FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE May 21, 2009
For more information contact:
Rev. William Barber, NC-NAACP (919) 682-4700
Jeremy Collins, NCCM (919) 491-2917
Charmaine Fuller, CJPC (919) 943-5953
NC-NAACP, HK ON J COALITION, NC COALITION FOR A MORATORIUM AND OTHERS TO GENERAL ASSEMBLY: PASS LANDMARK LEGISLATION TO COMBAT RACISM WITHOUT ANY UNDERMINING AMENDMENTS
RALEIGH, NC – Today the Historic Thousands on Jones Street Coalition and the NC Coalition for a Moratorium – with support from recently polled voters—called on North Carolina legislators to pass a clean version of the NC Racial Justice Act, free of amendments that would restart executions before the courts can sort out important legal questions.
“Any attempt by legislators to use the Racial Justice Act—a bill that simply allows defendants facing the death penalty to present evidence of racial bias in their cases—as a pretext to restart executions, is unconscionable,” said NC-NAACP President Rev. William Barber.
A poll conducted last week in Mecklenburg and Pitt Counties by Public Policy Polling shows overwhelming support for the Racial Justice Act, as well as strong support for a bill that exempts people with severe mental illness from the death penalty. Polling in these counties provides a bellwether as to opinions of voters in other parts of the state; Mecklenburg County is North Carolina’s largest, urban county, located in the western part of the state, and Pitt is a large rural county in the east.
- 76% of Mecklenburg County voters said that capital defendants should be able to present evidence, including statistical evidence, of racial bias to the court
- 69% of Pitt County voters said the same
- 63% of Mecklenburg County voters said they did not support the death penalty for people who were seriously mentally ill at the time of the crime
- 58% of Pitt County voters said the same
“The poll reflects what we already know,” said Charmaine Fuller, Executive Director of the Carolina Justice Policy Center.” “North Carolinians support efforts to fight racism in our capital punishment system. They also believe that people who suffer from severe mental illness should not be subjected to the ultimate punishment.”
While executions have been on hold, three African-American death row inmates were exonerated in North Carolina. In all of the cases, at least one of the victims was white. One of them had an all-white jury. A UNC study found that a defendant’s odds of getting the death penalty increase by 3.5 times if the victim was white.
“The legislature need not interfere with the courts,” said NC Coalition for a Moratorium Campaign Coordinator Jeremy Collins. “Before executions are restarted, the legislature must address a broken death penalty system that risks executing innocent and severely mentally ill people, and one that uses race as a deciding factor in whether someone lives or dies,” added Collins. “All we are asking is that efforts to reduce wrongful executions be considered and passed on their own merits.”