Two brothers in North Carolina have been freed from prison after three decades because DNA evidence showed that they did not rape and murder a young girl in 1983. This has happened more than 300 times over the last 15 years or so. But the twist here is that these specific two innocent people were used by the Republican party in that state to whip up fear during a campaign.
But in the years before the brothers’ exoneration, the Republican party demonized politicians who sought to ensure justice for McCollum and other potentially innocent black men in death row. A campaign mailer issued by the North Carolina Republican Party in 2010 warned that McCollum “might be moving out of jail and into Your neighborhood sometime soon” because Democratic lawmaker Hugh Holliman voted for a law known as the Racial Justice Act. On the reverse side of the ad was an image of a man wearing a ski mask and holding a crow bar.
The ad called Holliman a “criminal coddler,” depicting Holliman as a dangerous soft-on-crime candidate because he aspired to help those wrongly imprisoned and spare death sentences for the innocent.The Racial Justice Act, which has since been repealed, allowed inmates to challenge their death sentence if they could show racial bias. In North Carolina, as in the United States overall, blacks are dramatically more likely to face death sentences, sometimes in cases in which raced played an overt role.
But criminal justice reforms to correct false convictions that may pose a more genuine danger to many black men have historically faced a difficult political road, thanks to campaigns like this one that punish views depicted as soft on crime, even by judges. In Oklahoma, legislators moved to impeach several state justices who suspended death sentences using secret lethal injection drugs not regulated by the FDA. Days later, one of those inmates was executed in a prolonged, botched execution in which Clayton Lockett slowly suffocated for 43 minutes. And in South Carolina, the Republican Governors Association ran a vicious political ad against Democratic candidate Vincent Sheheen for representing criminal defendants as a lawyer. The ad alleged that Sheheen, a former prosecutor, “protects criminals not South Carolina.”
Such ads are standard operating procedure for the Republican party and has been for decades. It’s pure demagoguery, using unjustified fear to whip people into a frenzy and get them to vote for you.