Several black leaders, community groups, and legislatures voiced outrage when the North Carolina Senate did not take up the North Carolina Racial Justice Act bill before adjourning last week. As Facing South previously reported, the North Carolina House approved the Racial Justice Act in 2007, and numerous attempts have been made to have this bill heard in the state Senate this year.
Bill sponsors Rep. Larry Womble and Rep. Earline Parmon sent out a scathing press release Friday blasting Senate Democrats for not passing the bill, stating that Senate killed the act by failing to deal with race and fairness during an election year and by blocking a hearing on this bill. According to their press release:
While the battle has been lost until the next legislative session, state legislators, the NC Legislative Black Caucus and numerous coalitions including the NC NAACP led coalition of eighty-five statewide progressive organizations will continue to fight for this vital legislation in a new and improved form in the next legislative session.
Unfortunately, this will not ease the devastation that will occur if executions resume in North Carolina before reforms such as the NC Racial Justice Act are enacted.
If passed in North Carolina - a state with a death row population that is 60 percent black despite the black population in the state being only 20 percent - the bill would have been a landmark in North Carolina's continuing debate over the death penalty. It would allow defendants in death-penalty cases to use statistics to try to show that race played a factor in the application of the death penalty.
"We've had three black men released from death row," the Rev. William Barber, the president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, told the Winston-Salem Journal. "I believe that if we had had three wealthy men, three white men, exonerated like this, everybody would be declaring that our justice system is broken. And we've got to stop this in North Carolina."