Earlier today, in a move that was expected, Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed the repeal of the Racial Justice Act. It was the right thing to do.
Despite racism's continued effects across the state and country, the GOP-controlled N.C. General Assembly thought repealing the two-year old law was a good thing. And it might have been good — for those leaders' reelection bids. But it was a terrible thing for N.C. justice.
A look at North Carolina's death row population shows a need for the act. Of the 158 people currently on death row here, 83 are black, 63 are white, eight are Native American, and four are listed as "other." According to the U.S. Census Bureau, African Americans make up 21 percent of the state's population.
In a statement Purdue issued earlier today on her veto, she justified both her support of the death penalty and her opposition to the the repeal of the Racial Justice Act. Here's the statement in its entirety:
I am — and always will be — a strong supporter of the death penalty. I firmly believe that some crimes are so heinous that no other punishment is adequate. As long as I am Governor, I am committed to ensuring that the death penalty remains a viable punishment option in North Carolina in appropriate cases.”
However, because the death penalty is the ultimate punishment, it is essential that it be carried out fairly and that the process not be infected with prejudice based on race. I signed the Racial Justice Act into law two years ago because it ensured that racial prejudice would not taint the application of the death penalty.”
I am vetoing Senate Bill 9 for the same reason that I signed the Racial Justice Act two years ago: it is simply unacceptable for racial prejudice to play a role in the imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina.”
Finally, it is important to be clear that the Racial Justice Act does not allow anyone to be released from prison or seek parole. Both my own legal counsel and legal experts from across the State have assured me that even if an inmate succeeds on a claim under the Racial Justice Act, his sole remedy is life in prison without the possibility of parole — and even that would only occur if a judge first finds that racial discrimination played a significant role in the application of the death penalty.
To some, the Racial Justice Act is an injustice to crime victims. But injustice is injustice, whether to victims of crime or to those falsely convicted. After all, if North Carolina was so sure its justice system was problem free, would we need a state-sponsored Innocence Inquiry Commission?
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