ORANGE COUNTY-Orange County recently became the first county in the state to formally take a stand against using the death penalty.

During last Tuesday night’s meeting, the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted 6-1 to pass a resolution calling for the repeal of capital punishment. Allen Archibald of Hillsborough first asked the board to pass the motion; he says his stance against capital punishment has been motivated by what he perceives to be racial biases.

“We now know as a matter of statistically demonstrated truth that the deck is seriously stacked against people of color,” he says. “Perhaps the most sacred rubric of America’s legal system is equal treatment before the law. But, when it comes to the death penalty, we have very unequal treatment before the law.”

Earlier this month, the state General Assembly voted 33-14 to pass Senate Bill 306, which effectively removed the remainder of North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act. The act had previously been in place to allow death row convicts to make appeals based on racial biases. Numerous local politicians, including state Senator Ellie Kinnaird, have been vocal about their support of the act.

The resolution also came in a timely manner because April 22 marked the 26th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in McCleskey v. Kemp. In that case, the Supreme Court held that a defendant couldn’t rely on statistical evidence of racial bias to challenge a death sentence.

Along with Archibald, Quentin Harper of Carrboro also spoke out in favor of the resolution during Tuesday’s meeting.

“As a person of faith, the Bible says that thou shall not kill,” he says. “Whether you’re a person of faith or whatever your beliefs may be, I think that’s something we can all agree on. Nobody’s given us the power to take life.”

Commissioners Mark Dorosin, Bernadette Pelissier, Penny Rich, Renee Price and Barry Jacobs all gave remarks to support the resolution.

“I personally believe the death penalty is immortal, unconstitutional and racist,” says Dorosin. “I desperately think we need too much justice.”

And Jacobs says even though he’s not necessarily opposed to the death penalty itself, he voted in the motion’s favor because of the way capital punishment has been implemented in modern times.

“I’ve always seen both sides of this argument,” he says. “Personally, if I ask myself if I’m in favor of the death penalty, the answer is yes. This resolution, however, speaks to the world in which we live today, in which there’s an unjust criminal justice system.”

Commissioner Earl McKee provided the one dissenting voice among the board. He says even though capital punishment might not be fair in every case, the Board must still represent those Orange County residents who support it.

“I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable in having unanimous votes on our Board on social issues when I know that there are many different views within our community,” he says. “And I think we all know that there are radically different views on this death penalty issue.”
County commissioners aren’t the first local government officials to speak out against the death penalty; the Carrboro Board of Aldermen and Chapel Hill Town Council have both passed resolutions opposing capital punishment.