Moving Forward: NC Chief Justice Beasley speaks about race and criminal justice reform

Moving Forward

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — This week in our Moving Forward series we tackle the topic of North Carolina’s criminal justice system.

Many in North Carolina believe that there are two systems geared towards race. To get to the bottom of the issue and to hear the voice of someone who is a position to make a change, we sat down with
North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley.

We asked her questions about the fairness in the criminal justice system and how the state could Move Forward.

“Chief Justice Beasley, when people talk about the criminal justice system, especially people of color,
they talk about the disparities, how it’s unfair. When you hear that what do you think?” Marius Payton asked.

“Well as the chief justice it’s important for me not to discount that perception and we know, because
we’ve done the study.” said Beasley. “The prior chief justice did a study and we know there are people who believe that there are two kinds of justice. It’s been really important for us to think about how we can be responsive. How we can have constructive conversations around what we need to do and how the outcomes must change.”

CBS 17 also asked Beasley about recent cases of wrongful convictions. Ronnie Long of North Carolina was just released from prison after serving 44 years for a crime he didn’t commit.

Trust in the criminal justice system is an issue.

“We know that more than half of North Carolinians have no trust or confidence in our courts. It’s
important that we think about how we address race and gender in our courts.” Beasley said. “Since
the death of George Floyd and so many others we’ve been thinking differently about how we do our
work.”

So we followed up by asking how the court goes about making that type of change.

“We’ve been making plans around how we should address the issue and how judges must educate
themselves and others. How we must acknowledge the very difficult history in this nation and in this state around race.. And how that impacts how do our work. How we perceive each other and our biases and we must be responsive,” said Beasley.

So with the racial climate in the country at an all-time high in the middle of a pandemic, we wanted to know how the state moves forward from here.

“I truly believe with the pandemic and the heightened racial tensions, it’s important for us to have
constructive conversations about this moment. It’s important to also acknowledge the difficult history surrounding race and gender inequities in this nation. It’s also important for us to take ownership of our responsibilities in the ways that we’ve contributed to these disparities,” Beasley said.

When asked if there was hope in her heart that we are going to find ourselves in a better place, Beasley was very optimistic.

“Oh, I’m indeed hopeful. It is always through challenges and overcoming those challenges and every
single period in this nation’s history we’ve had to pull together and work through some very difficult
times and we’ve always come out better on the other side,” she said.

Beasley is currently practicing what she is preaching. She is part of the Faith and Justice
Alliance, which is a program that encourages clergy and other faith organizations to host legal clinics for their communities.

And she is also helping with the Second Chance Act, which helps juveniles with
non-violent offenses have their records expunged.

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