RALEIGH — The leader of the North Carolina branch of the NAACP is calling on the state Republican Party to denounce an inaccurate mailer attacking Democrats, saying the ad is racist.
The Rev. William Barber, the state's NAACP chairman, spoke outside the state headquarters of the N.C. Republican Party Thursday to demand the "repudiation and retraction" of a mailer targeting Democratic legislators over support for the Racial Justice Act.
Approved last year, the new law allows for the sentence of a death row inmate to be converted to life without the possibility of parole if the inmate can show their race played a role in his or her sentence.
The mailer sent out by the state Republican Party featured photos of two men on North Carolina's death row, one black and one white, and inaccurately said that the act would allow "activist judges to weaken the sentence of death row inmates ... making some eligible for release immediately."
Barber said that the GOP mailer intentionally mischaracterized the law, suggesting murders would be released and could move in next door to law-abiding voters.
"It's a big lie," Barber said. "It's racist and it's cynical. When you deliberately lie and deliberately distort a law intended to fight racial injustice, that in itself is racist."
State GOP chairman Tom Fetzer has refused to comment on whether the mailer produced by his staff is accurate, instead attempting to shift the focus to a Democratic Party mailer that inaccurately suggested that Republican legislative candidate Buck Newton of Wilson had been arrested on drug charges. Those charges were dismissed as a case of mistaken identity, according to Newton.
In addition to misrepresenting the effect of the law, the mailer has drawn the ire of Democrats because Rep. Hugh Holliman was among those targeted.
Holliman, a Lexington Democrat, lost his 16-year-old daughter Suzi in 1985 after she was kidnapped, raped and murdered. Holliman witnessed the execution of her murderer in 1998 and has been a consistent supporter of the death penalty.
Fetzer said he called Holliman last week to say he was "sorry if the mailer caused him or his family any anguish."
The ad was also apparently mailed to attack the handful of Democrats who voted against the final version of the bill, such as Rep. Arthur Williams of Washington, N.C.
Barber compared the GOP mailer to other infamous political ads from Republicans, such as the "White Hands" ad former Sen. Jesse Helms used against Harvey Gantt in 1990 and the Willie Horton ad used by George H.W. Bush in the 1988 presidential campaign.
"It's fear mongering and race bating," Barber said. "There's no place for that in our society. It's wrong. This is 2010, not 1898."
Fetzer, who again refused to comment on the mailer's truthfulness on Thursday, was in his office as Barber and his group held a media conference outside. He said he saw no reason to meet with Barber personally to discuss the ad.
"He is fond of calling people racist with whom he disagrees," Fetzer said of the NACCP leader. "If he wants to come and have a photo op on our front lawn, that is his right. But I don't feel compelled to help him."
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