Crime & Courts

Public defenders: Let’s address the racial bias in criminal justice system

More than 150 people, many of them public defenders, gathered at uptown’s Martin Luther King Jr. statue Friday to publicly raise concerns of how the criminal justice system disproportionately affects minorities.

The public defenders, who represented at least 12 North Carolina counties, read a statement aloud alleging that institutional bias, including in their own offices, had created a state and national problem that must be addressed.

About half of those on hand represented the Mecklenburg Public Defenders’ Office, including its chief, Kevin Tully.

James Williams, chief public defender for Orange and Chatham counties, read the statement, which was first reported in the Observer on Thursday. In it, the attorneys say bias toward minorities influences everything from arrests to conviction rates and sentencings.

In response, Mecklenburg District Attorney Andrew Murray said his office has put steps in place to help ensure that cases – and defendants – are handled fairly, regardless of race or other factors.

“It is also worth noting that minorities are disproportionally victimized by crime here and across the country,” Murray said in a statement. “Here in Mecklenburg County, they have a District Attorney’s Office that stands up for them and works to seek justice on their behalf.”