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OPINION

Addressing racial inequities in North Carolina's criminal justice system

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Over the past several weeks, as we’ve mourned the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others, North Carolinians and people across our nation have been having critical, overdue conversations about the systemic racism that African Americans experience and the work we have to do to heal our nation. 

Last month, I publicly committed to you that as attorney general and North Carolina’s top law enforcement official, my office would do everything in our power to be a part of the solution. I’m proud to report the creation of a task force to help make our state a safer place for everyone, no matter who you are. 

Gov. Roy Cooper recently established the Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice. He asked me and North Carolina Supreme Court Associate Justice Anita Earls to lead this group to consider and implement measures that can bring about meaningful change in the criminal justice system.

We will review law enforcement recruitment, training and accountability, as well as court issues including pretrial release and use of fines and fees. 

We will identify ways to build genuine trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve and protect. 

And in the coming months, we will submit a report to Gov. Cooper, the legislature and the public with concrete actions our state needs to take to confront racial bias in criminal justice.

We have to do better. Any senseless act of violence is tragic and unacceptable, but particularly so when committed by law enforcement. It represents a fundamental violation of the authority we grant law enforcement and the trust we place in them. And it undermines the hard work of the many peace officers who serve our communities with compassion.

The systemic racism that African Americans experience — whether it’s in the criminal justice system, in the economy or in the health care system — is wrong. I am committed to working with Justice Earls, the governor’s office, members of our task force, advocates, law enforcement and people across our state to ensure that this task force harnesses the widespread energy among North Carolinians into meaningful, lasting change that helps us heal, because Black lives matter.

I look forward to continuing to share more information about the task force’s work and other work my office is undertaking to improve policing and racial equity in our state. If you have ideas you’d like to share about these issues, I would like to hear them — please send us an email at criminaljustice@ncdoj.gov. 

Our state can and must be a leader in identifying and overcoming the systemic racism in our criminal justice system.

Josh Stein is North Carolina’s state attorney general. 

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