Three years in, Cooper, Stein, Earls still fighting for soft-on-crime policies

Front of general assembly with a parked police car.

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  • This column is part one of a two-part series.

In January of this year, North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls spoke glowingly of her work on the state’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice. Along with Attorney General Josh Stein, Earls is the co-chair of the task force, created in the summer of 2020 by Gov. Roy Cooper. 

According to the task force’s webpage, “The Task Force’s work will focus on addressing existing policies and procedures that disproportionately affect communities of color and developing solutions to ensure racial equity in North Carolina’s criminal justice system.” 

Task force members produced a report at the end of 2020, advocating over 100 specific changes to criminal justice laws and procedures in North Carolina. Late last year, the task force released another report and provided a progress report on each of the 125 recommendations proposed in 2020. 

It is worth noting that in a time of rising crime and an increasingly violent populace, the words “improve public safety” do not appear in the mission statement of the task force. Publicly released statements do refer to the recommendations as “focused on working with local governments and community organizations to implement programs that promote public safety while minimizing racially inequitable practices and reducing the burden on law enforcement.”

However, of the task force’s 125 recommendations, there is not a single recommendation that suggests tougher penalties, criminal sentences, or longer prison terms, except as it applies to police officers accused of violating procedures. While the task force makes a few non-controversial recommendations, such as improving mental health services throughout the criminal justice system, the recommendations are a laundry list of liberal “go softer” on crime polices, such as ending cash bail, eliminating fines, and recommending lighter prison sentences for even the most heinous criminals.

“The recommendations include a punishing list of suggested mandates imposed on police, including extensive new reporting requirements, regular psychological testing for officers, forcing police departments to create diversity panels, and deciding where police officers can and cannot live,” said William Allen, retired North Carolina law enforcement officer with more than two decades of experience in policing and the military. He’s currently employed by the John Locke Foundation. 

“In total, the recommendations make it harder to catch criminals, collect evidence, convict criminals, and keep them behind bars. Scant few of the recommendations deal with convicts who might actually be innocent,” added Allen. 

Gov. Roy Cooper created the 24-member task force in June 2020, the month after George Floyd died while in the custody of Minneapolis police.  

“Self-styled ‘racial justice’ advocates like Josh Stein and Anita Earls have succeeded in giving the public the false impression that the United States is suffering from an epidemic of racially motivated police misconduct,” said Jon Guze, senior fellow for legal studies with the John Locke Foundation. “In reality, however, what we’re suffering from is an epidemic of Black homicides. Ironically, it’s clear from the evidence that this epidemic of Black homicides was caused, not by racism, but by reductions in proactive policing following violent anti-police protests and rising levels of anti-police hysteria in general.” 

There is no indication that Cooper, Stein, or Earls have rethought their positions and advocacy in the wake of skyrocketing crime in North Carolina. 

Carolina Journal’s David Bass recently reported that crime and violence has spiked 24% in North Carolina’s public high schools.  

However, the task force’s liberal wish list is facing a buzzsaw in the conservative General Assembly. 

Democrats and Republicans by wide margins passed and sent to Cooper a bill to toughen penalties for rioting and property destruction. House Bill 40, Prevent Rioting and Civil Disorder, passed the state Senate with all Republicans voting in favor of the bill. In contrast, 16 out of 17 Democratic senators voted against the bill. The sole Democratic senator who supported H.B. 40 was Sen. Mary Wills Bode, D-Granville. 

In the state House, one of the lead sponsors of the bill is Rep. Shelly Willingham, D-Edgecombe. Willingham, a former law enforcement officer, supported the bill despite opposition from most in his party. 

Courageously, Rep. Willingham did not walk away from his support for law and order despite grossly over-the-top threats from liberal activists.   

As noted by former John Locke Foundation Board Chair John Hood, six state House Democrats crossed the aisle in support of the anti-riot bill.  

Democratic Rep. Abe Jones, a former Wake County judge who supported the bill, said there’s no excuse for someone to destroy a peaceful protest with violence. 

“I despise somebody who would go out and tear up another person’s property that they didn’t pay for and take advantage of a situation — sometimes a very good protest — and then flip it,” said Jones. 

Cooper vetoed a similar bill last session, writing that the legislation was “unnecessary and is intended to intimidate and deter people from exercising their constitutional rights to peacefully protest.” 

The bill directly contradicts the task force’s efforts in this area, which are focusing on police conduct at protests rather than criminal behavior.  

However, the bill passed with plenty of bipartisan support this time, far above the needed votes to override Cooper’s video. 

Cooper’s task force is on the wrong side of the legislature, public opinion, and public safety.  Will Cooper change his tune, and break with his own task force and sign the bill? Will he just let it become law, inflicting a softer blow to the defeated task force recommendations in this area? Will Cooper stand with Earls, Stein, and the task force and veto the bill despite an almost certain override? 

Perhaps the eventual successful implantation of this anti-riot bill will be the beginning of the end of this dangerous pro-criminal task force. 

In part two, CJ examines Justice Earls’ involvement on the task force and conflicts with her role as a justice

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