A message from CDPL Executive Director Gretchen M. Engel:
When I came to North Carolina in 1992 to work against the death penalty, my first client was an African American man who’d been convicted of killing a white state trooper. My next client was an African American man whose white girlfriend persuaded him to kill her estranged white husband. An all-white jury sentenced him to death; the girlfriend got life. In 1999, my Black client Harvey Green was executed for killing two white people during a robbery. In fact, if you’d looked at my client list over the years, you’d think most of the violence in this country has been carried out by poor Black people — and that most of the victims were white.
However, in fighting against the death penalty, we at CDPL have necessarily steeped ourselves in the history of racial oppression in America. We understand the torturous journey from slavery to lynching and racial terror, to Jim Crow and the modern death penalty. Because we’ve studied this history, we know that much of the violence in our country has been carried out not by the people on death row, but by white people, some of them carrying badges or sitting in the highest positions of power, seeking to maintain the social order. And most of the people murdered in this country have never gotten justice.
This is what the Halifax County Courthouse looked like less than 50 years before my first client’s trial there:
Today, we see the legacy of racist violence in the death penalty, and also in the public executions of George Floyd and Armaud Arbery. In the killings of Philando Castile, Keith Scott, Eric Garner, Danquirs Franklin, and so many others. Too many others. My heart breaks for their families, and for our country that is still so poisoned by racism.
People work at CDPL because they believe in the inherent dignity and worth of every human being. We also believe deep in our bones that Black lives matter. And I want to make a few things clear:
- We support the overwhelmingly peaceful and necessary protests against police violence.
- We respect the leadership of Black-led organizations like Black Lives Matter, Emancipate NC, and the NAACP. We defer to them about the best way to stand up to racism and police violence in this moment.
CDPL will continue to fight against the racist state violence of the death penalty. But we also see that the death penalty is just one tool of oppression, and that we must be in solidarity with other movements for racial justice. To all who fight racism and oppression, we stand with you.
I hope we can turn our grief and pain into real change and that the strength of the ongoing protests will move our policy makers, courts, and public agencies to face and dismantle the systemic racism that has plagued the country for 400 years. I hope for concrete and meaningful reform. CDPL looks forward to working with all of you to make that happen.