Religious leaders involved with the Carrboro, N.C.-based People of Faith Against the Death Penalty are speaking out against a bill they say would effectively repeal 2009’s Racial Justice Act. The bill was filed by Republicans Justin Burr (Montgomery), Sarah Stevens (Alleghany, Surry), Dan Ingle (Alamance) and Paul Stam (Wake) in the North Carolina House on Monday — the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, the organization points out.
From a release:
“North Carolina has a history of racial epithets in capital jury rooms, all-white juries clearly valuing the lives of white victims more than black victims, and innocent minority defendants being sentenced to die,” said the Rev. Gail D. McAfee of Fayetteville. “To take away the protection of the Racial Justice Act is to turn your back on fairness and equal justice under law. The fact that this bill was introduced on the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. shows the kind of racial insensitivity that the Racial Justice Act protects against.”
“This new bill will put a grinding halt to the attempt that’s being made to address the real and insidious effects of racial bias in our state’s courts and death penalty cases,” said the Rev. Joshua Bower, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Whiteville. “Racial bias has absolutely no place in the death penalty and this new bill will, effectively, remove such protections.”
‘James Crow, Jr.’ Act
The new bill is called the Act to Reform the Racial Justice Act of 2009.
“They should call the new bill the James Crow, Jr. Act,” said Stephen Dear, executive director of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, a national nonprofit organization based in Carrboro, NC. “This new bill’s supporters 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.”
In February a Forsyth County, NC Superior Court ruled the Racial Justice Act constitutional.
The organization says more than 600 religious leaders across the state have endorsed a letter in favor of the Racial Justice Act.