Commentary

Hopeful news on race-based traffic stops

In case you missed it, there has been some hopeful news in Greensboro this week with respect to the city’s troubling record of race-based traffic stops. As you will recall, the New York Times published a major front page story in October entitled “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.”

Since that time, city officials have, to their credit, begun to take action to address the injustice. This is from yesterday’s Greensboro News & Record:

“Racial disparities in traffic stops have decreased over the last month, Police Chief Wayne Scott told the City Council on Tuesday.

Scott called the change, measured in the month since the department changed the way it conducts traffic stops, a positive sign but not a solution.

Residents spoke before the council Tuesday to call for further changes to policing in the city.

Last month, Scott ordered a halt to traffic stops for minor infractions such as broken tail lights. The order came in the wake of a front-page article in The New York Times that showed black drivers in Greensboro were more likely to be pulled over for routine traffic violations and searched more often than whites.

On Tuesday, Scott told the council that from Nov. 11 to Dec. 10 the number of stops declined by 32 percent when compared with the same period last year. Stops for vehicle equipment violations declined by 88 percent.

Officers conducted 1,157 traffic stops during the period. They stopped black motorists 566 times and whites 556 times.

Scott also told the council that there had been no measurable increase in accidents or safety issues due to the change in traffic stops.”

As the story also noted, however, Greensboro — like a lot of other North Carolina cities — has a ways to go:

“The council also heard from members of the Community-City Working Group, which has been working with city leaders on issues of discrimination in policing.

The group, which includes the Rev. Nelson Johnson of the Beloved Community Center and the Rev. Julie Peeples of the Congregational United Church of Christ, called on the council to implement further steps including:

  • Ending ‘contact policing’ — or increased stops and searches in perceived high crime areas to ‘fish’ for possible infractions.
  • Ending charges of delaying, obstructing or resisting arrest unless they are linked to a greater precipitating charge.
  • Adopting a Lowest Law Enforcement Policy to get police to concentrate resources on violent crimes rather than low-level offenses, such as possession of small amounts of marijuana.
  • A review and revision of the anti-bias training given to police officers.
  • Making all traffic stop and arrest data available online, following the format and example of the N.C. Department of Justice.”

Let’s hope the progress continues and that city officials work closely with citizens groups to make the city a model of progress in this area rather than a symbol of North Carolina’s racist past.

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