What is Giving Compass?
We connect donors to learning resources and ways to support community-led solutions. Learn more about us.
Giving Compass' Take:
• Joseph Neff and Beth Schwartzapfel, at The Marshall Project, summarize a recent criminal justice act in North Carolina that reverses death sentences based in racial bias.
• How can other states follow North Carolina's lead and address long-standing biases in criminal justice? Why mustn't we become complacent after one criminal justice act, but rather use it as a catalyst for more change?
When Andrew Ramseur walked into the Iredell County, North Carolina, courtroom for his murder trial in 2010, the rows behind the defense table were cordoned off with police tape. His family, who are black, were “forced to sit in the proverbial ‘back of the bus,’” according to court papers, while the victims’ white family was seated in front, directly behind the prosecution table. During jury selection, prosecutors removed every black potential juror. In a county that is 12 percent African American, the 21-year-old was convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury.
The North Carolina Supreme Court last week found that Ramseur and more than 100 others were entitled to a hearing to examine whether racism played a role in them being sentenced to death. His case centers around the Racial Justice Act, a 2009 state law that mandated changing a death sentence to life without parole if a person could prove that race was a “significant factor” in their case. The law—the first of its kind anywhere in the country—specifically said that defendants like Ramseur can use statistics from the state or local level to help make their case.
Data is an especially powerful tool, the justices wrote in last week’s ruling, when it comes to implicit bias: when people act on the basis of prejudices they don’t know or won’t admit holding. “Rarely, particularly in today’s time, do people just outright say, ‘I am doing this because of the color of your skin,’” State Sen. Doug Berger said in the debate leading up to the passage of the law. Statistics reveal the system’s biases even when no one person or single action appears prejudiced.
Read the full article about North Carolina's criminal justice act by Joseph Neff and Beth Schwartzapfel at The Marshall Project.