RACIAL JUSTICE ACT HEARING
MAY HAVE IMPLICATIONS
FOR GOVERNOR’S RACE
By Cash Michaels
The Johnston County Superior Court hearing this week over whether North Carolina’s former Racial Justice Act (RJA) should be re-instituted in the case of convicted murderer Hasson Bacote may provide a political problem for Democratic gubernatorial candidate state Atty. General Josh Stein in his quest to become governor.
Why? Because in actively opposing the RJA, Stein’s office is on the other side of an important argument that could cost him African-American votes, if not in the primary, certainly in November’s general election.
In opposing Bacote’s RJA appeal, AG Stein’s office wrote, “Racial discrimination in jury selection is abhorrent in all respects and has no place in the criminal justice system. Nevertheless, like all claims, a claim of racial discrimination cannot be presumed based on the mere assertion of a defendant; it must be proved by sound and probative evidence."
AG Stein’s office is asserting such evidence does not exist in the Bacote case.
However, Stein’s Democratic opponent for governor, retired state Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan, who was one of the Democratic justices to support the RJA while he was on the High Court in 2020, responded, “It's shameful that my primary opponent AG Stein is trying to keep a convicted Black defendant from getting his long-awaited day in court before early voting begins.”
Justice Morgan continued, “Stein doesn't want Black voters to know his argument in this high-profile case, which is that the defendant did not experience racial discrimination, despite the NC Supreme Court's Racial Justice Act ruling.”
Morgan’s criticism of the state attorney general certainly doesn’t help Stein with Black voters. The question is, how much will it hurt Stein going forward if he likely wins the Democratic gubernatorial primary March 5, and then faces Black Republican candidate for governor Mark Robinson in November.
Meanwhile, the Hasson Bacote case has been well publicized this week.
Bacote is a Black death row inmate, convicted in the 2007 shooting death of a Johnston County teenager. He appealed his conviction under the RJA, saying that his prosecutor’s racial bias influenced the predominately white jury selection for his trial.
The RJA, which became law in 2009 and cited statistical evidence showing that North Carolina prosecutors were more likely than not to strike Black jurors from capital cases involving Black defendants, was repealed in 2013, but not before Bacote’s then defense attorneys appealed. The Democratic-led state Supreme Court, which Morgan served on, ruled in 2020 that Bacote’s RJA appeal that he should have his death sentence commuted to life in prison without chance of parole, should still be heard, even though the law was no longer on the books.
On Monday, the hearing in Johnston County Superior Court began with Bacote’s attorneys from the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, the Center for Death Penalty Litigation and Legal Defense Fund presenting a professor from Michigan State University as a defense witness, showing how studies have shown North Carolina prosecutors statistically have employed racial bias in capital case jury selections involving Black defendants.
In Bacote’s case, the ACLU has stated that prosecutors “removed Black jurors three times more often than it removed white jurors.”
The North Carolina Dept. of Justice, over which Atty. Gen. Josh Stein presides, was on the other side of the courtroom, arguing that there was no evidence directly connected to the prosecution of Bacote showing that it was anything other than what it was - a clean capital conviction with the defendant rightfully convicted of murder and sentenced to death for his crime.
Legally at stake here are the over 100 cases of other death row inmates who also filed appeals under the RJA before it was repealed in 2013. If Bacote wins in Johnston County, they all have the chance to have their death penalties commuted to life without parole if they can also provide evidence of prosecutorial racial bias in their cases.
But state DOJ attorneys don’t want that. They are invested in having the death penalty re-instituted in North Carolina after a decades-long moratorium.
All of this is happening against the backdrop of Johnston County’s well-documented racist history, the most infamous icon of which being the highway billboard that once greeted travelers to Smithfield during the 1970’s saying, “This is Klan Country. Join & Support The United Klans of America, Inc. Help Fight Communism & Integration!”
“Smithfield is KKKK Country” a second, smaller sign underneath proclaimed.
Also on that billboard, the illustration of a hooded Klansman on a horse, holding a burning cross.
That billboard was indicative of the kind racist injustice African-Americans in Johnston County had experienced for decades.
Bacote’s ACLU attorney Henderson Hill told the court Monday that racism still pervaded the Johnston County courts, and Bacote’s defense had both the statistical, and documented evidence to prove it.
In his opening statement to the court, atty Hill also invoked the historic case of the Wilmington Ten in Pender County, and how a white prosecutor there used racial bias in selecting a predominately white “KKK” jury to ultimately convict ten activists of crimes they were innocent of.
“North Carolina’s death penalty is plagued with discriminatory policies and practices that uphold the legacy of Jim Crow and racial terrorism,” said Henderson Hill, senior counsel for ACLU. “The importance of Mr. Bacote’s case finally being heard is a critical step in fulfilling the promise of the Racial Justice Act that North Carolina’s death penalty should no longer be stained by the legacy of racism.”
The hearing could last two to three weeks.
ROBINSON BOASTS THAT GOP
RESPONSIBLE FOR NORTH
CAROLINA’S “FIRM FOOTING”
By Cash Michaels
When it comes to political party - Democrat or Republican - which is responsible for North Carolina’s overall good economy, and who do you believe?
According to USA FACTS and other sources, North Carolina’s current positive economic outlook is holding steady.
North Carolina’s economy ranks 11th in size in the nation. In November 2023, the unemployment rate here was 3.5%. Latest data shows that North Carolina’s economic growth is ‘lower that the US overall,” but still good, as the American economy continues to defy expectations, growing at a faster pace of 3.3% by the end of 2023.
But last weekend, if North Carolina is enjoying any good economic news at all, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, front-running Republican candidate for governor in the March 5th primary, demands that state Republican leaders deserve all of the credit, and Democrats deserve none of it.
“As we travel the state, we like to tell how Republicans turned North Carolina around,” Robinson told CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) in Washington, D.C. last weekend.
He went on to tell how before Republicans took over the state legislature in 2010, North Carolina was “three to six billion dollars in debt to the federal government,” and began furloughing state workers because they couldn’t be paid.
“Teachers didn’t get a raise for six years,” he said. No one wanted to do business in North Carolina because “taxes were too high, regulations too stiff.”
But Republicans took over in 2010, and now, over 13 years later, North Carolina isn’t “a dime in debt” to the federal government, Robinson claims.
“We have a $5 billion surplus. And for two years running, North Carolina is a major business location, according to major publications,” Robinson added.
‘We’re on firm financial footing. Everybody wants to come to North Carolina to do business.”
Robinson credited “conservative principles in our policies and they yield a positive result,” and then he bashed the news media for not reporting how states led by conservatives are allegedly doing better than blue states led by Democrats.
“Democrats are wrong on every political issue,” opined Robinson. “They don’t have a political leg to stand on. They don’t have a social leg to stand on. They don’t have a spiritual leg to stand on.”
“They have nothing to stand on, because they do nothing right!”
The two leading Democratic gubernatorial candidates couldn’t disagree more with Republican Robinson.
State Atty. Gen. Josh Stein, when recently interviewed, ran off a host of economic successes that Democrats in North Carolina, including Gov. Roy Cooper, are responsible for.
But he also reminded all about costly mistakes North Carolina Republican conservatives have made.
“You remember how we suffered through HB2 (the bathroom bill),” Stein recalled. “That was an albatross that the Republicans put on our state’s economy, costing us billions of dollars because they wanted to fight the culture wars, and Gov. Cooper admirably worked hard to get that off our books, and by doing so, it reopened North Carolina to the world.”
“So you look at the governor’s leadership, and you look at the talent and spirit of the people of this state. We’ve got a very talented workforce, we have excellent community colleges, and we have to make sure that we continue to invest in our people so that we are and remain an attractive place for business to thrive.”
“President Biden was here [recently], talking about an $82 million investment in broadband here in North Carolina,” Stein continued. “That is on top of nearly $2 billion in broadband [already] coming to North Carolina, only because Democrats were in control in Washington.”
“North Carolina, because we expanded Medicaid, is getting $1.4 billion that we can now use to address the gaping holes in our health care system. Again that is because of Democrats in control.”
In fact, the Republican-led state legislature passed Medicaid expansion during their last session, but there is no question that Gov. Cooper and his fellow Democrats have been pressuring the GOP to do so for many years.
Stein continued, “We look at Toyota [manufacturing] coming to North Carolina, and Vinfast (Vietnamese automaker) coming to North Carolina. Wolfspeed [silicon carbide chips] dramatically expanding their operations in North Carolina. And so many other economic development initiatives which when those projects come online, are going to create thousands of good paying jobs, jobs that will pay a living wage to a lot of working folks around this state.”
“Those are because of efforts by the governor and positioning North Carolina to succeed in the clean energy economy, rather than putting our head in the sand and pretending that the climate crisis is a hoax. So there is a great deal for Democrats to champion in this state, but there’s a great deal of work that remains to be done in terms of public schools, and safe communities and an affordable, accessible health care system.”
AG Stein concluded, “ Democrats deserve a lot of credit for the good in this state.”
Though he may oppose Stein in the March 5th Democratic gubernatorial primary, retired NC Associate State Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan agrees that Democrats have also brought economic success to North Carolina in several ways, but charges that Republicans like Robinson only represent the interests of the wealthy, not the needs of the working class.
“Democrats have been the originator of the ideas that Republicans have taken, absorbed and reinvented to be their own by way of their own fantasies, and turn them in such a way that they claim to have brought these about [for everyone], when only a token few are benefitting,” Justice Morgan said.
“And those token few being those that benefit the Republican Party, and in turn the Republican Party benefits those benefactors.”
Morgan continued,” But the fact is it’s been Democrats that have looked at these notions of economic uplift for everyone.
Morgan added that the weight of economic growth has been placed on the backs of the middle and working class, even though their wages are not growing commensurate with their ability to maintain that growth, nor pay the taxes that come with it.
“We’ve got a tax structure that, with Democrats, would have those that would pay their fair share to be able to equally be able to bring the kinds of resources into North Carolina financially, to have North Carolina to thrive, and provide services for everybody,” Justice Morgan said.
But Republicans have made sure that neither the wealthy nor corporations pay their fair share of taxes, Morgan maintains. Then they’re able to brag that everyone is enjoying the fruits of prosperity, when, in fact, middle and working class North Carolinians are shouldering the main responsibility for paying for the state’s needs.