Last Sunday’s front page story in the New York Times – “The Disproportionate Risks of Driving While Black: An examination of traffic stops and arrests in Greensboro, N.C., uncovered wide racial differences in measure after measure of police conduct,” has rightfully unleashed a number of follow-up stories and commentaries in the North Carolina media and at least a measure of soul searching by public officials.
As the Times damningly reported, people of color are disproportionately stopped and searched by police “even though they found drugs and weapons significantly more often when the driver was white.” If this isn’t powerful confirmation that something is dreadfully wrong when it comes to policing and race relations in our state, it’s hard to know what would be.
Unfortunately, some people who ought to be part of the solution are resistant. As Susan Ladd of the Greensboro News & Record explains in her latest column, Greensboro police chief Wane Scott is still in a state of denial:
“But even confronted with cold, hard data that show significant disparities in treatment of black and white citizens, his first reaction was to defend his department and refute the evidence. In a front-page story on Sunday, The New York Times examined the data on traffic stops in the city for the past 5 years, finding significant differences in police conduct based on the race of the driver.
In his initial response to the city council and City Manager Jim Westmoreland, Scott criticized the reporting and writing and argued that racial disparities in the statistics didn’t necessarily reflect racial bias on the part of officers.”
As Ladd goes on to explain, it may be understandable that Scott is initially defensive about such a critique of his department, but it must not be the end of the story.
“It’s time to stop being defensive and address the explicit procedures and the implicit motivations that drive these numbers.
The department should examine and consider adopting the changes in policy and procedure implemented by the Fayetteville Police Department.
And the city needs to stop denying the existence of implicit bias in policing.
I believe Chief Scott to be a decent and thoughtful man. But all people, regardless of race or nationality, have some form of implicit bias.
It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re bad people. It means we have deeply seated prejudices, so deep that we aren’t really conscious of how they affect our behavior and beliefs. And we need to deal with them.
To interrogate our perceptions and attitudes is important, but it’s not enough. To make sure those attitudes and perceptions don’t affect our actions is paramount, especially when we have power over other people.
To find a meaningful solution, you have to admit you have a problem.”
New editorials today in Raleigh’s News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer echo Ladd’s call for action throughout the state. The Times story makes clear that it’s well past time for state and local leaders to speak with one voice to demand that law enforcement in North carolina be carried out in a truly color blind fashion everywhere.