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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

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

johnson_terryAny notion that Alamance County’s anti-immigrant crusading sheriff Terry Johnson (pictured at left) would be at all chastened as a result of being sued by the federal government for unlawfully targeting Latinos has been quashed in recent days. On Monday, the Alamance County Board of Commissioners approved without debate a request submitted by Johnson to send four of his officers to Texas at taxpayer expense for a “Sheriff Border Summit” sponsored by the notorious anti-immigrant group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

As the watchdogs at the Southern Poverty Law Center document here, FAIR is an anti-immigrant advocacy  group that maintains a “veneer of legitimacy” at the same time that “its leaders have ties to white supremacist groups and eugenicists and have made many racist statements.”

Click here and scroll down to page 7 to see a flyer describing the event, which looks as if it will feature a who’s who of anti-immigrant zealots. This is from the flyer:

“Join Sheriffs from around the nation for the 3rd Annual Border Summit, and education and training event created specifically for Sheriffs.

Hear from top experts in the field of:
Drug Cartels
Narco Culture and Occult
National Security
Terrorism
Transnational Gangs
The training will include a tour of the Texas-Mexico Border meeting with Texas Border Volunteers and Texas Bar B Q at the Vicker Ranch”

Johnson’s request is that Alamance County taxpayers pay “Approx. $2,570” for four individuals from his office to travel to Texas next month to attend the event. Somewhat strangely, Johnson’s request seeks approval for the men to travel to El Paso, Texas, but the flyer attached to the request says that the event will be in the city of McAllen, which is 800 miles east of El Paso. Sounds like quite a road trip could be in the offing.

According to the Associated Press, one of the men slated to attend the event, Richard Longamore, once “forwarded an email to the sheriff and his chief deputy bemoaning a federal program that provides temporary visas to foreign nationals who are the victims of such violent crimes as rape, incest and torture.”

Johnson was, of course, has long been a controversial figure in North Carolina and one of the state’s most outspoken public officials on the matter of  immigration. He was sued by the United State Department of Justice for unlawfully targeting Latino residents for investigation, traffic stops, arrests, seizures, and other enforcement actions. Last month, a federal judge in Winston-Salem dismissed the lawsuit, but advocates remain hopeful that the Department of Justice will appeal the ruling.

This is from a statement issued by the ACLU of North Carolina in response to the judge’s decision: Read More

Commentary
Eric Garner

Photo: www.commondreams.org

The issue of young men of color dying in police custody has been dominating the national news of late and rightfully so. Millions of Americans in many cities — mostly people of color — live in fear and/or distrust of the police in their communities and this is not a recipe for a healthy society. Concerted action — protests, demands, and action by community leaders and elected officials — are all necessary if we are are going to tackle this unacceptable situation.

Dana Millbank of the Washington Post was right recently when he wrote that President Obama would do well to seize the moment surrounding the outrage that’s occurred across the political spectrum in the Eric Garner case out of New York (tragically pictured above) in which a young man was killed by a police choke hold. As Millbank noted, the Garner tragedy offers some glimmers of hope in that the killing is actually drawing harsh assessments from white commentators on the right who rushed to the defense of the police officer in the Ferguson, Missouri case.

What to really DO about the situation, however, is less clear. Millbank says President Obama should  look at creating alternatives the grand juries for investigating police deaths. Others are pushing the idea of police body cameras. Those are both promising ideas as far as they go.

The real solution that no one really seems to want to talk about, however, is this: Read More

Uncategorized

New report shows that in North Carolina, African Americans are 3.4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite equal use rates

State spent almost $55 million enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010; ACLU-NC says North Carolina needs to change failed laws

RALEIGH – According to a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union, North Carolina spent nearly $55 million enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010, while statewide African Americans were arrested for marijuana possession at 3.4 times the rate of whites, despite comparable marijuana usage rates. The report, Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests, released today, is the first ever to examine state and county marijuana arrest rates nationally by race. Read More