Citing ‘Defining Moment’ on Race, Gov. Cooper Launches Criminal Justice Task Force

In a show of defiance, protesters turn their backs and kneel in front of a line of Charlotte police officers during a May protest of George Floyd's killing. Floyd's death sparked massive unrest and led to panels like Gov. Roy Cooper's Racial Equity Task Force, which published a list of criminal justice reform recommendations in December 2020. (Photo for Cardinal & Pine by Grant Baldwin)

By Billy Ball

June 9, 2020

The task force, assembled after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, will make recommendations for reforms by Dec. 1. 

Saying that Black Americans are “too often” treated unfairly by courts and police, Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday announced the formation of a racial equity task force focused on criminal justice.

“This is a real defining moment,” Cooper said. “Not only for our state, but for the entire country.”

Cooper’s announcement comes more than two weeks after George Floyd was killed during an altercation with Minneapolis police. Floyd died May 25 after an officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. 

Four Minneapolis officers have been charged since the disturbing incident, which prompted a wave of protests across the US and in North Carolina.

Cooper said Floyd’s death only highlighted longstanding criminal justice inequities. 

“It’s been on paper,” Cooper said. “Now it’s on video for all to see. Now it’s time to get to work.”

RELATED: Gov. Roy Cooper: ‘Black Lives Do Matter.’

The governor tasked Anita Earls, an associate justice with the NC Supreme Court, and Josh Stein, the state’s attorney general, with leading the panel. 

Earls, a civil rights attorney and former director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, described herself as a person of color married to another person of color who’s had negative experiences with law enforcement.

“Real change is long overdue,” said Earls. “And it must come now.”

Cooper said he expects a report with recommendations for reforms delivered to him by Dec. 1.  

Anita Earls, associate justice on the NC Supreme Court, was tasked as co-leader of the panel by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Floyd was buried Tuesday next to his mother in Houston, although a service was held Saturday in NC’s Hoke County, the home of some of Floyd’s family members, including his sister. 

State officials say the task force will include community policing advocates, state and local law enforcement, representatives of the courts, and people from marginalized populations.

Cooper created the task force with an executive order, also launching a center within the State Bureau of Investigation tracking data on the use of force in law enforcement.

Cooper’s office cited a number of statistics during Tuesday’s briefing, pointing out Black adults are almost six times as likely to be incarcerated as white adults. Black men are more than twice as likely to be killed by police as white men. Black women are 1.4 times more likely to be killed by police than white women.

“Any act of violence is tragic,” Stein said Tuesday. “But especially when perpetrated by those who swore an oath to protect us.” 

“These numbers are stark,” added Cooper. “And they tell a story that Black americans have been living and telling us every day, even when there is not a spotlight.”

The nationwide protests have spurred calls for police reforms with some taking root. Minneapolis leaders began talks for a complete overhaul of their police department. And in North Carolina, where protesters clashed with police in cities like Charlotte, Raleigh and Fayetteville, Charlotte officials were set to consider funding for the city’s police department. Meanwhile, Cooper is likely to face scrutiny for his handling of racial justice during his 16-year tenure as attorney general in NC.

Eric Hooks, secretary of NC’s Department of Public Safety, dispatched a letter this week to law enforcement agencies under his supervision to review their policies on use of force and cultural sensitivity.


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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