RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Leaders and representatives of civil rights organizations assembled on the steps of the Wake County Courthouse to announce voter mobilization campaigns to empower voters to demand equity, justice and change in Wake County's criminal legal system, focusing on the Democratic primary for Wake County's district attorney.
"We, the people have the power to say who we, the people want to hold this very important office, this power that they have," said Diana Powell, executive director of Justice Served North Carolina. "We, the people have the power to put the right person in that seat. It must be without prejudice or malice or without personal interest. Honesty is the key. We, the people must exercise our right to vote with power."
According to Daryl Atkinson, co-director of Forward Justice Action Network, this office remains critical for the future of community members, specifically ethnic minorities, who are more likely to face arrest than their White counterparts.
"The district attorney is one of the most important stakeholders in our criminal legal system," Atkinson said. "They can either be a change agent for good or a change agent for harm. And we are looking for a change agent for good, and I'm imploring people in this county to get active and come out and vote May 17."
Many organizers demanded the elected district attorney make concrete actions toward ending racial disparities in policing, charges and arrests, with some including Atkinson criticizing what he called lip service given by the incumbent, Lorrin Freeman.
"We have had a district attorney's office that was blind to the disparate impact and touch that law enforcement inside of Wake County has with Black and brown people," said Dawn Blagrove, executive director of Emancipate Votes. "We have had a district attorney's office who is unwilling to acknowledge the over-policing in our community, and we're tired of it."
According to ACLU data ranging from 2010 to 2018, Black individuals in Wake County are 3.4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than White people. Black residents make up 21% of Wake County's population in 2021, according to the U.S. Census.
Blagrove said desired priorities for the district attorney include not prosecuting minor marijuana charges, cracking down on unlawful policing practices, not seeking the death penalty, bail reform and focusing on communities rather than arrests.
"We need a DA that is committed to restorative change And using trauma-informed practices to keep people out of the criminal justice system instead of throwing more people in," Blagrove said.
Several speakers emphasized the power held by the district attorney. Powell emphasized community members must vote for this powerful position as the district attorney has the power to choose what cases to prosecute or dismiss.
In addition to the position of the district attorney, Marcus Bass, executive director of Advance Carolina, highlighted the importance of the sheriff and district court judge positions for voters.
In closing the news conference, Blagrove emphasized that voters must use their power to vote to ensure the power of the district attorney's office is used as needed.
"If they are using their power to disenfranchise you, to decimate your communities, to over-police our children and to make sure the American Dream is out of reach for Black and brown people in Wake County, then they aren't using your power the way you need them to use it," Blagrove said.