The reverberating frustrations among minorities were evident again Tuesday as the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice held its first of three public hearings.
"I think it was a great comment session," Kerwin Pittman, a community activist and member of the task force, told ABC11. "What really rings clear to my mind is one of the steps that we must do is look at the past to move forward."
The 23-member task force meets every two weeks as laid out in the Executive Order signed by Gov. Roy Cooper in June.
"George Floyd was not the first victim of excessive force," Cooper said at the time. "Too many other people of color have been harassed, harmed, injured or killed. Added together, their lives and their stories have made this spotlight too bright to ignore."
Cooper further acknowledged that within North Carolina and across the country, members of the Black community are disproportionately victimized by the criminal justice system -- often unfairly. He cited multiple statistics, including that Black adults, are nearly six times more likely to be incarcerated than White adults nationwide, and Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement officers.
In addition, Cooper said that when convicted of the same crime, Black men receive, on average, a prison sentence 20 percent longer than White men.
"These numbers are stark. They tell a story that Black Americans have been living and telling us every day - even when there's no spotlight," Cooper said, acknowledging the trauma that incidents such as Floyd's death inflict upon the Black community. "It's important to recognize these numbers and identify the disparities. But it's even more important and challenging to do something about it."
The Task Force has 23 members from a variety of social, economic, religious, geographic and professional backgrounds:
- Anita Earls, Associate Justice of the NC Supreme Court
- Josh Stein, NC Attorney General
- Tarrah Callahan, Executive Director of Conservatives for Criminal Justice Reform
- Brooke Locklear Clark, District Court Judge
- James E. Clemmons, Jr., Richmond County Sheriff
- Mitch Colvin, Mayor of Fayetteville
- C.J. Davis, Chief of Durham Police Department
- James D. Gailliard, North Carolina General Assembly representative for District 25
- Billy Gartin, Sergeant for the Raleigh Police Department
- Michael Hawkins, Transylvania County Commissioner
- Henderson Hill, Senior Counsel of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project
- Erik A. Hooks, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.
- John Ingram, Sheriff of Brunswick County
- John Letteney, Chief of Apex Police Department
- Mujtaba Mohammed, North Carolina State Senator representing District 38
- Marcia Morey, North Carolina General Assembly Representative for House District 30
- Mary Pollard, Executive Director of the North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services Inc
- Kerwin Pittman, Founder and Executive Director of Recidivism Reduction Education Program Services
- Ronnie Smith, President-Elect of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners
- Alan Thornburg, Superior Court Judge for Buncombe County
- Talley Wells, Executive Director of the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities
- Angelica Wind, Executive Director of Our Voice, Inc.
- James Raeford Woodall Jr., District Attorney for the 18th Prosecutorial District in Chatham and Orange counties
Per the Executive Order, Cooper expects a full report with actionable recommendations by December 1.