chance Allianceboth the source of funding and its intended use are problematic.

“I understand what Chief Williams’ vision is with the museum,” Peters said. “However, this museum should not be funded on the backs of poor black and brown people, on whom this law has the most disproportionate impact.”

Peters is referring to the North Carolina Drug Revenue Tax program, also known as the Unauthorized Substance Tax, which is a levy on illegal drugs like cocaine, marijuana, and heroin and illicit alcoholic products like unlicensed alcohol and mixed drinks served without the proper license. According to UNC School of Government, very few people actually pay the tax on substances like cocaine, marijuana, and moonshine. However, those arrested for possessing or selling illegal property are subject to guaranteed taxes, penalties and interest – and the state can garnish wages and repossess property from those who do not pay.

Learn more about how the Museums Ordinance works, how the NC Drug Tax program works, and some of its critics here.

The drug tax has been criticized by left-leaning think tank and publication NC Policy Watch, which says it is designed to “trap and penalize people, especially those of color. The North Carolina Justice Center, a nonprofit focused on issues affecting low-income people, called the tax “deeply flawed effort that allows the state to systematically plunder the resources of low-income communities and communities of color.”

In a press release, the Second Chance Alliance said “the drug tax disproportionately targets low-income communities and people of color. Even if someone was ultimately not convicted of drugs or was incarcerated for drug possession and served their sentence, they are still liable to pay the drug tax. Their assets can be seized and their paychecks collected to pay this draconian tax, leaving many people without legal and safe options to earn the money to pay the tax.

Peters joins other advocates who have called for the repeal of the drug tax program, but said that until that happens, drug tax funds should be “reinvested in most directly affected communities and used for productive community projects such as entrepreneurial programs for formerly incarcerated people, housing for people returning from incarceration or scholarships for children of incarcerated parents.

Why WPD wants the museum

At Monday morning’s City Council agenda meeting, Councilman Luke Waddell asked Chief Donny Williams if the drug tax funding could be used differently.

“I would like maybe we look at maybe some sort of scholarship fund for a child of a police officer or something that can kind of be integrated into the community a little better than a $40,000 museum,” Waddell said.

Waddell asked Williams how WPD “landed” on the museum idea.

“Community Involvement. We want to bring the community into our building, I can go back to when I was a kid and visited the Wilmington Police Department on Red Cross Street. And one of things that I remember are items that were in the display case so we also have scout groups to visit our stations and basically we want to bring community groups there to visit our forces memorial order and see the history of our organization, because we have years of artifacts going back to the early 1900s. And you’re all hidden in a closet that no one can see and I think the public needs to see this stuff,” William said.

Williams noted that the museum would be located outside the headquarters’ Blue Room, which has historically been used for press conferences and other public meetings. Currently, a limited number of artifacts are on display in the headquarters lobby.

Editor’s note: WHQR invited the Wilmington Police Department to comment on the press release sent by Second Chance Alliance and will update this article and future reports with any response.

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