Until now, I've kept my peace about the Racial Justice Act.
The new law gives a judge the ability to overturn a death sentence if the defendant can prove racial bias.
I don't have a beef with that aspect of the law. North Carolina prosecutors pursue the death penalty zealously and don't always wear the blindfold of Lady Justice. A 2001 statewide study found black defendants who killed whites were 3.4 times more likely to get the death penalty than those who killed nonwhites.
Still, the Racial Justice Act ultimately upholds the principle that the state should put people to death. The goal instead should be to eliminate the death penalty altogether.
Capital punishment does not deter crime. If so, Texas would be the safest state in the U.S.
When states execute inmates, they are only satisfying society's lust for revenge, nothing more. They are engaging in a practice abandoned long ago by the rest of the Western world and only carried out in places Americans find lacking in human rights: China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea and others.
The Racial Justice Act, by allowing that certain people should not be put to death, implies that other people should.
In fact, conservative legislators tried and failed to amend the act to allow the state's death penalty to kick back into gear after being stalled since 2006.
But death penalty opponents sustained a setback when the N.C. Supreme Court ruled in May that doctors could participate in executions.
If someone can explain to me how helping to kill an otherwise healthy person is in line with the Hippocratic oath of "do no harm," I'd like to hear it.
I believe the Racial Justice Act could have a positive effect, mostly on the front end of a case. I think it might cause prosecutors to make double-sure they are pursuing death for reasons of justice and nothing else.
This will affect things such as jury selection: An all-white jury won't fly anymore when the defendant is black. Also, prosecutors might think a little more about the evidence they seek to introduce or block.
I don't believe the State Bar is filled with prosecutors eager to throw the book at black men on purely racial grounds. Some black folks believe just that.
I think a likelier scenario is that in high-profile cases - like capital cases - lawyers are swept up in public fervor and do not always take the deliberate, fair approach justice demands.
And the act will not prevent people who want their blood from getting it. The law would probably not apply in cut-and-dry capital cases such as that of Kevin and Tilmon Golphin, who were sentenced in 1998 for murdering Highway Patrol Trooper Ed Lowry and Cumberland County sheriff's deputy David Hathcock. (Kevin Golphin's sentence was commuted to life in prison because of a change in federal law banning the execution of people younger than 18 at the time of their crime.)
Death penalty opponents have cheered the Racial Justice Act. But ultimately, the law ratifies, in part, a practice that is fundamentally wrong.
Columnist Myron B. Pitts can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3559.