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Durham Community Groups Want End To Alleged Police "Racial Profiling"

James Williams
Leoneda Inge

Community organizations and faith-based groups in Durham are calling for a series of measures to help end what they call "racial profiling" by the Durham Police Department.

Representatives of the NAACP, Durham Congregations in Action, Fostering Alternatives in Drug Enforcement -- or FADE -- and several other groups are pushing for five main changes.

  • Written consent-to-search policy for all vehicle searches
  • Marijuana lowest law enforcement priority
  • Mandatory periodic review of officer stop data
  • Reform and strengthen Durham Civilian Police Review Board
  • Mandate officers participate in formal racial equity training

James Williams is the chief Public Defender for Orange and Chatham Counties. He spoke at Thursday's news conference outside Durham City Hall.
“Well, I think all members of the bar have a duty to make our system of justice a better system," said Williams.  "And one of the most significant flaws in our system of justice today is the racialized outcomes as it relates to our criminal justice system.”

Frank Baumgartner is a Professor of Political Science at UNC Chapel Hill and has been in analyzing police records of the the ten biggest cities in North Carolina. 

'Where we found a 77percent disparity across the state between blacks and whites and their likelihood of being searched, in Durham, it's about 260percent. So that is truly astounding.' - Frank Baumgartner

"For reasons that I really don't understand Durham is an outlier," said Baumgartner.  "Where we found a 77 percent disparity across the state between blacks and whites and their likelihood of being searched, in Durham, it's about 260 percent.  So that is truly astounding."

Baumgartner says he wonders what could have possibly made that happen.

Omar Beasley is with the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and is a longtime Bail Bondsman.  He says numbers like this don't surprise him.  Beasley says the Durham Police Department has a notorious reputation for targeting people of color.  

“I’ve seen and heard so many stories.  Just this morning I was downtown at the jail.  A woman in her early 60s got arrested for possession of marijuana, probably less than a half ounce and some rolling papers, and she had to stay overnight in jail, and elderly black woman," said Beasley.  "I’m not surprised, I see it daily.”

Durham’s Human Relations Commission spent the last several months holding a series of hearings to investigate allegations of racial profiling and misconduct by Durham Police.  Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez has denied such acts.

Leoneda Inge is WUNC’s race and southern culture reporter, the first public radio journalist in the South to hold such a position. She also is co-host of the podcast Tested and host of the special podcast series, PAULI. Leoneda is the recipient of numerous awards from AP, RTDNA and NABJ. She’s been a reporting fellow in Berlin and Tokyo. You can follow her on Twitter @LeonedaInge.
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