RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV) - North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has signed an executive order to establish the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice.
North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls and Attorney General Josh Stein will lead the task force,
Executive Order 145 creates the task force to develop and help implement strategies and policies to eliminate systemic racism in the state’s criminal justice system.
Gov. Cooper was joined by AG Stein, Justice Earls and members of the Coronavirus Task Force in making the announcement Tuesday afternoon.
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“Last week, we talked about how COVID-19 is shining a bright light on longstanding racial inequities in everything from health care to housing. The protests re-ignited by the murder of George Floyd are shining yet another light on inequities in our criminal justice system. George Floyd was not the first victim of excessive force. Too many other people of color have been harassed, harmed, injured or killed. Added together, their lives and their stories have made this spotlight too bright to ignore. For Black people, the past several weeks have again ripped open scars created by generations of historical trauma. Too often, that trauma was inflicted by a criminal justice system that should protect them, but instead treats them unfairly,” Gov. Cooper said.
According to the governor, black adults are almost six times more likely to be incarcerated than white adults and black men are two and a half times more likely to be killed by law enforcement. Hispanic adults are three times more likely to be incarcerated than white adults. When convicted of the same crime, Black men receive a prison sentence that is 20 percent longer than white men. Black women are imprisoned at twice the rate as white women and are one and a half times more likely to be killed by law enforcement.
“These numbers are stark. They tell a story that Black Americans have been living & telling us every day – even when there’s no spotlight. It’s important to recognize these numbers and identify the disparities. But it’s even more important and challenging to do something about it,” Gov. Cooper said.
The newly-created task force will convene a wide range of stakeholders including: community policing advocates, state & local law enforcement agencies, people who have gone through and been affected by the justice system, judicial branch representatives, people from marginalized populations and more, the governor says.
The task force’s work will examine law enforcement and criminal justice practices, make concrete recommendations for how to make real improvements, and then submit a report to Gov. Cooper by December 1.
Part of the job of the Task Force will be tailoring research and ideas to North Carolina and developing a strategy on how to get their proposals implemented.
“The task force is just the beginning, and I’m committed to making sure we see real progress,” Gov. Cooper said. “Taking on issues of race & discrimination is difficult and often uncomfortable. That’s why we need everyone – local governments, police departments, sheriffs, judges, prosecutors, civil rights leaders, legislators & community members— to weigh in and be committed to real change.”
North Carolina Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks has directed all state law enforcement agencies under the department to ensure they have a clear duty-to-intervene policy. That means if they see a fellow officer doing wrong, they must step in. Hooks has also directed those agencies to review their existing policies. Those include arrest procedures, what kind of interactions require use of force and which don’t and how to prioritize de-escalation, so they calm a situation rather than accelerate it.
“It’s critical that our state law enforcement be leaders in repairing this breach. They have a tough job and I’m grateful for so many of them who are doing their best to protect and serve with fairness. Many are now acknowledging that systemic and cultural changes must be made. They know that for our law enforcement and criminal justice systems to work, people must have faith and trust in them. And they realize that too many do not. I’m hearing the same things from people who work in our court system who know that changes must be made there as well. As we listen to the cries of our fellow North Carolinians and work to better know their pain, we have to work together to rebuild systems that better strive to eliminate racism and bias. It will require listening to some hard truths to better understand each other and a commitment to work together in good faith. I pledge all of these and look forward working with the task force to get things done,” Gov. Cooper said.
Justice Anita Earls spoke during the press conference as well, as one of the leaders of the task force.
“We must change how the criminal justice system operates - and without delay,” Justice Earls said. “Americans favor change, I know that real change is long overdue and must come now.”
Attorney General Josh Stein also spoke, as the other leader of the task force.
“I truly believe our state can be a leader in identifying and overcoming systemic racism in our criminal justice system. 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 task force must ensure that this energy is harnessed into meaningful and lasting change to help us heal. Because black lives matter,” AG Stein said.
The creation of this task force comes after statewide and worldwide protests against the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Protests started in North Carolina on May 29.
Floyd, who was born in North Carolina, was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Originally from Fayetteville, North Carolina, Floyd’s murder has sparked worldwide protests in a unified call for racial equity and justice.
This past weekend, Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all North Carolina flags at state facilities to be lowered to half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Saturday in honor of George Floyd. A memorial service for George Floyd was held on Saturday in Raeford, North Carolina at the Cape Fear Conference B Headquarters.
“The unjust killing of George Floyd combined with many other recent and distant events broke open painful wounds. Racism. Excessive use of police force. Health disparities. Poverty. White supremacy. These are wrong. They are ugly, but they are present. We must deal with them. We will deal with them. George Floyd’s sister, Bridgette, lives in Hoke County, North Carolina. While I cannot bring her brother back, I can work for justice in his name. I assured her that’s what we would do,” Gov. Cooper said.