Firing racist Wilmington police officers caught on tape should be only the beginning

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Last week, three Wilmington police officers were fired after being caught on tape making some of the most vile and racist statements imaginable. Unbelievably, their desire to gun down Black people in a race war was just one entry in a litany of shocking and despicable comments. Firing them was a good first step, but we must admit that the problem is far broader. It’s time to unearth the real-life consequences of such racist attitudes.… Read More

James Ferguson II on the meaning, impact and promise of the Racial Justice Act

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  This article was originally published on June 17, 2020 in the NC Policy Watch. When I was a young Black lawyer in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, there was an unwritten rule in North Carolina’s courtrooms: Though race shaped every aspect of the criminal punishment system, we were not to mention it, let alone raise objections to it. Well over a decade before the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed racial discrimination in jury selection, I objected to Black people being … Read More

Landmark N.C. Supreme Court ruling brings death penalty racism into spotlight

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The Center for Death Penalty Litigation’s June 5 2020 Press Release: The North Carolina Supreme Court today issued two landmark civil rights rulings on the Racial Justice Act, clearing the way for a much-needed review of racial discrimination in death penalty cases across the state. The court decided 6-1 Friday that Rayford Burke and Andrew Ramseur, prisoners on North Carolina’s death row, were entitled to hearings where they can present evidence that prosecutors purposefully excluded African American citizens from their … Read More

A poem from death row in honor of Covid-19 first responders

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There have not yet been any reported cases of Coronavirus on North Carolina’s death row, but prisons have emerged as some of the worst hot spots for Covid-19. More than 25,000 cases have so far been diagnosed among U.S. prisoners and the numbers are increasing exponentially. Rayford Burke is 62 years old and has lived on North Carolina’s death row since 1993. In prison, Rayford has taken up writing and become a keen observer of the world. Here we share his most recent work, a poem in honor of Covid-19 first responders.… Read More

A Covid-19 death sentence showcases an inhumane and illogical punishment system

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Last week, the state announced that an unnamed prisoner had become the first person to die from a Covid-19 outbreak at North Carolina Women’s Prison. The person was Faye Brown, and her death is the end of a 45-year story that demonstrates the cruelty and excess of our punishment system. In a humane system, this 67-year-old woman who reformed herself in every way possible would have gotten a second chance at life in the free world. In that world, she would have had at least the possibility of protecting herself from a deadly virus. But in our system, which prides itself on unending punishment at any cost, a life sentence turned into a death sentence.… Read More

NC Supreme Court sends a message to judges: Start taking jury discrimination seriously

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In these days of COVID, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by bad news. But we shouldn’t forget to celebrate good news, and we’ve had a little of that in the past week. On Friday, the North Carolina Supreme Court issued a decision that sends a clear message: North Carolina’s courts must finally begin to take the exclusion of black jurors seriously. The decision says that, when a person on trial suggests that a prosecutor struck a  juror because of the juror’s race, the courts must fully investigate. They must consider the history of disproportionate jury strikes in the county, and compare the treatment of white people and people of color in the jury pool to see if it’s been equal. If these sound like no brainers, that’s because they are. This is the least the courts can do to begin to end the decades-long practice of denying people of color a voice in the criminal punishment system.… Read More

COVID Lessons: Public safety means letting go of extreme punishment

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COVID-19 is teaching society many lessons. One of them is that public safety doesn’t always mean locking people up for as much time as possible. Right now, public safety means letting people go home. With the number of infected prisoners and guards growing quickly, reducing incarcerated populations protects us all — because once the virus spreads inside a prison, it doesn’t stay there. Prisons are like small cities. Many people go in and out every day: staff, defense lawyers, law enforcement, doctors, and many more. If a virus is in a prison, it threatens the free world too. … Read More

In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, let’s deem the death penalty nonessential work

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In the midst of a Coronavirus pandemic, society is forced to decide which work is essential. Across the United States, that question is now being applied to countless enterprises — including the death penalty. Is it essential for states to kill people? Eighteen executions are scheduled between now and the end of the year in Texas, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee. Countless death penalty trials are also planned across the country, including in North Carolina. The courts are likely to call most or all of them off because, right now, if our society wants to kill, we must risk harming innocent people too. That has always been true, but the Coronavirus allows us to see and feel that risk more concretely.… Read More

Even amid the chaos of coronavirus, states still moving away from the death penalty

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This week, some much-needed good news came out of Colorado. Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill ending the death penalty and commuting the sentences of the state’s three remaining death row prisoners. His signature made Colorado the tenth state since 2007 to decide that the death penalty isn’t necessary to maintain public safety and does more to perpetuate injustice than to ensure justice. Right now, with Covid-19 bearing down, most states and local governments are focusing on short-term efforts to cut jail populations and release some of the scores of people who are behind bars only because they can’t afford to pay bail. But Colorado has taken a step at the other end of the spectrum, joining a national movement away from the death penalty.… Read More

Echoes of Central Park 5 in NC: Children were threatened with the execution chamber to force murder confessions; decades later, two remain in prison

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The five boys were 14 and 15 years old when they were taken to the Winston-Salem police station. The cops wanted them to confess to the murder of Nathaniel Jones, a 61-year-old man who’d been beaten, robbed and left tied up on his carport, then died of a heart attack. The boys said they knew nothing about the crime. Detectives separated the children and interrogated them hour after hour, without lawyers or their parents there to help them. Police threatened them and told them that if they confessed, they’d be allowed to go home. One detective described the process of death by lethal injection. “Hold out your arm,” the armed officer said to the child. “That’s the vein.” … Read More

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the more you know about a person, the less likely you are to support their execution; the more you know about the criminal justice system, the less likely you are to support anyone's execution