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The Death Penalty

Welcome to Policy Wednesday! For the next 13 weeks leading up to the March 8th primary, I will be announcing where I stand on various policy issues every Wednesday. For our first week, we will be focusing on the death penalty. While North Carolina has not executed anyone since 2006, the death penalty is still legal under state law, and state prosecutors have the discretion to pursue the death penalty against a defendant if they wish.  The Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s office is currently using that discretion to pursue the death penalty in a case.  I believe that the death penalty is racist, immoral, and unjust. If elected District Attorney, it will be my office’s policy to never seek the death penalty.  Here’s why.

Wrongful Convictions

Too often the state gets capital punishment wrong. Since 1973, the U.S. has exonerated 186 people from death row; that number accounts for one out of every nine people on death row. Twelve of those exonerations happened here in North Carolina, including the 2014 exonerations of Leon Brown and Henry McCollum. Brown and McCollum were wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of an eleven-year-old girl, and spent 31 years in prison before being released.  The capital punishment system is prone to rampant abuse and error; as such, it is completely unacceptable to pursue.

Racial Inequity

The death penalty creates immense harm not only through false convictions, but also through the unjust and inequitable way it is administered.  Capital punishment harms the most vulnerable in our society, especially people of color. Black people are much more likely to be capitally charged and executed than a white person. Looking at the racial makeup of death row, the racial bias is clear. Black people are drastically over-represented, accounting for 42% of people on death row and 34% of those executed in the U.S., despite accounting for just 13% of the total population.  Racial bias is even more evident when we look at the racial makeup of victims in capital cases; despite 49% of homicide victims being white, 77% of capital homicide cases have involved a white victim.  If we are to build a genuine justice system, we cannot pursue policies like capital punishment that exacerbate racial inequities and target the most vulnerable among us.

Doesn’t Deter Crime

The harms of the capital punishment system are blatantly clear; however, some will argue that the death penalty is a necessary to deter the most severe crimes, such as murder.   There is no evidence to suggest this is true. In fact, states with the death penalty have higher murder rates on average than states that have abolished the death penalty; moreover, states that have abolished the death penalty have seen no significant changes in crime rates.

Waste of Taxpayer Money

The lack of any credible link between the death penalty and crime rates highlights not only that the death penalty has no deterrent effect, but also that is a massive waste of taxpayer money.  Capital punishment cases have much higher costs than non-capital cases. It is estimated that the state of North Carolina could save $11 million a year if it were to abolish the death penalty; these costs come in the form of defense costs, juror payments, hearings, etc. If there is no evidence to suggest the death penalty acts as a deterrent, why are we spending so much money on it?

The Pledge: Never Seek the Death Penalty

If we are to build a genuine criminal justice system here in Mecklenburg, the death penalty cannot be a part of it.  As one of the most visible symbols of White Supremacy in North Carolina, I will never seek the death penalty as District Attorney.