This morning, Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ), N.C. Coalition for a Moratorium, the N.C. NAACP and others gathered to call for the removal of an amendment to the state’s Racial Justice Act that would effectively restart executions in the state. The groups highlighted the popular support across the state for a racial justice bill, and advocated a “clean” bill without the death penalty amendment.
Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) introduced the offending amendment, which would resolve several legal hurdles to the resumption of executions. The demonstrators' press release hkonj-press-release ,which was delivered in front of the General Assembly building, called the addition “unconscionable,” as the Racial Justice Act was meant to correct flaws in the execution process.
The Racial Justice Act would allow the challenge of death penalty cases in which race was thought to have been a factor. A UNC study found that defendants were 3.5 times as likely to get the death penalty if the victim was white. Since the beginning of the death penalty moratorium in North Carolina, three African-American men have been exonerated. In all those cases, at least one of the victims was white.
Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the N.C. NAACP, spoke about the contrasting experiences of the Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of rape, who were later exonerated before trial, and the death row inmates, who were eventually found not guilty. While the Duke players spent a short time in jail, the African-American men served combined 41 years on death row.
“It’s not a crying shame,” said Rev. Dr. Barber. “It’s a damn shame.”
Sarah Preston, lobbyist for the N.C. ACLU, noted that her group and the NAACP oppose the death penalty on principle. But if there were going to be executions, she said she wanted the system to be color-blind and as fair as possible
“We don’t want to restart executions until the effects of the bill are in place,” Preston said.