Via Color of Change:
Time and time again the criminal justice system in the United States continues to disappoint and traumatize Black communities — ripping families apart and leaving communities to deal with the consequences of the lack of accountability from police officers, prosecutors, and judges. In North Carolina, we are confronted daily with a morally corrupt criminal justice system that destroys people’s lives, people like Dontae Sharpe.
Dontae has been incarcerated since the age of 19. He has now spent 22 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.1 Dontae has spent decades behind bars despite a complete lack of evidence against him, recanted witness testimony and mounting evidence of misconduct by police and prosecutors in Greenville, NC.
In the face of such grave injustice, we must act on the moral imperative to repair the harm to Dontae, his family and community. In this holy week, we must not forget that the Bible reminds us of our moral responsibility to proclaim liberty to the prisoner.2 For more than a year the North Carolina NAACP has called on the government of North Carolina to free Dontae Sharpe. Now, along with Dontae’s mother, Sarah Blakely, I am asking for the support of Color Of Change members to bring him home.
Dontae was convicted of a murder connected to a drug buy in 1994 but the case quickly fell apart. The prosecution’s key witness recanted her testimony within two months of the trial and a detective from the case has come forward to admit that Dontae was wrongfully convicted and that evidence in the case was selectively documented to build the case against him.
Yet, Pitt County Prosecutor Kim Robb refuses to reverse course. The actions of the Pitt County District Attorney’s Office have convinced us that Robb has lost her way — focused on avoiding accountability for a grave misdeed, while Dontae is sacrificed in the name of maintaining the status quo. She knows that Dontae’s freedom exposes crookedness in the Pitt County Criminal justice system that continues to this day. It is time for her office to take responsibility and right this wrong, or declare a conflict in this case.
Dontae has spent over half of his life behind bars because he maintains his innocence. If he’d confessed to the crime he was convicted of he would be home today. His case is a tragic example of the deep-rooted brokenness of our criminal justice system where prosecutors and police can exploit racism and inequality to try and extract guilt from innocent people.
We know these are not isolated cases. In North Carolina and all across the country, there are thousands of cases where Black people have been wrongly convicted and harshly sentenced to prison for crimes they did not commit and that were never properly investigated.3 Some have been exonerated but many more remain in prison and even on death row.4
There is a long history of Black people enduring the pain of being mistreated by the judicial system. From coerced confessions to ineffective eyewitnesses, misconduct by police, mishandling of DNA evidence, to biases from judges and prosecutors, Black communities suffer from a criminal justice system that repeatedly discriminates against them.
But I believe we can correct these harms by joining together to call on those in power to do what’s right. Last year, in a troublingly similar case, we were able to help free Kalvin Michael Smith, after he was wrongfully imprisoned for 19 years by pressuring the Attorney General to show leadership.5 We can do the same for Dontae.
Dontae’s youth, freedom, and life are being stolen by the criminal justice that should have been protecting his innocence. Governor Cooper, Attorney General Josh Stein, and D.A. Kim Robb can now correct the mistakes made by the courts 2 decades ago— they can overturn this wrongful conviction and unite Dontae with his loved ones and return him to his community. We can’t wait another decade. We can’t wait another day.
Until justice is real
Rev. William Barber IIPresident, NC NAACP State ConferenceArchitect of the Forward Together Moral Movement
“Lacking evidence, recanting witness suggests another look necessary in Sharpe conviction” wnct.com, 03.10.2016. http://act.
- Luke 4:18
“Don’t stop fighting: Wrongfully convicted man free after 32 years” CNN, 03.17.2017. http://act.
“Troy Anthony Davis,” TroyAnthonyDavis.org 09.21.2011. http://act.colorofchange.org/
- “Uncovering the truth Kalvin Michael Smith has been released from prison,” MTV.com 11.10.16. http://act.colorofchange.org/