This week the North Carolina Senate voted along party lines to repeal the Racial Justice Act. Also in the legislation are measures designed to restart executions, which have been unofficially on hold in the state since 2006.
Critics contend that eliminating the Racial Justice Act will prevent those unfairly sentenced to death because of racial bias from getting justice. More than 150 people in the state are awaiting execution.
Republican Senator Thom Goolsby of New Hanover County sponsored the legislation repealing the Racial Justice Act, and he said on The State of Things that the Act isn’t necessary.
"I don’t believe that the DA’s across the state -- particularly most of whom are Democrat -- are racists," he said. "I don’t think they seek the death penalty based on racism, and the RJA was a very poorly written law."
Host Frank Stasio played devil’s advocate, challenging Goolsby with some statistics on death row inmates.
"The race of victims, people who are sent to death row, people who are on death row for committing a murder, their victims - 77 percent of the victims are white. Fifteen percent of the victims are black," Stasio said. "…and people on death row are disproportionately black, so that at the very least suggests that race has to play a part."
But Goolsby said the statistics were misleading.
"You’re talking about one study done in a four year period… dealing with only about 20 percent of the death penalty cases in North Carolina," he said. "You’re wrong, sir. The statistics you are trying to give me are wrong."
It may ultimately be up to the courts to decide whether the state can do away with the Racial Justice Act altogether.
In light of National Poetry Month, we spoke with local poets about our conversation with Senator Goolsby, as well the the Racial Justice Act. We were joined by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, the co-founder of the Mobile Homecoming Project; and Suja Sawafta, an instructor and M.A. candidate in Franco-Arab studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.