N.C. Marks an Important Moment for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice

By Josh Stein 

Tomorrow, July 10, will be the first convening of the Governor’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, which I am co-chairing with Justice Anita Earls.

This Task Force has been created to examine our criminal justice system through a lens of racial equity. In North Carolina, we have long sought to improve our criminal justice system. Now, we have the opportunity—the imperative—to explicitly consider racial equity as we continue this effort.

The inequities that African Americans experience—whether it’s in the economy, health care, our schools, or the criminal justice system—are pervasive, just as they are wrong. Even today, African Americans are suffering death at a greatly disproportionate rate from COVID-19 due to longstanding inequities.

My heart aches for all the Black lives lost and devalued by their government. Any senseless act of violence is tragic, but especially so when perpetrated by those sworn to protect and defend us. It represents such a fundamental violation of the authority we grant law enforcement and the trust we place in them. It also undermines the hard work of the many peace officers serving our communities with dedication and compassion. As your Attorney General, I commit to being a part of the solution.

In creating the Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, Gov. Roy Cooper recognized that we have a racial justice problem that extends beyond policing. Along with the other members of the Task Force, Justice Earls and I will consider and implement measures that can bring about meaningful change in the criminal justice system.

We will review law enforcement recruitment, training, and accountability, as well as court issues including pretrial release and fines and fees. We will identify ways to build genuine trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve and protect.

This is necessary today, just as it was in 1829, when Sir Robert Peele, the founder of modern policing, wrote, “the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behavior, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.”

North Carolina has a tragic legacy of slavery, segregation, and racist violence that still affects our people to this day.

But, we as judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and civil rights advocates have also worked hard to improve our criminal justice system. Of course, we have much more work to do to more closely approximate the ideal carved on the face of the United States Supreme Court building—equal justice under law. That’s what the Task Force aims to achieve.

I truly believe our state can be a leader in identifying and overcoming systemic racism in our criminal justice system. And I know that our profession, and particularly you, as criminal justice practitioners, can be a part of the solution.

I am genuinely hopeful that this time is different. The protests have been more widespread, more persistent, and more diverse. Allies of all races are joining with Black people to say “no more.” This movement is generating energy that you can feel.

This Task Force must ensure that this energy is harnessed into meaningful and lasting change to help us heal because Black lives matter. You can provide feedback to the Task Force here and find live streams (and later recordings) of the Task Force’s meetings on my YouTube Channel.

Thank you for your continued work to promote justice in our state. I look forward to continuing to work alongside you to make North Carolina safer and stronger.