History made, a district attorney faces a tall task

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For Matt Scott, making history might have been the easy part.

Scott, the first American Indian district attorney in North Carolina, earned that distinction rather easily actually, despite facing opponents in the primary and general election who were both well-qualified and ran excellent campaigns.

Now, as we suggested, comes the hard part — and if his performance on Thursday night as he was sworn in to office before a large and enthusiastic crowd at the Givens Performing Arts Center is a harbinger, then we believe he is up to the formidable task.

Scott sounded all the right notes on Thursday. He shared credit for his ascension to either the No. 1 law enforcement slot in the county or No. 2, depending on how you rank such things, and then spoke about family, church, community and the need for county residents to unite in the fight against crime.

And while promising not to go soft on crime, he offered up ideas on not only how he would deal with those who would cause mayhem in this county, but also how he would attack the root causes of crime, and not just its symptoms. On that front, he will need help from our school system and with the recruitment of jobs because county crime is tied fast and hard to our poverty.

This county’s crime problem, the worst in North Carolina if you believe the numbers, is also driven by drugs, and Scott is willing to distinguish between those who profit off drugs and those who are a slave to their use — a position that his partner in the crime fight, Sheriff Burnis Wilkins, also is drifting toward.

To that end, Scott is proposing different paths for violent criminals and drug users as they enter the county’s judicial system. Here, we want to be clear: Anyone who sells drugs in this community is committing an act of violence, and should you doubt that, take a look at the human heap of carnage that is left behind, especially by the use of opioids.

Scott’s “drug court” will pay unending dividends. Immediate and obvious would be unclogging the courthouse calendar and freeing up resources so the really bad guys can be dealt with quickly and with force. A drug court also could give abusers of alcohol and drugs another chance to fight their addiction and to return to society as a contributor, and not as a parasite.

Scott also must deal with what the court calendar already has pending, including, we are told, as many as 140 murder cases, many of which are years old, cases in which the accused are walking among us, out on bond. Scott is proposing an approach this newspaper has long espoused, and that is an acceptance that more hands are needed on deck.

He believes he can bring in a special corps of assistant district attorneys to help plow through the cases, but speeding up justice in Robeson County will also depend on additional public defenders, judges and court support personnel. We know that clearing the calendar would lean heavily on plea bargains, and we can only hope that is done deliberately and with the public’s best interest in mind.

It is a monumental task, one that Scott stepped forward to undertake. But we know Scott, a native of this county, is driven by a desire to see it thrive and become a place where people can raise a family, work and play without fear.

He appears to have the ideas, energy and passion to make a difference. We wish him luck, as he will need that as well.