Cooper: NC task force to address racial inequity in justice system
Gov. Roy Cooper says he has signed an executive order creating a task force on criminal justice and racial inequity.
But last week we talked about how Cove in 19 is shining a bright light on long standing racial inequities and everything from health care to housing. The protests, reignited 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. Data shows that nationwide communities of color are disproportionately affected at all stages of the criminal justice system, black adults are almost six times more likely to be in course away rated than white adults, and black men are 2.5 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% longer than white men. Black women are in prison that twice the rate as white white women and our 1.5 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement. These numbers are stark, and they tell a story that black Americans have been living and telling us every day, even when there is no spotlight. It's important for us to recognize thes telling numbers and identify the disparities. But it's even more important and challenging to actually do something about it. Today I signed Executive order number 145 to establish the North Carolina Task force for Racial Equity and Criminal Justice. It will be led by North Carolina Supreme Court Associate Justice Anita Earls, an attorney general, Josh Stein. This task forces charged with developing and helping to implement evidence based strategies and policy solutions to help eliminate systemic racism in our criminal justice system. They will convene a wide range of stakeholders, including community policing advocates, state and local law enforcement agencies, people who have gone through and been affected by the justice system, representatives of the judicial branch, people from marginalized populations and mawr. Their work will examine law enforcement and criminal justice practices, make concrete recommendations for how to make riel improvements and then submit a report to me by December the first. Now I know a lot of the issues that has force will tackle have been researched and studied. The part of the job of the task force will be tailoring these ideas to North Carolina and developing a strategy on how to get these proposals implemented. The task force is just the beginning, and I'm committed to making sure we see real progress. Taking on issues of race and discrimination is often difficult and uncomfortable. Truth can be hard. That's why we need everyone. Local governments, police departments, sheriff's judges, prosecutors, civil rights leaders, legislators and community members to weigh in and be committed to real change To begin taking action and state government, our secretary of the Department of Public Safety, Eric Cooks, 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. He's also directed these agencies to review their existing policies. Those include arrest procedures what kind of interactions require the use of force and, more importantly, which don't how to prioritize de escalation. So they calm a situation rather than accelerated. This review, along with recommendations of the task force, can determine changes that need to be made to ensure that our state law enforcement agencies are providing equitable, high quality service while prioritizing the safety of all North Carolina's. And it's critical that our state law enforcement be leaders in repairing this breach or enforcement officers have a tough job. I'm grateful for so many of them who, doing their best to protect and serve with fairness, many of them now are telling me and recognizing and acknowledging that systemic and cultural changes must be made. They know that for our law enforcement, in criminal justice systems to work, people have to have faith and trust in them, and they realize that right now too many do not. And 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 they're paying. We have to work better to rebuild systems that better strive to eliminate racism and bias. This will not be easy. It will acquire listening to some hard truths to better understand each other and a commitment to work together in good faith. I pledge all of these things and look forward to work with this task force and getting things done. Today we have North Carolina Supreme Court associate justice and need Earls and Attorney General Josh Stein, who are here with me today to say a few words. They will lead this important task force, all right, and, ah, well now recognize justice URLs. Thank you, Governor. Good afternoon. Last Tuesday, Chief Justice Sheri Beasley held a press conference to talk about how justice intersects with the protests that are occurring around the state. She acknowledged that racial disparities continue in our court system and in our criminal justice system, and she also called upon us to develop a plan for accountability in our courts. Today, on the day that George Floyd is being laid to rest next to his mother, I am glad to be joining with Attorney General Stein tow launch, an effort to help make true the chief justice's promise that we will do better. I'm grateful to Governor Cooper for his courageous leadership and for giving us this opportunity. We must change how the criminal justice system operates and without delay, we must eliminate the glaring racial disparities that continue to exist. And we must begin to live up to our most highly cherished value of equal justice under the law. After all, where the state that espouses the creed to be rather than to seem. A recent poll found that 88% of Americans favor training police officers to de escalate and avoid using force. 87% favor body cameras for all officers. 80% favor implementing an early warning system to identify problem problematic officers, and 67% favor barring the use of chokeholds. Americans favor change. But whatever the opinion polls might show, I bring an additional perspective as a black woman whose husband, who is also black, was once approached by police with their guns drawn as he was sitting in his car, stopped by the side of the road and talking to me on his cell phone. I come to this work as a lawyer who has represented families of victims of police shootings and other excessive use of force in the 19 nineties, before there were cell phones with video cameras. And I come to this as a lawyer who has represented black and Latino police officers in employment discrimination cases. Now, as a member of the judiciary, I am charged with upholding your constitutional rights. Whether doing so is popular or not, I know that really change is long overdue and must come now. Our state courts are an integral part of the criminal justice system. Any effective effort to address racism in that system must include what happens in the courts. Certainly in a democracy, it is true that the people are more powerful than the people in power. I ask you to help us ensure that this task force makes sound recommendations for meaningful and lasting institutional change in order to achieve racial equity in North Carolina's criminal justice system. Thank you. Thank you, Justice Earls. And now we're here from North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein. Thank you, Governor Cooper. For your leadership, it is an honor to join you today and to be tasked with co leading this important group with Justice Anita Earls whom I deeply respect. The inequities that African Americans experience, whether it's in the economy, health care, our schools or the criminal justice system are pervasive just as they are wrong. Even today, African Americans air suffering death at greatly disproportionate rates From Cove in 19 My heart aches for the families of George Floyd and Briana Taylor and so so many other people who have been killed or mistreated by their own government. Any senseless act of violence is tragic, but especially so when perpetrated by those sworn to protect and defend us. It represents such a fundamental violation of the authority we grant law enforcement and the trust we place in them. It also under more undermines the important and hard work of the many peace officers serving our communities with dedication and compassion. Our United States Supreme Court building has the following words chiseled on its face, equal justice under law. Sadly, we remain in pursuit of this ideal. Last week, Chief Justice Sheri Beasley powerfully described some of the many shortcomings in our criminal justice system. She observed. In our courts, African Americans are more harshly treated, more severely punished and more likely to be presumed guilty, I will add in our communities, African Americans are more likely to be pulled over by police and more likely to die at their hands. None of this is acceptable. We have to make North Carolina a safe place for every person, no matter who you are. The task force for racial equity and criminal justice will consider and implement measures that can bring about meaningful change to the criminal justice system. We will review law enforcement, recruitment, training and accountability, as well as court issues, including pretrial release. In the use of fines and fees, We will identify ways to build genuine trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve and protect. This is absolutely necessary today. Just a zit waas in 18 29 when Sir Robert Peel, the founder of Modern Policing, wrote The power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behavior, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect. North Carolina has a tragic legacy of slavery, segregation and racist violence that still affects our state to this day, but we have another inspiring legacy. The 1960 sit ins and Greensboro and the hundreds of protests since a ST NW CP that filed Mawr integration lawsuits than any other. A demonstrated willingness to adopt criminal justice reforms and so much more. I truly believe our state can be a leader in identifying and overcoming systemic racism in our criminal justice system, and I am genuinely hopeful that this time is different. The protests had been more widespread, more persistent and more diverse allies of all races air joining with black people to say no more. This movement is generating energy that you can feel in. This task force must ensure that this energy is harnessed into meaningful and lasting change to help us heal because black lives matter. Thank you. Thank you, General Stein. We also have with us today our director of emergency management, Mike Spray Berry, our secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Dr Mandy Cohen, our secretary of the Department of Public Safety, Eric Cooks and they are all available for questions, as are the three of us up here on the platform will now open for questions. And if you can identify yourself and your organization, I would appreciate it Thank you. Our first question will be from Jason de Bruin with North Carolina Public Radio. Hi. Good afternoon. This is Jason Deborah, North Carolina public radio. I'm not sure exactly who to direct this question towards, but we've seen a lot about use of force reports, um, over the past couple of weeks, and yet many of those remain hidden from public inspection. So sort of a two part question. Do you think that the use of force reports should be a public record? And if so, what can you do to make them a public record not only for statewide agencies, but even for local police and sheriff offices? This task force is going to tackle all of those issues. And I think transparency will be at the very core of what they want to do in order for people to be able to have trust in the system. Then they have to know how it operates and what's going on. So one of the one of the charges in to this task force is the issue of transparency, and we look forward to pulling law enforcement and all of the other people in the task force together to talk about those issues and how they can best be put forward in order to be able to bring that trust and confidence to the system.