In the wake of the events of Ferguson, Missouri, a national debate has erupted over policing in local communities: are racial minorities unfairly targeted, and if so, what should police departments be doing to address that issue?
On Saturday, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP welcomed Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue, Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton, and Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood for a two-hour forum on policing here in Orange County, with topics ranging from the role of police in schools to the use of deadly force.
Listen to Aaron Keck’s full story on WCHL.
Listen to Saturday’s forum in its entirety (approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes long). Additional highlights from the forum can be found below.
“The events that we’ve experienced in other parts of the country have made it clear that we have work to do in our own community,” said Diane Robertson, who moderated Saturday’s forum at the Rogers Road Community Center. About 50 people packed the room, including several elected officials.
At issue was the question of “implicit bias” in policing: do police officers unfairly target racial minorities, even without intending to? Blue, Horton and Blackwood all reiterated that their officers don’t intentionally discriminate.
“I think if you show raw data to the officers – which we have – they’ll say, ‘man, I’m surprised by those numbers, it doesn’t feel like it would be skewed,'” Chief Blue said. “I know for folks out there in the community it feels very obvious that it’s skewed, but for those officers, I don’t think there’s intentional effort to skew the data one way or the other.”
Chief Horton agreed. “When I was on patrol, I didn’t look at the race of the person I was stopping, I was looking at the car – if a tag was out, I’d stop the car for a violation – and I’m pretty sure that’s how it is now,” he said.
“We want to do the right thing,” Sheriff Blackwood added. “I don’t think anybody puts the uniform on with an evil heart.”
But even if there’s no intent to discriminate, there are numbers suggesting that minorities in Orange County do get singled out. About 20 percent of the traffic stops in Orange County involve black drivers, even though only 10 percent of the population is black – and when they’re pulled over, black and Latino drivers are also 2-3 times more likely to have their vehicles searched than white drivers are in the same circumstances.
Those numbers indicate a serious issue in our community – even if the cause, or the solution, isn’t as obvious.
Stephanie Perry (in attendance) discusses implicit bias with Sheriff Blackwood, arguing that officers will “congregate” in low-income or majority-black neighborhoods.
Sheriff Blackwood responds to Perry (in the most heated moment of the forum): of vehicles searched in Orange County last year, he says, 23 were driven by black drivers and 20 were driven by white drivers.
Diane Robertson replies to Blackwood: “(That) might seem almost 50/50, but that’s not the population breakdown.”
“We’re scratching our head about some of the same data,” Chief Blue said. “If I could figure out exactly why those disparities are happening, I would take action immediately, but I’m not sure either.”
Chief Blue says the CHPD will bring in trainers this year to help officers recognize and deal with implicit bias.
But all three police chiefs said they were committed to addressing the issue and improving the quality of policing in Orange County – in a variety of different ways. Many of those efforts are already ongoing: Sheriff Blackwood said his department is beginning to reward officers who speak a second language; Chief Blue said the Chapel Hill PD documents and reviews every single use of force by an officer; and Chief Horton spoke of community policing and similar efforts to improve communication between officers and citizens.
Chief Horton discusses the importance of communication.
And all three emphasized the importance of CIT, or Crisis Intervention Training, as an effective tool for training officers to de-escalate tense situations.
Chief Blue discusses the CHPD’s goal with respect to the CIT program.
Sheriff Blackwood describes a recent incident where an officer’s CIT training helped resolve a dangerous situation.
In addition to programs already in effect, Chiefs Blue and Horton both said they were hoping to roll out a body camera program in the next fiscal year.
Chief Blue discusses the benefits (and possible challenges) of body cameras.
And all of those efforts have had some positive effects. For one, Chief Blue says there’s been a steady decrease in the number of times his officers have had to use force.
“Those continue to trend down,” he said Saturday. “We investigate every single complaint we receive, and we require – even if we don’t get a complaint – any time an officer uses force, we document every single (instance). And those numbers are trending down.”
But while that statistic is promising, the larger issue persists. Sheriff Blackwood said it’s important for all of us to highlight our similarities rather than our differences: “I was always taught that when you take our skin off, we’re the same color; there is no difference, we’re human beings first.”
Sheriff Blackwood discusses the process of training for when to use and when not to use deadly force – a question that, for him, hits very close to home.
But moderator Robertson responded that there’s still a gap between that ideal and everyday reality. “We may be all the same on the inside, but we’re not all the same on the outside,” she said, “and I think the concern is that that’s having an effect on how people are being treated.”
And Chief Blue added that that gap generates mistrust, where officers and citizens can begin to suspect each other even when no one is doing anything wrong.
Chief Blue describes a “powerful phone call” he received recently from a resident.
The issues raised at Saturday’s forum will likely take years to address, if not longer. Chief Blue said his department is doing a great deal to tackle the problem – but it’s an ongoing project.
“This implicit bias stuff is tough,” he said. “Over two years ago we began a process of quarterly analysis of every single traffic stop by an officer, (requiring) supervisors to certify to me that they’ve had a conversation about their data…and that’s enabled us to have some important conversations, and I believe it’s laid the foundation for some of this implicit-bias training that we’re going to do…
“However, it’s very hard to know what’s in someone’s heart. We all bring bias into every encounter…so being able to talk about it together is, in my mind, the only way to bring it to a level of consciousness where you can feel bias creeping in and take some action in response.”
And insofar as we in Orange County are not immune from bias – and insofar as we are all human, as Sheriff Blackwood observed – our community is also not immune from the issues that sparked such a national outcry last year.
“This community really isn’t that far from Ferguson,” said Robertson. “That is, I think, why people are here today.”http://chapelboro.com/news/safety/work-naacp-hosts-police-chiefs-sheriff
Police chiefs from Chapel Hill and Carrboro will meet with the local NAACP Saturday to answer questions about racial equity in Orange County policing.
The meeting follows up on forums held back in October, after citizens started asking questions about military gear and tactics used by local police departments all over the U.S.
Such issues were highlighted by unrest in Ferguson, MO. over the Aug. 9 death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, who was shot by Police Officer Darren Wilson. The officer was not charged in the incident.
Concerns over policing were also stirred by a New York Times article that shed light on the 1033 program of the Department of Defense.
The program supplies surplus military gear to local law enforcement agencies nationwide. Chapel Hill and Carrboro police have, at times, participated in the program, but did not receive high-powered weapons, according to both chiefs.
Chief Chris Blue of the Chapel Hill Police Department hosted a forum with citizens at the Chapel Hill Public Library on Oct 4.
Blue addressed concerns about low recruitment of African-American officers on his force by saying the CHPD had “not done a very good job” in that area, but he added that applications have been generally declining in recent years.
Two days later, Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton held a similar forum at Town Hall. He admitted that he took exception to questions about racial profiling.
“We don’t racially profile,” said Horton. “To be honest with you, I kind of feel offended by that, because, being the first black chief – I know how it feels to grow up being a black male here. I’ve been walking, and had people cross the street. I’ve been in other places and looked at funny by the police. I know how that feels. So, I would not let that go on.”
Both chiefs have attended Organizing Against Racism workshop training since holding their October forums.
Saturday’s meeting of the Orange County NAACP and the police chiefs of Chapel Hill and Carrboro takes place at noon at the Rogers Road Community Center on 101 Edgar St. in Chapel Hill.http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-town/police-chiefs-chapel-hill-carrboro-meet-naacp
CHAPEL HILL – The message of the Moral Monday protests echoed throughout the celebrations of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day as the community gathered to remember the fight for equality that the civil rights leader began decades ago.
Orange County Commissioner and civil rights attorney Mark Dorosin was the keynote speaker for the Chapel Hill Carrboro NAACP’s annual event Monday to remember Dr. King, this year with the theme, “A Day of Redemption.”
“What Dr. King showed us of so powerfully and what the Moral Monday Movement reminded us of is that we fight back by standing together against the politics of injustice,” Dorosin said.
The day kicked off with a rally in the Peace and Justice Plaza. Activists then marched down Franklin Street to the First Baptist Church of Chapel Hill for music, prayer and special messages to honor the pastor, activist, and humanitarian.
Dr. King would have been 85 years old on January 15.
Many of the day’s speeches compared the Moral Monday peaceful demonstrations of 2013 against the policies of the Republican-led General Assembly to the efforts of Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Dorosin talked about the significance of keeping the movement alive.
“We must insist that our public officials and our policymakers consider the impact of exclusion in every decision that they make in our name,” Dorosin said. “We must hold ourselves accountable in all our actions that that ensure equal treatment for everyone in our community. I think that is what Dr. King meant when he said we must strive for the ‘understanding, creative, redemptive good will of all people.’”
Senator Valerie Foushee (Dem.), who represents Orange and Chatham Counties, spoke at the rally on Franklin Street and marched alongside her constituents and local elected officials from the three municipalities
“It is so good to see so many of you here this morning. It says to me, and I hope it says to everyone here, that we are serious about realizing the dream,” Foushee said.
Former State Senator Ellie Kinnaird retired last August after nine terms of service due to frustration over what was happening in the State legislature. She said she was tired of watching the reversal of “many progressive measures” which she and others had pushed through.
Kinnaird spoke about the importance of not forgetting Dr. King’s teachings and remembering the people who she said were most impacted by the State’s law changes.
“I am a survivor of a vicious legislative attack on me, on Valerie, on women, the elderly, the middle class, the disabled, and most of all on the poor,” Kinnaird said.
Sa’a Mohammed, a student at UNC, said she was touched by the diverse crowd that gathered to rally and march down Franklin Street together.
“The fact that we are able to unite this way is such a significant thing and it makes me really hopeful and optimistic for the future and the fact that we will be able to overcome some of the challenges that are still facing our society,” Mohammed shared.
Minister Michelle Laws, former president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, gave one of the most passionate speeches of the day and received a standing ovation for her call to action.
“We are here today to send a message to Governor George Wallace—I’m sorry—I mean, to let Governor Pat McCrory and the likes of Art Pope know that you cannot block the doors of opportunity for the masses and expect to sit comfortably in your seats of power,” Laws said.
Each year, activists in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community also join in the annual State NAACP’s Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) march on Raleigh. This year it is happening on February 8 and will be combined with a Moral Monday rally.
MLK Day rally marshal Minister Robert Campbell, current president of our local NAACP chapter, was one of the many who encouraged people to attend the Moral March on Raleigh and rekindle the movement.
“We have to work together in order for political, social, economic and education change to take place and to be sustained. We cannot think that for a moment that the movement is for a minute. It is forever,” Campbell said.
Other Moments of the Day
During Monday’s service, those arrested during Moral Monday were also recognized. Some shared their experience of being arrested and why they felt moved to do so.
Civil rights attorney Al McSurley introduced Dorosin and recounted the time when the two first met. Dorosin joined McSurley’s law firm when the practice was on Franklin Street above the Rathskeller. Dorosin is now Managing Attorney at the UNC Center for Civil Rights. Both are representing Moral Monday arrestees in court.
Diane Robertson was presented with the Rebecca Clark Award for her work in voter registration efforts.
Francis and Marguerite Coyle were awarded the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Service Award.http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-town/ch-honors-mlk-annual-rally-looks-ahead-moral-mondays
Pictured: Moral Monday March on July 29
CHAPEL HILL – Events have been taking place in the nation’s capitol and across the country to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Here in North Carolina, the state NAACP’s “Taking the Dream Home” Rally, happening simultaneously in all 13 congressional districts on Wednesday, is coming to Chapel Hill.
Attorney and activist Tye Hunter of Chapel Hill is speaking at the rally in front of the Peace & Justice Plaza on Franklin Street. Hunter will be joined by other speakers such as former state senator Ellie Kinnaird, Dr. Bill Turner, and Paige Johnson of Planned Parenthood.
“We hope to be and certainly the NAACP hopes to be a continuation of that struggle which started a long time ago and has made some progress but still has a lot of progress to make.” Hunter says.
Hunter explains the rally is also a continuation of the Moral Monday protests, led by NAACP State Chapter President Reverend William Barber. The series of demonstrations, which happened over the summer in Raleigh, and then in cities across North Carolina, saw more than 900 arrests in the General Assembly. Hunter was arrested during the second Moral Monday on May 6.
Thousands gathered at those rallies, and he hopes the same energy will carry over to Wednesday’s event.
“I think it is just very important that we continue,” he says. “This is what Reverend Barber always says, that ‘we are a movement and not a moment.’”
Hunter says his talk will center on criminal justice in North Carolina, specifically the repeal of the Racial Justice Act. The 2009 law allowed convicted murderers to reduce a death sentence to life in prison if they could prove that race played a major role in their cases, but was overturned in June. Hunter says statistical data proved that it was necessary to maintain fairness
“It’s pretty outrageous that the legislature’s reaction to all that is to say, ‘Well, let’s do away with that [the Racial Justice Act],’” Hunter says. “So we found we had a problem and the legislature said let’s do away with it.’”
Other topics slated for discussion include voting rights and economic justice. For more information about the rally happening at 5:30 p.m. in front of the Courthouse on Franklin Street, click here.http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-town/ch-hosting-rally-to-commemorate-march-on-washington
RALEIGH – After nearly 50 arrests so far— the North Carolina NAACP plans to risk it again Monday evening at the General Assembly with its third consecutive week of protests.
Members of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, joined by other community members, have been protesting and even arrested in recent rallies.
State Chapter President Rev. William Barber is now calling the event “Moral Mondays.” It’s happening at 5:30 outside the State Legislative Building.
Thirty people were arrested last Monday, a week after 17 protesters were taken into custody.
The NAACP and other activists say the Republican majorities in the legislature are backing a regressive agenda on social programs, voting rights, education and tax policy. The civil rights groups and others say the GOP actions disproportionately hurt the poor and minorities.
Barber won’t say how long protests will continue. He says they’re a part of a wider strategy that includes legal action and political organizing.http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/naacp-protest-set-for-monday-night-following-30-arrests-last-week
RALEIGH – NAACP protesters and other activists —including some from Chapel Hill— say the “wave of civil disobedience” won’t stop until they feel their voices have been heard by the NC General Assembly.
More than 50 people have been arrested so far and more may follow.
NAACP NC State Chapter President William Barber led the rally Tuesday night at the Martin Street Baptist Church in Raleigh. Due to forecasted inclement weather, it was moved from outside of the General Assembly.
“In the face of 500,000 North Carolinians not getting health care, where is your voice now? In the face of unemployed workers getting hurt more, where is your voice now?” Barber said.
Participants prayed, held a candle lit vigil, and sang several songs together.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP chapter members will took part in the rally—including Bishop Larry Reid of Cathedral of Hope Mission Church in Carrboro.
“Tonight was not only a re-gathering but a re-grouping. We have a better understanding of what we are trying to make happen,” Reid said. “We have a lot of new faces in the audience and a lot of new faces that are coming out to support us and a ready to stand with us.”
One of those new faces was Chapel Hill resident Bert Gurganus.
“It’s not that hard to stand-up and say ‘I’ve had enough,’” Gurganus said.
He was there as a concerned citizen and also to represent the organization Occupy Health and Wellness NC.
Gurganus is a general contractor in Carrboro—his business is Space Builders construction company.
“They are trying to roll back our environmental protection which to me are the foundations for good life,” Gurganus said.
He also believes that this recent wave of state legislation is regressive.
“What I see happening in our state is antithetical to democracy and good sense,” Gurganus said.
Reid says that with each protest—people from a wider range of backgrounds are showing up.
“People continually misunderstand what the fight is about—the fight is really about the people,” he said.
Reid says state legislation—from restrictions on voting rights, to budget cuts in public education, to the rejection of federally-funded Medicaid expansion— could negatively affect a large number of North Carolinians.
“Take a strong look at what the legislature is putting out,” he said. “When you look deeper and deeper, you’ll find that it is cutting at the core of humanity.”
Barber spent a good part of his speech talking about legislation like Bill 589, entitled the Voter Information Verification Act. It passed in the House in April and requires voters to show photo identification at the polls. Members of the NAACP view the bill as a form of poll tax.
“So you have a group in this general assembly that’s going against their own progressive history—they are going against history where they agreed that we need to expand voting rights,” Barber said.
Barber also spoke against Senate Bill 667, Equalize Voter Rights, that could prevent parents from claiming their kids as dependents for tax exemptions if their kids are registered to vote at any address other than the parents’ home address.
A noteworthy attendee was one of the state legislator’s own—NC Senator Earline Parmon of Forsyth County.
Reid and Barber say there will be another protest outside the General Assembly this coming Monday.http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/chapel-hill-activists-rally-in-raleigh-against-general-assembly
CHAPEL HILL – Members of the Chapel Hill Carrboro NAACP joined others Monday for a rally in Raleigh—this coming after last week’s protest where 17 were arrested, and more than two dozen were arrested again.
Bishop Larry Reid was one of the several Chapel Hill residents arrested. He’s a Vice President of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP chapter
At 5:30 this evening, Reid is urging people of all races to take part in another “wave of civil disobedience.”
***There are conflicting reports about the number of those arrested. WRAL reports 30 people were arrested while the AP says there were 27.
General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver says all are likely to face misdemeanor charges similar to the 17 NAACP protesters arrested last Monday. Those arrested this week include members of the social justice group Raging Grannies, several university professors, and the son of state NAACP president Rev. William Barber.
“It’s not just a black issue. That’s the way it was played off last Monday night. People made it out to be heavily laced in black folks and said that all it is. But that’s not the issue. It’s far from it,” Reid said.
Along side NAACP NC Chapter president Rev. William Barber last week, Reid and other activists participated in a “pray in”— or demonstrations through prayer and song. The protest took place inside the state Legislative Building. Reid says the arrest was worth it to prove his point.
“What’s being done in the house is not just being directed at African Americans—it’s directed at the vote, it’s being directed to de-power the people,” Reid said.
Protestors will gather outside of the state legislature this evening. Reid says Raleigh law enforcement warned him and others not to protest inside the State Legislative Building again.
Some of the issues they are protesting include limitations to voter rights—like the Voter ID bill, which passed in the House in April. It requires voters to show photo identification at the polls. Members of the NAACP view the bill as a form of poll tax. Reid also believes it’s not right that federal funding to expand Medicaid was rejected. He believes these issues will affect many North Carolinians.
Reid hopes that if more people protest, state leaders will acknowledge their presence.
“And the issues are that they refuse to give us an ear to hear the complaints of the people,” Reid said. “While they were looking down upon on us from their solarium above, they were thinking, ‘Oh there’s only a handful of them. That’s not enough to get our attention. Throw them out of here.’”
He said he did not receive a response following last week’s protests.
The NAACP will hold a candlelight vigil outside of the State Legislative Building Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m.http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/protests-continue-naacp-member-says-its-not-just-a-black-issue