Religious leaders take on repeal of Racial Justice Act

The seal in the North Carolina Legislative Building
June 14, 2011 10:53:42 AM PDT
Religious leaders from across the state gathered in Raleigh Tuesday to voice opposition to a proposal to repeal North Carolina's Racial Justice Act.

The act, passed by the General Assembly in 2009, allows death row inmates to challenge their sentences if they can show racial bias. Supporters say those inmates are still held accountable if judges decide to reduce their sentences to life terms.

"This is not letting anybody off the hook; it is simply saying that if discrimination is there, they should be moved from death row to life imprisonment without parole," Rep. Paul Luebke said.

Now several Democrats in the Legislature stand with religious leaders, as they criticize the lawmakers behind a movement to repeal the act.

"It is not merely a legal or procedural issue," one clergyman said. "Preserving the NC Racial Justice act is a moral issue."

"House Bill 615 is a bill to actually eliminate and destroy the Racial Justice Act as it is," said Forsyth County Representative Larry Womble who supports the act. "It's beyond me why this bill, 615, now called Senate Bill 9, is coming before us. It's not wanted, it's not merited."

But Seth Edwards of the state Conference of District Attorneys who supports repeal, saying he's prosecuted and defended people of all races.

"Now ladies and gentlemen, when a case is declared capital, prosecutors do not see color," he said last month during a subcommittee hearing on repeal. "We see brutal killings. I am personally offended when someone alleges that I see color in any case, not just a death penalty case."

North Carolina's NAACP has said the act was hailed nationwide as a "major breakthrough in exposing the racism that pervades southern courthouses" when it was passed, and it should not be repealed.

"When all North Carolinians of good will should be collaborating on creating good jobs and a fair budget, protecting education, and fixing our broken criminal justice system, these extremists in the General Assembly, have come out squarely against racial justice," offered NC NAACP President Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II in a statement.

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