Restitution for victims shouldn’t be negotiable

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 28, 2013

Budget negotiations among House Speaker Thom Tillis, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and Gov. Pat McCrory are pending. It’s always been an ugly process, and certainly was when Democrats ruled, with each leader trying to satisfy his interests and those of the state.
But this year, one item, compensation for victims of the state’s forced sterilization program, should be non-negotiable. The victims should not be chips on the table — as they have been for too long. Tillis and McCrory, who strongly support compensation, to the tune of $10 million in their proposed budgets, should make clear to Berger that it’s going in the final budget.
For almost 11 years now, what’s too often been lost in the compensation debate is that the victims of our state’s program, one of the most brutal in the country, are hurting in body and soul. Some of them, such as Lela Dunston, have died waiting for help.
“I just want them to compensate me, that’s all,” Dunston, who was sterilized in 1963, when she was 13 and living in Wilmington, told our editorial board in July 2011.
She died last July, shortly after hearing that the compensation push fizzled in the state Senate.
This cannot be put off for another legislative session. Dunston is dead and other victims are dying. These victims have waited and waited and waited, ever since the Journal revealed, in the investigative series Against Their Will in December 2002, the inner workings of a program that, from 1929 through 1974, rendered barren more than 7,600 of its most vulnerable citizens to cut the welfare rolls and “better society.” At the end, it targeted black women and girls — genocide.
The state deprived these victims of children and legacies, and even of counseling on how to deal with that deprivation. Our state pays compensation to the wrongly convicted and imprisoned. We should also pay compensation to the wrongly sterilized.
Justice demands nothing less. Now.