Why is North Carolina trying so hard to kill people?

The Duke Chapter Amnesty International did some great work in the Perkins Library earlier this week raising awareness about Reggie Clemons who is sitting on death row in Missouri.  Like the Troy Davis case, there is just too much doubt for a just society to put Clemmons to death, and the similarities between the two cases are striking:

If you did’t get a chance to sign the petition in the library on Saturday, watch the video below and send an email or letter to Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri and let him know the world is watching to see what happens in Missouri.

Even though as the Duke chapter of Amnesty International is focusing on the death penalty around the United States, right here in North Carolina, the Republican controlled North Carolina General Assembly is trying really hard to execute more people.

  • Repeal of the Racial Justice Act: Last week, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation repealing the Racial Justice Act, which allowed death row inmates to use statistical evidence of racial bias to challenge their sentences.   Governor Beverly Purdue has one month to decide whether to veto or to sign the bill.  All sorts of studies have shown that juries are incredibly biased in their application of the death penalty.  A 2007 study of death sentences in Connecticut conducted by Yale University School of Law revealed that African-American defendants receive the death penalty at three times the rate of white defendants in cases where the victims are white. In addition, killers of white victims are treated more severely than people who kill minorities, when it comes to deciding what charges to bring.  Even if you think a particular punishment is fair, good or humane, it is not fair, good or humane if you apply it differently towards different groups.  Maybe you endorse corporeal punishment for children, but it would not be OK for teachers to spank some students and only give other students time-outs that committed the same infraction, as an example.  Under the Racial Justice Act, anyone who successfully appealed their sentence on the basis of racial bias automatically had their penalty converted to a life sentence in prison; no guilty criminals are being “let off the hook.”   Instead, the Racial Justice Act was an incredibly important recognition that humans should not be slaughtered in a process so arbitrary, biased and prone to error.
  • House Bill 659: House Bill 659 is currently in the NC House Committee on Appropriations/Base Budget.  It would remove insanity as a defense against a death penalty for individuals whose psychosis was caused by voluntary intoxication or a voluntary drugged condition.  I’m not endorsing the proposition that you are not responsible for your actions while drunk/high.  That having been said, the United States does not consider all sorts of intent to be the same; we distinguish, for example, between first-degree murder (murder with premeditation and deliberation) from second-degree murder.

The broad questions I’d like to leave you with are these:

  • Why are we as a state (or the Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly in particular) so obsessed and fixated with the proposition that we need to be executing more people?
  • How can progressives and human rights activists do more to combat the policies that allow individuals to be put to death before the laws are put on the books, instead of having to fight case-by-case ex post facto?

Published by Elena Botella

Elena Botella is a Duke Undergraduate in the Class of 2013, majoring in Economics and Math.

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