Nearly 500 members of 21 different churches and non-profit organizations gathered at St. Thomas More Catholic Church for the Orange County Justice United public assembly Thursday evening.
Justice United is an organization that fights for social justice within Orange County, Chapel Hill and the Chatham County areas. On Thursday evening, the groups met to address affordable housing and unlicensed drivers in the area.
Reverend Richard Edens of the United Church of Chapel Hill began the assembly with a prayer.
"The power of corrected lament can be transformative," he said. "Transforming tears into hope, survivors into citizens, the childless into mothers and fathers, the orphans into brothers and sisters and raising those who are economically, constitutionally, legally dead into the newness of life.”
In Orange and Chatham counties, approximately 7,541 total drivers were charged for no operator’s license during the past seven years, with about 77 percent of those charges being against Latino drivers.
Kathy Kaufman, the social action chairperson of the Kehilah Synagogue, and Deacon Luis Royo of St. Thomas More Catholic Church explained the need for strengthening the community’s relationship with law enforcement because of the concern of prejudice against Latino drivers at checkpoints.
“We heard many, many stories from Latino drivers in Orange and Chatham, about being stopped by law enforcement under the suspicion that they were an unlicensed driver even when they had not committed a driving infraction,” Kaufman said.
Reverend Patty Hanneman of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Hillsborough echoed Kaufman's sentiment.
“For me, the bottom line is that our neighbors and friends should not need to be afraid to drive to worship, or their jobs, or to meet with their children to attend extra-curricular activities, or even to go out to the store to purchase a gallon of milk,” she said.
Jim Woodall, the district attorney for Orange and Chatham counties, explained that his office is attempting to find a way that reports of prejudice against Latino drivers could be submitted anonymously and these records could be tracked.
Delores Bailey, Justice United co-chairperson and director of EmPOWERment, Inc., also addressed affordable housing within Orange and Chatham Counties.
“In Orange County today, thousands of workers who keep our economy running are unable to live here and share the prosperity that they have helped create,” Bailey said.
On Nov. 8, there will be a vote for the Affordable Housing Bond, a $5 million bond that would provide 160 units of affordable housing.
“The living wage in Orange County is $12 an hour," Bailey said. "5,634 tenant households in Orange County pay over 50 percent of their household income on rent. The national level is only 30 percent."
The leaders at the meeting urged voters to show up at the polls on Nov. 8 and vote for the Affordable Housing Bond.
“We can only get better when we decide as brothers and sisters to come together and brace diversity,” said Reverend Thomas Nixon of St. Paul A.M.E Church.
Justice United will hold a benefit event on Sunday, Oct. 23 at Cat’s Cradle from 7:30-9:30 p.m. Tickets start at $10 and all proceeds will go to Justice United.
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