Civil rights and voting activists target Wake County DA primary

RALEIGH, North Carolina (WTVD) — Leaders and representatives of civil rights organizations gathered on the steps of the Wake County Courthouse to announce voter mobilization campaigns aimed at giving voters ways to demand fairness, justice, and change in Wake County’s criminal justice system, focusing on the core democratic system for the Wake County District Attorney.

“We the people have the power to say who we the people want to fill this very important position, that power they have,” said Diana Powell, executive director of Justice Served North Carolina. “We the people have the power to put the right person in that seat. It must be without bias, malice or self-interest. Honesty is key. We the people must exercise our right to vote with able.”

According to Daryl Atkinson, co-director of the Forward Justice Action Network, this office remains critical to the future of community members, especially ethnic minorities, who are more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts.

“The district attorney is one of the most important players in our criminal justice system,” Atkinson said. “They can be either a change agent for good or a change agent for bad. And we are looking for a change agent for good, and I implore the people of this county to get active and come out and vote on the May 17.”

Many organizers demanded that the elected district attorney take concrete action to end racial disparities in policing, charges and arrests, with some, including Atkinson, criticizing what he called the service of the lip service given by the holder, Lorrin Freeman.

“We had a district attorney’s office that was blind to the disparate impact and contact that law enforcement inside Wake County has with black people and black people,” said Dawn Blagrove, executive director of Emancipate North Carolina. “We’ve had a district attorney’s office unwilling to recognize over-policing in our community, and we’ve had enough.”

According to ACLU data from 2010 to 2018, black people in Wake County are 3.4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people. Black residents make up 21% of Wake County’s population in 2021, according to the U.S. Census.

Blagrove said the desired priorities for the district attorney include not prosecuting minor marijuana charges, cracking down on illegal police practices, not seeking the death penalty, bail reform and focusing on communities rather than arrests.

“We need a DA committed to restorative change and using trauma-informed practices to keep people out of the criminal justice system instead of sending more people into it,” Blagrove said.

Several speakers underlined the power held by the public prosecutor. Powell stressed that community members must vote for this powerful position because the district attorney has the power to choose which cases to pursue or to dismiss.

In addition to the district attorney position, Marcus Bass, executive director of Advance Carolina, emphasized the importance of the positions of sheriff and district court judge to voters.

Closing the press conference, Blagrove stressed that voters must use their voting power to ensure that the power of the district attorney’s office is used when needed.

“If they are using their power to disenfranchise you, to decimate your communities, to police our children, and to make sure the American dream is out of reach for blacks and browns in Wake County, then they won’t not use your power the way you need to use it,” Blagrove said.

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