Petition to End the Death Penalty in North Carolina

Petition to End the Death Penalty in North Carolina

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Jamie Smith started this petition to NC Legislation and

Petition to End the Death Penalty in North Carolina

Rev. Jamie Smith

The question was cautiously presented to me. Do you think the state of North Carolina would must the courage and follow suit after the state of Virginia abolished its death penalty? I chuckled lightly. My reaction was an involuntary one, due in part to anxiety, but mostly due to my familiarity with this state’s history.

To be clear, a lot of people make the overt mistake of believing that North Carolina is a progressive southern state, perhaps this is because of the word, “North,” attached to its name. In any event, statistically speaking, North Carolina is more aligned with Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi as one of the most backward and bombastic states in the union due to it being committed to cloaking the issues of race.

In 2012, the then Governor, Pat McCrory made the executive decision not to expand Medicaid. It wouldn’t have cost the state anything. In fact, it would’ve been a boost for the local economy. It was rejected because it would have benefited the black and brown communities. We are now one of the worst insured states in the country.

Last year the NC Legislature passed an omnibus voter suppression bill, which a federal appeals court later determined was drafted “with surgical like precision,” to solely disenfranchise black voters. Such a dastardly move didn’t gesture “progressive state” to me, but it did indicate just how perilously present systemic racism is in the Tarheel state.

In 2009, North Carolina passed the Racial Justice Act (RJA). Legislation that would allow prisoners who’d been sentenced to death to use statistical data on racial bias to challenge their convictions. At first glance it would appear that “good old progressive,” North Carolina was actually ahead of the curve on issues regarding race. The first four prisoners who used statistical data on racial bias in court won. It was found that the judicial process was in fact inundated with racial bias and the plaintiffs were granted relief thereof.

In 2013 the North Carolina General Assembly repealed the Racial Justice Act even as cases alleging racial bias were pending in its courts. A good question would be: Why would NC lawmakers repeal legislation tey recently passed . . . legislation that was proven to be successful? Answer: Because it worked. In fact, it worked good enough to unearth the long standing sanctioned systemic racial bias, firmly rooted within the criminal justice system. State legislators had no real intention of doing anything that might help prisoners, even when it was clear their rights had been violated. It was a mere publicity stunt. They thought it would be a good look in these progressive times. When it was revealed that the RJA was actually effective, they couldn’t scurry back to Jones Street quick enough to take another vote.

The Racial Justice Act was repealed retroactively and prosecutors fought very vigorously to keep the statistical evidence of racial bias out of court. Wonder why? The lawmakers can’t be blamed for believing that the RJA wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. There was absolutely nothing in North Carolina law or in the history of American Jurisprudence that would’ve led them to believe the RJA would be successful.

The United States Supreme Court’s 1987 decision in McClesky v. Kemp stated that racial bias was “an inevitable part of our criminal justice system.” This ruling emboldened prosecutors to disregard the rights of black defendants and black defendants knew the doors to our nation’s highest court were closed to them.

As a former member of the Confederacy, North Carolina has the sole distinction of being home to the only coup-d’état in US history, better known as the Wilmington Massacre of 1898, an event that filled the Cape Fear River with scores of black bodies. The chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party openly declare, “North Carolina is a good white man’s state and white men will rule it,” invoking whites to rally against “negro domination” and in support of white supremacy by depriving blacks of political power. This coup was backed at the time by prominent democrats like soon to be governor Charles Aycock and Josephus Daniels of the Raleigh News and Observer.

Slavery is not ancient history. So it comes as no surprise the state of North Carolina has always sought to sustain white supremacy by enacting laws designed to ensure that even after the emancipation black Americans would become and remain a permanent underclass. These codes never went away, they’ve simply evolved with a real effect into the industrial machinery of mass incarceration and death sentences.

From the end of the Civil War, well into the twentieth century it was business as usual for white juries to send black men and boys to death row beckoning their speedy executions based on false, flimsy, perjured, and oftentimes with no evidence at all. While rollicking white “mobs” lynched black neighbors with impunity – without any fear of being arrested, prosecuted, or convicted. In as much, North Carolina has become the cataclysmic apparatus for racial terrorism out of the dire demand for an institutional structure to kill its black citizens.

I suppose most people are under the unilateral assumption that the system is broken. I disagree. The system is functioning just as it was designed to function. The criminal justice system in North Carolina operates on a rigid model of deep repression and subjugation which calls for a racial animus that is never in short supply. On the topic of repression we need not dare look at the regimes in Iran, North Korea, and Syria without first looking at the “progressive state.”

From 1619 until present day racism has been instrumental in ripping us apart. Whether it was the vile institution of slavery, Jim Crow, economic discrimination, or the continued undervaluation of black lives, (Breonna Taylor, George Floyd) and unfortunately the list goes on. The Civil Rights Act of the 1960s has not been effective in its entirety as deep-seated racism remains an intentional aspect of American life. Nowhere is the “bell ringing” more true than here in North Carolina.

Progressiveness is not a state of mind, it’s a state of action. If the state of North Carolina decides to make the self-indoctrinated motto “progressive state,” a vivid reality rather than a myth – if it inclines to accept the challenge of creating real unity that reflects the beliefs of all while understanding that justice and respect are the conduits to real change that will allow us to heal and end the suffering of historical and generational discrimination. If so, then what better place to start than by ending capital punishment.

In Conclusion

It is disingenuous for North Carolina to patronize itself as an openly progressive state when it refuses to come to terms with its less than stellar history of systematic racialized oppression, especially within its criminal justice system. We not only need proper prison and police reform, we need authentic race reform. The path may not be easy, but it is time. It is time for real truth, equal justice, fundamental fairness, and reconciliation on every side. It is time to name and confront the institutions and individuals that have made and continue to make racism happen. It is time for the Council of State and the General Assembly to show and prove that black lives matter and quit using the slogan when it fosters the opportunity to get black votes.

In answering the question: Do I think North Carolina will abolish the death penalty? I answer, anything is possible, but I doubt it. It would make sense from a humanitarian perspective and it would certainly be cost effective. The death penalty has little to no deterrent effect on crime based upon mounting statistical evidence. The death penalty is archaic, arbitrary, racially biased, and a symbolic tool of white supremacy. The best argument against the death penalty is precisely the real one: Capital punishment is nothing but institutionalized vengeance and anyone who tells you different is a liar. Vengeance is not only obscene, it is a dangerous basis for a legal system.

30 have signed. Let’s get to 50!
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