James E. Williams Jr. Discusses Race and the Justice System in N.C. in N&O Op-Ed

On June 9th, The News & Observer published an op-ed by James E. Williams Jr., who served as a public defender for Chatham and Orange counties since 1990 and recently retired.

In his article, “Amid district challenges N.C. Supreme Court faces another test on race”,  Williams begins by addressing how the N.C. state legislature attempted to diminish the impact of African-American votes in 2015, and how the N.C. Supreme Court did nothing to correct this wrong, until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the actions of the legislature unconstitutional.  Williams says that presently the N.C. court will be tested in their handling of the issue of racial bias in jury selection, now that new evidence suggests that four death row inmates in the state may have been sentenced in trials where prosecutors acted unethically and illegally.  This evidence shows that district attorneys intentionally removed qualified black jurors and utilized strategies to avoid having black judges hear the cases of these men.  Williams also points out the state’s failure to refute claims of broad systematic discrimination against Black jurors since the introduction of the Racial Justice Act.

In his closing, Williams, who is also the founder of the N.C. Public Defenders’ Committee on Racial Equity and serves on the board of the N.C. Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Criminal Justice System, writes, “The question before the N.C. Supreme Court now is a fundamental one: Will we finally live up to our credo, ‘all men are created equal,’ and make sure that African-Americans have the right to fully participate in our democracy? Or will we turn a blind eye to another case of obvious discrimination, and force the U.S. Supreme Court to step in once again?”

You can read the full article here.

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