Gov. Perdue Signs North Carolina's Racial Justice Act--NAACP Commends Passage

Governor Beverly Purdue of North Carolina signed the state's Racial Justice Act into law on August 11, concluding a long period of legislative action surrounding this death penalty statute.  Gov. Purdue said in a news release, "I have always been a supporter of death penalty, but I have always believed it must be carried out fairly.  The Racial Justice Act ensures that when North Carolina hands down our state’s harshest punishment to our most heinous criminals – the decision is based on the facts and the law, not racial prejudice.”  The law allows pre-trial defendants and death-row inmates to challenge racial bias in the death penalty system through the use of statistical studies.  Prosecutors would then have the opportunity to rebut the claim that the statistical disparities indicate racial bias.  If proven, a judge could overturn the death sentence or prevent prosecutors from seeking the death penalty.

The state conference of the NAACP issued a statement, commending the sponsors of the bill and the governor.  They cautioned, "This law does not assure racial justice, but it can help bring it about. The law is one of the most powerful legitimate weapons we can use to rid our state of the criminal justice practice of racial bias.  It does not address the roots of the problem – stereotypes, fear and even racism – but it is a start."

("Perdue signs Racial Justice Act," WRAL News, Aug. 11, 2009; see video of signing; "Statement by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, at the Signing of the Racial Justice Act by Governor Perdue," NAACP-NC press release, Aug. 11, 2009; see entire press release below).  See Race and Recent Legislation.

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE

NORTH CAROLINA STATE CONFERENCE

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 11, 2009 

Contact:  Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President, 919-394-8137

                 Mrs. Amina J. Turner, Executive Director, 919-682-4700

                                                Statement by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, at the Signing of the Racial Justice Act by Governor Perdue

            We, the NAACP, stand here today to commend the sponsors of the Racial Justice Act (State) Rep. Larry Womble, (State) Rep. Earlene Parmon and (State) Senator Floyd McKissick and their stalwart commitment to the Racial Justice Act even when sometimes they were told to pull the bill or weaken it.  We stand shoulder-to-shoulder to commend every advocate group and religious body who worked for years to see this law passed. We stand as the oldest largest civil rights organization in the state and country to commend Governor Perdue today for signing this act into law. 

             Today on August 11th, Alex Haley, the author of Roots was born.  One of his famous quotes was “either we deal with reality or reality will deal with us.”  This Racial Justice Act is not about trying to let criminals go as some have absurdly suggested.  It does not open up old wounds for victims because both proponents and opponents support the Racial Justice Act as well as families who have been victims of horrendous murders.  Anyone who uses this language to speak against the bill is wrongfully maligning a good piece of legislation which looks squarely at the reality and the empirical data which shows how race impacts the application of the death penalty. 

             Since the (United States) Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976, 129 men on death rows have been exonerated, 70 from the south, including North Carolina.  In the past two years, three black North Carolinians – Jonathan Hoffman, Glen Edward Chapman, and Levon ‘Bo’ Jones – were exonerated after serving more than 41 years on Death Row collectively.  A fourth, Darryl Hunt, was exonerated in 2004.  James Johnson was recently exonerated after spending 39 months in jail for a murder and rape the State knew he did not commit.  That makes five black men from N.C. in five years, who spent collectively over 60 years in prison, found innocent and were victims of prosecutorial misconduct---the deadliest form of racial profiling.

             The injustice within the application of the death penalty is pandemic.  By passing the Racial Justice Act we have infused antibiotic treatment to a system that is diseased with the infection of racism. The opportunity to correct a longstanding injustice for racial and ethnic minorities is here in North Carolina with the Racial Justice Act.

             Exhaustive studies by the Death Penalty Information Center conclude, “Race plays a decisive role in the question of who lives and dies by execution in this country. Race influences which cases are chosen for capital prosecution and which prosecutors are allowed to make those decisions. Likewise, race affects the makeup of the juries, which determine the sentence. Racial effects have been shown ... in virtually every state for which disparities have been estimated and over an extensive period of time…….. Nationwide, over 52% on death rows are African American and Hispanic.”

             The NAACP is against the death penalty but this law can be and is supported by proponents of the death penalty who recognize that we must have as a core value the assurance that the utilization of race is not a factor in sentencing.  That we must have not one form of sentencing in Chapel Hill and another form of sentencing in Winston Salem; one form of sentencing for those who are black and another form of sentencing for those who are white; one form of sentencing for those who are poor and another form for those who are wealthy. 

             With the signing of this bill into law, the only persons who have to worry about the application of the Racial Justice Act are those who would use race.  If race is or has never been used then the remedies of the law will never be activated.  Let us all report correctly:  the law provides a potential remedy only for those who can conclusively demonstrate to a judge that race played a role in their case.

             This law does not assure racial justice, but it can help bring it about. The law is one of the most powerful legitimate weapons we can use to rid our state of the criminal justice practice of racial bias.  It does not address the roots of the problem – stereotypes, fear and even racism – but it is a start.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. For more than 100 years, its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.  For more information, call the State Office at 1-866-NC-NAACP or e-mail us at [email protected]

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