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Rep. G.K. Butterfield Of North Carolina: Criminal Justice Reform Crucial To Fix Racial Disparity

In the wake of events in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, Md., U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) leads the Congressional Black Caucusat a tumultuous time for race relations in the country.

The congressman told Frank Stasio of WUNC’s The State of Things that he sees racial and socioeconomic tensions across the U.S. “There are Fergusons and Baltimores all across this country. It’s not unique to these communities. It could even be here in North Carolina,” Rep. Butterfield said.

Rep. Butterfield has represented North Carolina’s 1st Congressional district for more than 10 years and also serves in the Democratic leadership as Chief Deputy Whip.

Criminal Justice Reform

Rep. Butterfield told Stasio he believes reforms are needed for the criminal justice system. “The criminal justice system is broken. Anyone who’s an observer knows that,” he said. “Our police departments need to engage in sensitivity training, diversity training […] officers need to use the least amount of force necessary in order to deal with a volatile situation.”

In addition, the congressman said law enforcement should shift resources away from prosecuting drug crimes and towards the prosecution of violent criminals. “We don’t need to bring criminal charges for someone having a marijuana cigarette in their pocket,” Butterfield said. “We need to look at decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and the like.”

Butterfield announced on The State of Things that he is part of a bipartisan group of Washington legislators planning a hearing in the coming weeks to address criminal justice reform. He hopes new legislation will emerge from the group’s efforts. He believes criminal justice issues are related to socioeconomic inequality in black communities. Fighting poverty, Butterfield said, is the main agenda of the Congressional Black Caucus. “One out of four African-Americans live in poverty. One out of three black children live in poverty,” Rep. Butterfield said. “We must legislatively address the crisis that is before us.”


He wants more resources invested in addressing educational disparities and infrastructure. “We’ve got to invest more in education. We’ve got to invest in infrastructure so that we can create jobs so that young African-American men and women can work,” he said.

Voting Laws & Redistricting

When asked about recent changes in voting laws and redistricting, the congressman said he believes Republican legislators are purposefully trying to curtail the black vote by packing black voters into the same districts. “It’s no question the right to vote is under assault by right-wing conservative republicans,” Rep. Butterfield said. “What they want to do is diminish the African-American vote because African-Americans are predisposed to vote democratic […] if they can do that then the electoral map changes and they are enhanced in their ability to elect a Republican president.”

Net Neutrality

On net neutrality, Rep. Butterfield said he is opposed to granting regulatory power of internet service providers to the Federal Communications Commission.

“We need a legislative fix,” he said. “Our internet providers need certainty, they need the ability to compete with each other and to provide the best quality internet that can be provided.”

Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.