Racial Justice Work Group Luncheon Exposes Racism in Death Penalty

Attorney Rebecca Inglefield is seen speaking to a diverse group of 40 who attended the Racial Justice Work Group luncheon about about racial bias against minorities in the death penalty and the Racial Justice Act on March 17, 2011 at Exodus Missionary Outreach Church in Hickory. Standing in the background is Rev. David Roberts, pastor of Morning Star First Baptist Church who spoke about his experience as an educator regarding the unequal treatment of African-American boys in schools. Roberts said racial discrimination in education leads to more serious social problems such as the disproportionate incarceration rates of African-American men.A diverse group of 40 from local churches and civil rights organizations attended the Racial Justice Work Group Luncheon on March 17, 2011 at Exodus Missionary Outreach Church in Hickory to hear attorney Rebecca Inglefield present the history of racism with the death penalty. This event is one of  a series of luncheons fostering inter-racial dialogue that resulted from the public showing of the film “Traces of the Trade” last fall in Hickory. The Racial Justice Work Group is one of three groups that formed from this initiative with a goal to improve race relations, and foster racial reconciliation. The other two groups meeting monthly are a fellowship group and a book study group.
Inglefield gave many examples of racism and the death penalty from the days of slavery to recent studies that presented data of racial bias in jury selection and sentencing. She shared how a 1980’s study of the death penalty in Georgia indicated that when a murder victim is white, the defendant is 3.5 times more likely to get the death penalty than if the victim is African-American.  The Supreme Court has left the decision about how to handle the racial bias against minorities in applying the death penalty to the states.
As a result, the N.C. legislature passed The Racial Justice Act in 2009 which states “No person shall be subject to or given a sentence of death or shall be executed pursuant to any judgment that was sought or obtained on the basis of race.” People on death row now and those being tried in capitol cases are allowed to use the facts of their own case, regional statistics, and sentencing information from similar cases to prove racial bias in receiving the death penalty. If racial bias is found, they can ask for life imprisonment rather than execution.     
Questions and comments following Inglefield’s presentation included other kinds of current institutional racism that feeds the “pipeline to prison” which is incarcerating African-Americans in vastly disproportionate numbers. African-Americans comprise 13% of the nation’s population, but they make up 44% of the prison population. Several speakers were passionate about racial discrimination against African-Amercian males, especially in the education system.  Lynn Foes, a white retired educator who attends Church of the Master UCC said, “I know from experience that African-American boys are labled and treated unequally in our education system in America.” All agreed that multiple streams of institutional racism converge in the racial bias against minorities in the death penalty.  
Rev. Susan Smith, the Racial Justice Work Group coordinator, asked for volunteers to help determine the direction for their next luncheon meeting which will be at 12:00pm on April 21, 2011 at the Church of the Master UCC in Hickory. Lunch will be provided, and donations appreciated. The group is alternating meeting across racial and denominational lines to help facilitate diverse participation. People of faith, those interested in civil rights, and community representatives are encouraged to participate.