- The Death Penalty is Another Confederate Monument We Must Tear DownIn North Carolina, as we begin a long-overdue conversation about the future of police and prisons, we must confront the punishment that sits at the top of that system, condoning all its other cruelties — the death penalty.
- North Carolina’s Modern Death Penalty is the Fruit of a Racist PastThe lawmakers, prosecutors, and judges who run the bureaucracy of death in North Carolina may imagine that today’s death penalty has no relation to the state’s brutal history of racial terror and legalized oppression. But the truth is, despite decades of efforts to reform the death penalty, the past is written all over the present.
Slavery, Lynching, and the Era of Public Hangings (1619-1910)
- Historical Overview: Slavery, Lynching and the Era of Public HangingsEarly white colonists used the death penalty as a tool for enforcing the institution of slavery. After emancipation, it evolved into a force for maintaining white supremacy.
- Death Row Profile: Guy LeGrandeIn a crime that crossed racial lines, a prosecutor told the all-white jury that the strands of evidence would be twisted into a strong rope — a rope that could be used to kill a black defendant.
- White Domination, Anti-Black Violence, and the Death Penalty in North Carolina: How the Myth of Black Criminality Has Always Justified Violence Against African AmericansGeorge Floyd’s merciless execution was a reminder that white skin has long been a badge of authority to destroy black bodies. It’s a tradition that started in slavery and continues today in the form of police brutality and the death penalty.
- In Black & White: Lynching & the Death Penalty were Two Sides of the Same CoinNewspaper articles of the time show how lynching and court-imposed death sentences were were virtually indistinguishable. Some of the accused escaped lynch mobs only to be hanged based on scant evidence a few weeks later.
- A Monument to Slavery Hangs Over N.C.’s Highest CourtA portrait of former North Carolina Chief Justice Thomas Ruffin, who distinguished himself as the author of one of the nation’s most extreme pro-slavery decisions, still looms large over the state Supreme Court.
- SAFEKEEPING: A Linguistic Monument to a Racist PastEven the language of criminal punishment is freighted with our nation’s history of injustice.
- For Native Americans, First Genocide Then the Death PenaltyMost people know this country was “settled” by Europeans who waged war and subjected Native Americans to genocide. Less well known is how the government has used the death penalty to subjugate and terrorize Native people.
- Black Women Have Always Been the Heart of the Death Penalty Abolition MovementFrom the very beginnings of America, Black women have been at the center of the struggle for racial justice. Their work springs not out of esoteric principle or moral dilemma, but out of necessity. They are fighting for their families.
Jim Crow & the Birth of the State-Run Death Penalty (1910-1961)
- Historical Overview: Jim Crow and the Birth of the State-Run Death PenaltyIn 1910, the state took over the job executing people, after the spectacle of public hangings carried out by county sheriffs became an embarrassment in a modernizing world. However, they did nothing to alter the racialized fear and anger that lay at the death penalty’s heart.
- Death Row Profile: Kenneth RouseA member of the all-white jury used racial slurs and admitted that “bigotry” drove his decision to sentence a Black man to death. Yet, the courts refused to review whether racism infected the sentence because Rouse’s lawyers filed his appeal one day late.
- The Death Penalty is Lynching Dressed Up in the Clothes of Law and OrderA UNC professor who wrote a comprehensive history of the N.C. death penalty reflects on what he learned from his research: Any history of the death penalty is a history of white supremacy.
- A Juror’s Childhood Memories: ‘They’d take him out and kill him’In 1994, a white man was called for jury duty in Davidson County. His words chillingly reveal how growing up in a culture of lynching shaped his notions of American “justice.”
- Growing Up with Racism: A Conversation with Andre Smith, Father of a Murdered SonAndre Smith’s son was stabbed to death at 21 years old, by a man who was angry over a spilled beer at a nightclub. Andre talks about his experiences of racism, and his journey to becoming a Buddhist and a fierce opponent of the death penalty — despite the grief of losing his son.
- Voices from Death Row Lay Bare a Legacy of RacismEssays from North Carolina’s death row reveal childhoods shaped by poverty, police brutality, violence, and segregated schools. This legacy of inequality and oppression was handed down to them through the centuries.
Backlash to Civil Rights & the Creation of the Modern Death Penalty (1961-1990)
- Historical Overview: Backlash to Civil Rights & the Creation of the Modern Death PenaltyExecutions stopped for a time as the Civil Rights Movement gripped the nation. But a backlash quickly followed, propelling the death penalty back into favor and paving the way for a deadly decade.
- Death Row Profile: Tilmon GolphinA prosecutor described two teenagers who had suffered the ravages of racism all their lives as propelled by “racial hate,” positing that they shot police officers not because they felt threatened, but because they hated white people.
- A New Generation of Prosecutors is Saying No to the Death PenaltyWe both became prosecutors out of a deep desire to do justice and make our communities safer – and we’ve concluded that the death penalty is incompatible with both. If we truly wish to seek justice, we must first stop seeking death.
- The Fight for Black Lives in the North Carolina State CourtsThe state Supreme Court’s recent decisions on the Racial Justice Act could make North Carolina a national leader in addressing the inherent racism of the death penalty, a problem on which the U.S. Supreme Court famously turned its back.
- Reflections on McCleskey v. KempJohn Charles Boger, who argued the landmark case McCleskey v. Kemp in the U.S. Supreme Court, says, “What we need to do now is regather strength, shine light into darkness, and set our shoulders against the burden of America’s 400-year legacy of racial injustice and subordination.”
- Racism and the Death Penalty: The Intertwined Ropes of the Lynchman’s NooseNorth Carolina’s nationally known activist, Rev. William J. Barber, says there is no way to craft a machinery of death that is free of racism. The death penalty system was explicitly created as a tool of racism, and it remains one today.
The Death Penalty in the Age of Mass Incarceration (1990-Present)
- Historical Overview: The Death Penalty in the Age of Mass IncarcerationIn the “tough on crime” 1990s, North Carolina’s death penalty roared back to life. Juries sent dozens of people a year to death row, and North Carolina had one of the highest death sentencing rates in the nation.
- Death Row Profile: Ryan GarcellAfter the trial, one of the white jurors admitted to an investigator that she “had never seen so many Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans before in her life” as she did during Ryan’s trial and that she felt scared of all the “Hispanics milling around.”
- Harshly Treated, Severely Punished, and Presumed GuiltyAfter the abolition of slavery, states sought to maintain white supremacy. North Carolina enacted laws, now known as Black Codes, designed to make sure that, even after Emancipation, Black Americans were harshly treated, severely punished, and more likely to be presumed guilty. These codes never went away; they simply evolved into our modern criminal and capital punishment system.
- We Should All Belong in the Jury BoxThose accused of crimes deserve to be judged by a true cross section of their community, including people who have walked in their shoes. And all of us — regardless of race, gender, political views, or life experience — deserve to wield power in the courtroom. Yet, people of color are still denied the Constitutional right to jury service.
- Death QualifiedPaul Brown, who has lived on North Carolina’s death row since 2000, writes about the experience of being sentenced to death by an all-white jury. He watched the prosecutor remove every Black juror, leaving the jury “locked and loaded.”
- States’ Rights: How One Law Allowed a Scourge of Racist Death SentencesA single federal law, passed during the “tough on crime” ‘90s, enshrined states’ rights and prevented federal courts from being a backstop against racist death sentences. Without effective federal oversight, North Carolina courts have failed to address the vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow that run through the death penalty.
- Abolishing the Death Penalty Values Black LivesThe death penalty is a tool created with a racist aim to punish the most disfavored people in society for crimes against white victims. Abolishing the death penalty is the only way to end its racial degradation.