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Addressing Racial Bias In North Carolina’s Judicial System

Courtesy of Floyd McKissick Jr.

A University of Michigan study of North Carolina death penalty trials from 2012 showed that prosecutors on average struck black jurors at 2.5 times the rate of white jurors. Even though the U.S. Supreme Court forbid prosecutors from using the basis of race alone to reject jurors, racial bias is alive and well in North Carolina’s justice system.

Democratic State Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., who represents Durham, sponsored the Racial Justice Act that was passed into law in 2009. The Racial Justice Act sought to address racial bias in capital cases in the state, for those on death row at the time, and for cases in the future. A superior court judge converted the sentences of four death row inmates to life in prison without parole. But the Racial Justice Act was repealed in 2013, and those four inmates were put back on death row.

Now the North Carolina Supreme Court is reconsidering the decision to revert those sentences — and considering two other capital cases where racial bias may have played a role. Host Frank Stasio talks to Sen. McKissick about the history of the Racial Justice Act and what he thinks needs to change to address prejudice in the state’s judicial system.

Amanda Magnus is the executive producer of Embodied, a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships and health. She has also worked on other WUNC shows including Tested and CREEP.
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.