The North Carolina Racial Justice Act
What is the Racial Justice Act?
North Carolina took a big step forward in its efforts to eradicate racism in our justice system with a newly enacted law, The NC Racial Justice Act. The law will allow people facing the death penalty to present evidence of racial bias, including statistics, in court. No one, supporters or opponents of capital punishment, wants racial discrimination to be a factor in the courtroom.
You can read the act here
Why did we need the Racial Justice Act in the first place?
To ensure the fairness and integrity of our system, and to help prevent more innocent African-American defendants from being wrongly sentenced to death. In the last two years, three African-American inmates were exonerated from North Carolina’s death row. The Racial Justice Act helps ensure that no one is sentenced to death based on the color of their skin, or the skin color of the victim.
A recent comprehensive study on race and the death penalty in North Carolina found that the odds of getting a death sentence increase three and a half times if the victim is white rather than a person of color. (“Race and the Death Penalty in North Carolina” Dr. Isaac Unah, Professor John C. Boger, UNC-Chapel Hill, April 16, 2001). Similar findings exist in many other studies across the country.
Individual cases bear this out, especially with regard to the race of the victim. Two clear examples are those of Robert Bacon and Kenneth Rouse:
Robert Bacon was sentenced to death by an all-white jury in Onslow County in 1991. Not long before Bacon was to be executed, a woman who sat on his jury came forward and revealed that the jury made derogatory racial comments during deliberations and sentenced him to death in large part because of their racist views. In his sentencing hearing, jurors held it against Bacon that he was romantically involved with a white woman. In his trial, jurors made racist jokes. Bacon was granted clemency days before his scheduled execution in 2001.
Kenneth Rouse is an African-American man who was sentenced to death in Randolph County by an all-white jury. One member of the jury was an admitted racist and believes that “black men rape white women so they can brag to their friends.” The juror admitted in a sworn affidavit that “blacks do not care about living as much as whites do.” The juror routinely referred to African-Americans as “n------s,” and stated that “bigotry” was influential in his decision to vote for death. The juror admitted that he lied in order to sit on the jury. Kenneth Rouse is still on death row.