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State panel aims to improve equity in NC justice system

Posted July 10, 2020 12:30 p.m. EDT
Updated July 10, 2020 2:14 p.m. EDT

— Some of North Carolina's top law enforcement and court officials met Friday to talk about racial equity in the state's criminal justice system.

Gov. Roy Cooper appointed the 23-member North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice after days of protests and riots in the wake of George Floyd's death in police custody in Minneapolis.

"We are at a unique time. There is an opportunity here where I believe people have been the most receptive to change that they have ever been, and it’s up to us come forward with strong changes," Cooper said at the group's first meeting on Friday.

Led by Attorney General Josh Stein and state Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls, the task force is supposed to look for ways to make law enforcement and the criminal justice system more equitable for everyone.

Recent protests haven't been solely about Floyd's death but on the many ways the criminal justice system isn't racially equitable.

People of color, especially Black men, are many times more likely than their white counterparts to be stopped, arrested or even hurt or killed by law enforcement, even when they've done nothing wrong. Also, policies within the criminal justice system, from bail to charging decisions, also disadvantage people of color and low-income people.

"This is a pivotal time in our history, that there are so many people leaning forward and wanting to see meaningful change from a bipartisan standpoint," said Durham Police Chief C.J. Davis, a member of the task force.

"I think we’re facing a unique moment for law enforcement," agreed task force member Jim Woodall, district attorney for Orange and Chatham counties. "Black lives do matter, and I think it’s incumbent on us to prove that over the next few months."

Cooper wants recommendations for ways to improve such problems by Dec. 1.

In addition to Stein, Earls, Davis and Woodall, the other members of the task force are as follows:

  • Tarrah Callahan, executive director of Conservatives for Criminal Justice Reform
  • Robeson County District Court Judge Brooke Locklear Clark
  • Richmond County Sheriff James Clemmons Jr.
  • Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin
  • State Rep. James Gailliard, D-Nash
  • Raleigh police Sgt. Billy Gartin
  • Transylvania County Commissioner Michael Hawkins
  • Henderson Hill, senior counsel of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project and co-director of Redress NC
  • Secretary of Public Safety Erik Hooks
  • Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram
  • Apex Police Chief John Letteney
  • State Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed, D-Mecklenburg, who also is a public defender
  • State Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham, a former judge
  • Mary Pollard, executive director of the North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services Inc. and incoming executive director of the North Carolina Office of Indigent Defense Services
  • Kerwin Pittman, a community activist in Raleigh
  • Martin County Commissioner Ronnie Smith
  • Buncombe County Superior Court Judge Alan Thornburg
  • Talley Wells, executive director of the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities.
  • Angelica Wind, executive director of Our Voice Inc.
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