Thursday, April 07, 2011


By Khalilah Sabra, MAS Freedom

Slavery was one of this country's most evil sins, corrupting the Constitution at its conception. It took more than 75 years after the Constitution was adopted, and a brutal war, before civil rights amendments were attached to the Bill of Rights. It took another hundred years after that before laws were passed outlawing racial discrimination in employment, housing, public education and accommodations, and voting. Despite enormous progress, however, the promise of fair and equal treatment for people of color remains frustratingly elusive.
Throughout history our leaders have denounced slavery and praised the struggles of slaves and their supporters in their fight to be free.
In a speech on July 8, 2003, George Bush commented that slavery and racism continue to shape American society: My nation's journey toward justice has not been easy and it is not over. The racial bigotry fed by slavery did not end with slavery or with segregation. And many of the issues that still trouble America have roots in the bitter experience of other times.
Speeches like this one have become the modus operandi of many American leaders on the question of racism. The formula is familiar: Acknowledge that the problem exists, while actively undermining any effort to deal with the problem. Just earlier that year the Bush administration filed a brief with the Supreme Court in favor of dismantling affirmative action.
The statistics, which are the clearest barometers for determining and measuring the quality of life in American society, show that African Americans, continue to lag behind whites in every possible category. Not only does this point to the depth of racial inequality in this society, but it clearly undermines the idea that racism is simply a matter of prejudice, existing only on an ideological level. African Americans tend to be the last to be hired when the economy is booming. That means that they also tend to be the first to lose their jobs when a downturn hits.
With the election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States, the issue of racial justice in America continues to occupy center stage. Have black Americans finally achieved racial justice? Is government intervention no longer required?
Studies continue to validate the claim that while there are now unprecedented opportunities for talented African Americans, lingering deficiencies remain within the black community. Leaders like Reverend William Barber. President of North Carolina NAACP has called on NC legislators, as well as the Nation's leaders to do what this country has been promising but failed to deliver, equality in education
"Let us focus instead on helping all our public schools meet the higher expectations we have for all children. We should promote: diversity in all our classrooms; equal funding for all our schools; high-quality teachers; smaller classes; first-rate facilities for every child; school leadership teams for under-performing schools; a renewed focus on math, science, reading, and history; greater parental and community support; a laser-like focus on disparities in dropout, suspension, and graduation rates; early childhood funding for poor children." ~ Reverend William Barber

"The extreme right wing that has apparently seized control of the North Carolina Republican Party chose April 4th, a day that lives in infamy in the hearts and minds of all justice-minded Americans, to introduce a law against Racial Justice," said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, President of the N.C. NAACP. "On the 43rd anniversary of Dr. King's murder, which many historians believe not only killed a prophet but set back the cause of racial and economic justice in America, Tea Party forces attacked the nationally-recognized North Carolina Racial Justice Act. Dr. King, his widow, the late Coretta Scott King, and the millions of participants in the movement he led, would have all supported the Racial Justice Act. This extreme right wing race-baiting attack is misguided, mean, and malicious especially when we know the death penalty is too often applied in a way that is a modern day form of racism and classism."
Two months ago, the Forsyth County Superior Court ruled that the RJA was constitutional, dismissing the Forsyth County DA's challenge, holding that both statistics and individual facts of the case are admissible in a RJA hearing.
In 2009, The N.C. Racial Justice Act (RJA) became law. It was hailed nationwide as a major breakthrough in exposing the racism that pervades southern courthouses and has become a model for other southern states. The RJA provides death row defendants a chance to expose racial bias in their convictions. In most cases this racial bias does not make it into the paper record of the proceedings. Instead, it happens during investigations, evidence handling, mandatory evidence- sharing with defense, negotiations with the D.A., jury selection, jury discussions, prosecutor's body language before the jury, and other tactics that have been the themes of many films and books about "Southern Justice." These classic discriminatory tactics are not mentioned in official court records that are reviewed by appellate courts. Under the RJA, if a defendant can show racism in the processes leading to his conviction, his or her death sentence can be commuted to life in prison without parole. The RJA does not allow for any defendant to be released from prison.
Last fall, after many death row defendants filed RJA claims, the extreme right-wing political groups who controlled the Republican Party's 2010 campaign tactics, resorted to dishonest racist ads and mailers to inflame voters' racial fears and prejudices. The NAACP quickly protested, exposing their lies. Every North Carolina major newspaper condemned the right-wing, racist tactics. One editor called it: "The Big Lie." Despite this outcry, the right wing forces, funded by the Americans for Prosperity and and other right-wing groups, refused to retract their lies.
"Now," Rev. Barber said, "The same groups are forcing moderates in the Republican Party to show their true colors by voting to repeal the Racial Justice Act. 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 right wingers, without any attempt to disguise their openly racist appeals, have come out squarely against racial justice. They lied when they sent out the mailers."
"The days of Jesse Helms' politics of pandering to racial fears and prejudice are the Politics of Yesterday. We believe the great majority of North Carolinians -- Democrats, Republicans, and Independents -- support Racial Justice. We expect the sponsors of the repeal bill were not aware that they filed their bill on the anniversary of Dr. King's death. However, as we saw yesterday during the We Are One: National Day of Action, where the people took to the streets in 1,000 locations across the Nation, sometimes it takes a Tea Party for the people to pull together. Dr. King said, "But I know somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars." This is a call to action for the human rights community in North Carolina. We cannot go back."

The Racial Justice Act has revealed what the Racial Justice movement has argued for centuries: Racism hurts white people too. A recent study by Michigan State University found that potential African-American jurors who believe in the death penalty (the majority of African-Americans do not) are more than twice as likely to be dismissed from the jury than their white counterparts. A defendant's right, whether Black, Latino, or White, to an impartial jury of her peers requires a cross-section of our communities. By denying African-Americans and other minorities the right to sit on juries, the prosecution and judges deny Black, White, and Latino defendants their right to a fair trial. Nearly half of the men and women on Death Row now were convicted by juries with one person of color or less. All-white juries convicted 33 of the people on death row.
The Michigan State Study found that defendants accused of capital crimes against white people were 2.6 times as likely to receive the death penalty than those defendants who were accused of a capital crime against a black victim. Racial bias in the criminal justice system has perpetuated sexism in the larger society. White supremacy in the court system protects white men more than any other group from the consequences of criminal acts, including rape, as compared to black men. White and Black women are victims of a racist criminal justice system that punishes crimes of rape and violence committed against them by White men less severely than the same crimes committed against them by Black men. Between 1910 and 1961, 67 out of the 68 men put to death for rape were African-American. Again, not a single white man convicted for the rape of a black woman ever received the Death Penalty. Perhaps most telling, from 1726-2010, the Colony and State of North Carolina has executed 827 people; only three were white people who had killed a black person.
Findings of systemic perjury within the State Bureau of Investigation crime labs in the Swecker Report, released last fall, and the recent report of SBI interim director by Judge Joe John emphasize why the RJA is so important. It found the State Bureau of Investigation, the main investigating agency for prosecutors and courts across the state, had a policy of perjury and that SBI agents routinely misrepresented SBI lab results to prosecutors, judges and juries. This culture of perjury and "conviction at any cost" mentality at the SBI has existed for years. Out of the 269 people who were victims of the SBI's culture of perjury, the State has executed three; four are on Death Row; and several died while in prison. All were denied their constitutional right to a fair trial.
In the last few years, the State was forced to release seven men from Death Row --five African Americans; one Latino; and one European-American. In a recent six-month period, our courts released three Black men off N.C.'s Death Row, with no apologies. Jonathon Hoffman served 12 years on death row before all charges against him were dismissed in December 2007; Glen Edward Chapman served 14 years on death row before being released in April 2008; and Levon "Bo" Jones, who served 15 years on death row, was released a month later in May 2008.



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