In May, the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office (NHCSO) responded to complaints from parents by investigating nine books available at public school libraries in New Hanover County and turned them over to the district attorney’s office to see s they were breaking state law.
According to a June 7 letter, Sheriff Ed McMahon informed District Attorney Ben David of the complaints, concerns David said he shared.
“On May 19, 2022, you alerted me to complaints from parents of middle and high school students that there are books in their children’s school libraries that contain obscene and pornographic material. As father of three children, I share the concerns of these parents, ”wrote David.
An NHCSO spokesperson provided a list of nine books that had been investigated:
- Not all boys are blue
- out of darkness
- The glass arrow
- Forged by fire
- A good kind of problem
- The 57 bus
- Queer, there and everywhere
Investigators identified particular passages that David described as “most offensive from the perspective of contemporary community standards.”
“On May 26, 2022, I met with Chief K. Sarvis, Major J. Hart, Capt. L. Wyatt, Lt. N. Willaford, of the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office to discuss their investigation into the documents in question. They provided me with a list of the books, the schools they are in, and specific passages from them. You have instructed my office to determine whether the material in question violates our state’s criminal laws,” David wrote to McMahon.
In particular, David reviewed these passages in the light of North Carolina General Statute 14-190.13which prohibits the dissemination of content harmful to minors.
As David noted in his letter to McMahon, state law defines “harmful materials” as follows:
That quality of any material or performance that depicts sexually explicit nudity or sexual activity and which, taken as a whole, has the following characteristics:
a. The average adult applying contemporary community standards would find that the material or performance has a predominant tendency to appeal to a lustful sexual interest in minors; and
b. The average adult applying contemporary community standards would find the depiction of sexually explicit nudity or sexual activity in material or performance to be patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community regarding what is appropriate for minors; and
vs. The material or performance lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors.
As David will later explain on Derrick Anderson’s Facebook show this Wednesday, “[w]We’ve looked at this legislation very carefully, because there are books in the schools, there are books in our libraries, that a lot of parents – and you know I’m a father of three, Derek – that it There are a lot of parents who would look at these materials and say, “I don’t want my child to get these copies of these books and second grade and first grade.”
Below: Derrick Anderson and Ben David on Facebook. The conversation about the investigation begins around 11:40 a.m.
However, David’s office also had to weigh the “defense” for the potentially offensive material provided by SNCG 14-190.15(c)(2)which “explicitly exempts parents, schools, libraries and other government and medical agencies from its jurisdiction”, according to David, whose office found that the law “prevents schools and their employees from being charged under this law, assuming the materials were released as a legitimate function of employment in the school system.
Ultimately, David informed McMahon that his “investigation produced no evidence that the presence of these books was not a legitimate job function.” In other words, his office concluded that the First Amendment protected books — and the teachers and librarians who gave them access.
“What the law says is that the First Amendment spells out very carefully if you are an educational institution, including not only a school but also a library, there is a very high standard as to whether these materials can whether or not to be considered obscene. And you can’t just arrest a teacher or a librarian, have these materials in their possession, or even give them to kids during a lesson,” David told Anderson.
David noted that this conversation took place before the incident last month, where the Proud Boys joined other protesters at the Pine Valley Library – carrying signs accusing the library of providing child pornography – and allegedly attempted to intimidate library patrons and parents who were there for the county-sponsored Pride Storytime event. The NHCSO denied there was any disturbance and county officials said “parents and children were not in danger at any time”.
Related: Officials & Advocates Offer Different Versions After Proud Boys Disrupt Pride Storytime Event
While David told Anderson he shared some of the protesters’ concerns about library equipment, he defended library equipment and staff on legal grounds, saying, “the opinion we gave to Sheriff McMahon prior to this meeting was, even though some who are listening right now may consider it absolutely offensive, it was nonetheless protected speech under the First Amendment, and no one was going to be arrested for these books at the library or in schools.
While the Pride Storytime event took place at a public library, much of the recent attention to young adult literature by right-wing groups in New Hanover County has focused on material available at schools – including protesters at recent Board of Education meetings.
The New Hanover County Schools District offers a policy of reviewing documents that parents find objectionable. Parents are encouraged to complete an online “challenge form” to their principal, “who will forward it to the chair of the school-level Media Technology Advisory Committee so that MTAC can complete the challenge” , as indicated by neighborhood policy.
However, it has become clear that many parents are either dissatisfied with district policy — or, in some cases, have circumvented it entirely in favor of other avenues, including law enforcement and public protest.
Below: Letter from District Attorney Ben David to New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon.