Civil rights groups fight 'Racial Justice Act' repeal

theGRIO REPORT - Civil rights groups including the NAACP and People of Faith Against the Death Penalty (PFADP) are fighting against the repeal of the Racial Justice Act of 2009...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Civil rights groups including the NAACP and People of Faith Against the Death Penalty (PFADP) are fighting against the repeal of the Racial Justice Act of 2009.

The ‘No Discriminatory Purpose in the Death Penalty’ NC Senate Bill 9 was approved on Monday by North Carolina senators on a 27-17 vote.

The bill has been referred to as the Racial ‘Injustice’ Act, because it would make it more difficult for defendants to prove that racial bias played a role in their sentencing by requiring prosecutors to have to openly admit racial discrimination.

Stephen Dear, executive director of PFADP, has his doubts on any prosecutor uttering such a confession.

“That has never happened in North Carolina and we believe it never will,” he told theGrio.

Community leaders, like Dear, were more than pleased when the landmark legislation was signed in 2009. Gov. Bev Perdue passed it into a law that would prohibit the use of race to determine whether someone faces the death penalty and allows the use of statistical data to establish discrimination based on race.

“I have always been a supporter of the death penalty, but I have always believed it must be carried out fairly,” Perdue said in a press release.

She said the law would help maintain fairness when North Carolina “hands down its harshest punishment to our most heinous criminals.”

In a state where African-Americans comprise 21.5 percent of the overall population and where defendants with white victims are 2.6 times more likely to receive the death penalty than if their victims are African-American, the Racial Justice Act was viewed by many as a step in the right direction. (Currently, Kentucky is the only other state with a racial justice law).

But, Senate Bill 9 just may change all that.

“The passage of Senate Bill 9 last night…sends us back to the days of no check on all-white juries, of no checks on prosecutors wearing noose lapel pins in the courtroom and no checks on racial epithets in jury rooms.”

Those words from Dear were sent in a letter to Perdue on Wednesday.

The governor has 30 days to act.

Even still, some state lawmakers maintain that the bill is more like an alteration.

“This is not a repeal of the Racial Justice Act,” Republican Sen. Thom Goolsby said.

“It’s a reform, a modification.”

Sen. Josh Stein, a Democrat, disagrees. “This is an utter and total repeal,” he said.

“It’s not a modification- it’s a whole sale repeal,” Dear explained. He said the only people arguing the contrary are some prosecutors, district attorneys and those who do not support the Racial Justice Act.

PFADP has been working closely with the state chapter of the NAACP.

As stated in a letter from the NC NAACP: “To deny the courts this tool [the Racial Justice Act] to measure the impact of racial bias on a death penalty trial is akin to denying a doctor the ability to measure a patient’s blood pressure to diagnose her patient’s condition. Racial bias is a fact that we ignore at our own peril.”