Last year, North Carolina exonerated eight people in prison, and six of them were African American. The state data is part of a report from the National Registry of Exonerations. It examined national records and found that a majority of people determined to have been wrongfully convicted were African American.
Robert Dunham, the Death Penalty Information Center’s executive director says it’s part of North Carolina’s history of discrimination in the judicial system. He notes that eight of nine people exonerated since the death penalty was reinstated in the state were non-white.
“North Carolina exemplifies this discriminatory phenomenon, perhaps more than any other state,” he said. “And North Carolina has had a long history of race discrimination when it comes to murder convictions and the death penalty.”
In 2009, North Carolina lawmakers passed the Racial Justice Act, after a study concluded that race had been a factor in jury selection for people who’d been sentenced to death in the state. The RJA allowed people sentenced to death in North Carolina to have their sentences converted to life in prison without parole if they could prove race was a factor, but it was repealed in 2013.
Dunham says the institutional racism illustrated in this national report and others prove what has long been suspected. Nationwide, the report says 166 people were exonerated, just last year.
“We no longer have laws that say blacks can be punished for something that whites cannot be punished for, but we do have practices that result in the disparate enforcement of the law,” he explained. “African Americans are treated more harshly by law enforcement.”
In further analysis, Dunham’s organization found that 84 percent of wrongfully-convicted death-row inmates who are black wait at least 26 years to have their sentences overturned. Comparatively, it took 10 years or less for 69 percent for people who are not black.