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Black and white: Examining how race affects justice system

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When a judge recently opened his courtroom door and asked Mecklenburg County public defender Kevin Tully to look at the people awaiting drug hearings, Tully immediately noticed one of Charlotte's most sensitive and enduring issues: Every defendant was black.

Tully said the judge then told him, "These drug laws are doing more to disenfranchise a whole people than Jim Crow ever did."

The anecdote was among the most pointed moments Friday at the Charlotte School of Law during a panel discussion involving some of the city's most prominent lawyers, public officials and activists.

The story reflected what panelists said was a disturbing national trend. The number of people in U.S. prisons has grown from fewer than 500,000 in the 1970s to more than 2 million today, a spike attributed largely to the nation's war on drugs, panelists said. About three-fourths of those in prison for drug crimes are minorities, though usage is spread across all races.

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