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:

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Commentary

Greensboro voters strike a blow against legislature’s attempted city council takeover

As readers will recall, one of the most contentious battles of the 2015 legislative session was the one that centered around Guilford County Senator Trudy Wade’s efforts to remake the Greensboro City Council without the approval of Greensboro voters. As this morning’s lead editorial in the Greensboro News & Record points out, Wade’s effort received a powerful “thumbs down” from voters in yesterday’s municipal elections:

“All nine members were re-elected by wide margins — and voters agreed to lengthen terms from two years to four beginning in 2017, as the council proposed.

Coming in the midst of a months-long battle over the shape of the council, the result delivered a clear verdict. ‘The city is comfortable with the City Council it has, and it has reaffirmed that,’ Mayor Nancy Vaughan said.

State Sen. Trudy Wade sold her restructuring bill as an answer to dissatisfaction with Greensboro’s mix of district and at-large seats. An all-district system would provide more equitable representation, she said.”

Let’s hope yesterday’s vote sends a strong message to state lawmakers to give up their efforts to meddle in local government elections in areas (like Wake County) in which they don’t like the outcomes. Unfortunately, given their record of shameless interference, this seems unlikely anytime soon.

Commentary

Racial profiling by NC law enforcement agencies must end now

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.

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Commentary, News

Great news from Greensboro: City Council votes to raise minimum wage

The growing grassroots movement to pay American workers a living wage got a nice boost last night. The Greensboro News & Record explains:

“The minimum wage for city employees is going up.

The City Council voted 7-2 Tuesday to increase minimum wages to $10 an hour for regular and seasonal employees, except for those at the Greensboro Coliseum, and $12 an hour for employees who also receive benefits.

Councilmen Tony Wilkins and Justin Outling voted against the plan, which also sets a goal of raising the minimum wage for city employees to $15 by 2020.”

You can watch TV coverage of the vote in this Fox 8 story.

Meanwhile, advocates who have been pushing for the  action for years praised the Council’s decision. This is from a statement by the good people at Working America:

“Carolyn Smith, North Carolina state director for Working America, praised the city workers for banding together and pushing the City Council to take up the issue.

‘This is a step in the right direction for Greensboro and working families,’ Smith said of the planned increase. ‘What we’ve heard from city workers is that they love Greensboro; they’re loyal to their jobs, but they struggle to take care of their families. This vote moves us closer to creating a family wage that will strengthen our community and gives businesses an incentive to follow suit.’

‘It’s great to see elected leaders standing with the women and families of Greensboro,’ Smith added.”

Let’s hope last night’s action helps spur many similar actions in the weeks  and months ahead.

Commentary

History student examines parallels between General Assembly’s Wake and Guilford power grabs and NC’s dark past

redistricting_mapMicah Khater, a previous contributor to N.C. Policy Watch and a Caldwell Fellow in the University Honors Program at N.C. State University majoring in History and French, recently authored the following interesting essay on the efforts of state lawmakers to impose new electoral maps in Wake and Guilford Counties:

Echoes of North Carolina’s dark past
By Micah Khater

Our politicians often try to resurrect images of the past in order to justify present decisions. For many, history can have a political purpose: it can be used to uphold conservative ideals of American tradition while omitting the imperfections of our past. But this version of history is fraught with errors and grossly oversimplified. If we submit to the desires of those who wish to erase the flaws of our history, we will lose the hindsight necessary to fully evaluate present public policy.

As I was listening to the recent controversy over the General Assembly’s proposal to redistrict the Wake County Commission and Greensboro City Council, I found myself reflecting on a story that sounded eerily similar.

It was 1934. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in the midst of enacting major legislation as a part of his New Deal. White Democrats maintained a choke-hold on the South. It’s important to remember that “Democrats” and “Republicans” of the early Twentieth Century were not what they are today. Although FDR was a Democrat, and often strived to appeal to southern lawmakers, his New Deal legislation threatened the racial and economic hierarchy enforced by the Democratic Party of the South. Anxieties ran high among North Carolina Democrats who worried that the New Deal might accelerate labor movements. Even though they singlehandedly controlled all state-level politics, the Democrats worried about a few renegade counties in the western part of North Carolina.

Wilkes County was one of those Republican strongholds. There were only a handful of counties in the western part of the state, like Wilkes, that had not yet disenfranchised African American voters, most likely because of their historic support for the GOP in a Democratic-majority state. Read more