In early 2021, more than 150 years after the Civil War and the passage of the 14th Amendment, the N.C. Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Criminal Justice System (NC CRED) launched a campaign to rid county courthouses across North Carolina of Confederate monuments and symbols.
CDPL stands in solidarity with this effort and with civil rights advocates who seek racial justice in all aspects of the criminal punishment and carceral systems.
As James E. Williams Jr., who is of counsel at CDPL and serves as NC CRED Chair, said, “Our public grounds, especially our courthouse grounds, should not be home to symbols that honor white supremacy. Their presence at courthouses undermines our country’s aspirational goal of guaranteeing equal justice under the law, something that cannot be realized as long as people of color have to walk past monuments to white supremacy to enter a courthouse.”
Many of the men and women on death row in North Carolina were sentenced in courthouses shadowed by Confederate monuments, statues, and portraits that were erected during the Jim Crow era. These monuments were intended not as simple historical monuments, but to reinforce a racist caste system that prevented Black Americans from becoming full citizens.
The continued presence of these monuments is indicative of our state’s broader failure to root out racism that lies at the heart of the criminal punishment system. CDPL’s comprehensive project, Racist Roots: Origins of North Carolina’s Death Penalty, explores the many ways that the modern death penalty was shaped by racism.
CDPL believes that removing these monuments is an important first step in acknowledging institutional racism. However, we must not stop there. We must also change policy that springs from racist roots, up to, and including ending the death penalty.