April 5, 2011 (Also see info on 30 min. conference call for April 12th below - all info left without links below for easy passing on your own edited version to friends & co-activists)
Take Action on New Bill to Repeal NC Racial Justice Act
Yesterday—on the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.—North Carolina legislators introduced a bill that guts the NC Racial Justice Act, literally repealing it if it were to pass.
Take action now. Click here to instantly send custom messages to your legislators to stop this bill, HB615. Look below for two important announcements about press conferences in your area and a statewide telephone/Skype conference call open to all about the RJA.
North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act is a model law for addressing the effects of racial bias in the death penalty system. Passed and signed in 2009 the RJA allows for court reviews of allegations of racial bias in death penalty cases. About 150 people on death row have filed claims under the Racial Justice Act. If racial bias can be proven, the defendant will have his sentence converted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In February a Forsyth County Superior Court found the act to be constitutional. The Racial Justice Act was enacted with support by a majority of North Carolinians: 58% of polled registered voters said defendants should not be executed if a judge finds that racial bias played a role in their trials. (Public Policy Polling, November 2010). Failing in their challenges to the RJA in the courtroom, the NC Association of District Attorneys last week announced repealing the RJA was one of their top priorities.
There’s no need to change a thing. We need the RJA now as much as ever. Consider:
NC’s Death Penalty System: All-White Juries Valuing White Lives Most
After the passage of the RJA, unprecedented comprehensive studies were undertaken that reveal strong and pervasive discrimination in NC capital cases. The race of the victim is often a driving factor in death penalty cases. A defendant’s odds of getting the death penalty increase significantly when the victim is white. Qualified black jurors are being excluded from jury service at more than twice the rate of white jurors, according to a study by Michigan State University. That exclusion effectively disenfranchises black jurors from their rights to participate on capital juries in their communities. For those currently on death row, 33 cases had all-white juries and 40 had juries with a single person of color.
NC’s Death Penalty System: Sentencing Innocent Minorities to Death
In the modern death penalty era seven innocent men have been exonerated from North Carolina’s death row. Five are black, one is Latino, and one is white. None has been offered compensation by the state. The white exoneree sued the state in civil court and won a settlement.
NC’s Death Penalty System: Racial Epithets, Noose Lapel Pins
Other death penalty cases in North Carolina in recent years involved prosecutors celebrating death sentences by distributing lapel pins in the shape of a noose and white jurors using racial epithets to argue for death sentences. The historical influence of racism is so strong in North Carolina that the US Justice Department must pre-approve legislative district maps.
So what? Say this new bill’s sponsors. The primary sponsors of the RJA repeal bill are Justin Burr (R-Albemarle), Sarah Stevens (R-Mt. Airy), Dan Ingle (R-Burlington), and Paul “Skip” Stam (R-Apex). Their bill literally repeals the RJA in section 2.
Reps. Burr, Ingle, Stam, and Stevens, seem to want to take us back to the days of noose lapel pins in the courtroom and racial epithets in the jury room. They seem to like the days of no checks on all-white juries. They seem to like that 76 percent of all people executed by the state of North Carolina have been black. They seem to like the fact that defendants who kill white victims are three times more likely to receive a death sentence than those who kill non-whites.
Setting the Clock Back to the Worst Supreme Court Decision
Reps. Burr, Ingle, Stam, and Stevens and those who support this bill want to set the clock back three decades to the days of McCleskey v. Kemp when there were virtually no protections against the insidious effects of racial bias. They refer to McCleskey in the first sentence of the bill. The 1987 McCleskey decision to uphold a Georgia death sentence says the "racially disproportionate impact" in Georgia’s death penalty indicated by a comprehensive scientific study was not enough to overturn the guilty verdict without showing a "racially discriminatory purpose."
McCleskey has been called by legal scholars one of the worst Supreme Court decisions since World War II. New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis writes that it “effectively condones the expression of racism in a profound aspect of our law.” The McCleskey case was the one case late Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell said he wanted to change his vote in.
But ignoring the effects of racial bias and outright expressions of racism is what Reps. Stevens, Stam, Burr and Ingle and this bill’s supporters want to do. Ironically, the Supreme Court in the McCleskey ruling said it is up to legislatures to address racial bias in the death penalty system. That’s what the RJA does—and that’s what the supporters of this new bill want to undo.
Don’t let them. Speak up today. Contact your legislators right now, http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/1576/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=6422
Conference Call April 12
Join PFADP staff and attorney and RJA expert Tye Hunter on a 30-minute statewide conference call and Skype conference on Tuesday, April 12 at 7:30 pm to learn more about the RJA, get questions answered, and learn what you can do. To reserve a spot on the call email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 919-933-7567 and we will send you details.
Help with Upcoming NC Press Conferences for the RJA
PFADP is organizing more press conferences featuring local religious leaders speaking up for the RJA. The next one is in Shallotte, NC on Thursday, April 7 at 11 a.m. at St. Brendan the Navigator Catholic Church. Others are scheduled for Oxford, Hope Mills, Raleigh and possibly other NC cities. If you know religious leaders in these areas or want to help organize such a press conference in your area contact email@example.com or call 919-933.7567.
People of Faith Against the Death Penalty
110 W. Main St., Suite 2-G, Carrboro NC 27510
Be sure to see just below for items on Glenn Edward Chapman (NC Exoneree) as well as the ACTIONS happening in Texas right now & calls needed there...
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