Race And Policing: Are We Addressing The Issue The Right Way?

How can Chapel Hill prevent itself from becoming the next Tulsa, the next Charlotte, the next Ferguson? Are we taking the right steps now – and what more do we need to do?

Protests are still ongoing, across the state and beyond, after last week’s shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott by a police officer in Charlotte.

The details surrounding the incident are still in question. But Scott’s death (one in a series of similar incidents nationwide) has nevertheless helped spark a conversation about race in America, racial disparities in policing, and the relationship between police and residents, particularly African-American residents.

What are the facts? Numerous studies have confirmed that police departments across the country do, in fact, have a tendency to treat African-Americans differently. (One especially disturbing study out of UC-Davis found that black Americans are 3.49 times more likely than white Americans to be shot by police while unarmed.)

This is not because police officers are somehow uniquely racist. In fact one study by the University of Chicago has found that police officers are less likely to discriminate than members of the general population.

But the disparities persist – and not for the reasons you might think. There’s little correlation with crime rates, for one; police shootings are just as likely to occur in lower-crime cities as higher-crime cities. African-Americans are more likely than whites to have their vehicles searched after being pulled over – but police actually find contraband at a higher rate when searching vehicles driven by whites. (That disparity was particularly egregious in Ferguson, Missouri – where “black motorists were more than twice as likely to be searched as whites following a traffic stop, but were 26% less likely to be found in the possession of contraband,” according to a forthcoming report co-written by UNC professor Frank Baumgartner.) And it’s not just white officers who are discriminating: when it comes to racial disparities in policing, statistically speaking it doesn’t matter much whether the officer is white or black. (It was an African-American police officer who shot Keith Scott in Charlotte.)

Here’s a list of eighteen related studies on racial disparities in policing (including four cited above).

What about locally? At UNC, Frank Baumgartner has studied traffic stop data for police departments across North Carolina – and he’s found racial disparities in almost all of them. Police are significantly more likely to search the vehicles of African-Americans and Latinos after stopping them (particularly young men), even though they’re no more likely to find anything illegal. Orange County police departments are not immune: researchers have also found disparities in Chapel Hill and Carrboro as well as the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Charles Blackwood, Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue, and Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton have all expressed concerns about those numbers; they’ve each publicly committed to ongoing conversations with the community and active efforts to study possible reforms.

What’s the best way to make progress on this issue? Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump addressed the question at their first presidential debate on Monday. Trump called for an expansion of “stop and frisk” policies, which give police more leeway to search people on the street – arguing that the policy led to a significant drop in New York City’s crime rate. (New York’s crime rate did drop during the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk years – but the crime rate was also dropping nationwide, and there’s still disagreement over how much of a role “stop and frisk” played in New York. Former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Trump supporter, says “stop and frisk” made a difference; current mayor Bill de Blasio, a Clinton supporter, says other factors were more important.) Regardless of the impact on the crime rate, though, the “stop and frisk” policy did exacerbate tensions between the NYPD and the city’s black community – because there was a large racial disparity in how the policy was applied. Black New Yorkers were far more likely than white New Yorkers to be subjected to a frisk – so much so that a district court judge struck down the policy as unconstitutional. (The case never went beyond district court, because the city did not appeal.)

Hillary Clinton, on Monday, suggested a different approach. Rather than “stop and frisk,” she said, local law enforcement agencies should focus their efforts on community policing. The “community policing” model begins with a key insight: police officers and citizens often see each other as adversaries because they only encounter each other in moments of conflict, when circumstances are tense and there’s an immediate danger of violence. To build trust and stronger relationships, the community-policing approach encourages officers to engage with residents on a regular basis, in calmer and friendlier circumstances – speaking in classrooms, organizing charity events, getting to know the residents of a neighborhood, and so on. Advocates say that approach will make communities safer: crime rates are lower in close-knit neighborhoods, and people are less likely to break the law when they view “the law” as a friend rather than an adversary. (There’s some data to support the theory: for instance, the national crime rate dropped dramatically during the 1990s, the same time “community policing” became popular – though of course other factors may have played a larger role there.) But aside from the effect on crime rates, community-policing advocates also say the approach will ease tensions between police and African-Americans – and eventually begin to mitigate disparities as well.

Orange County’s local police departments have largely embraced the community-policing model, an approach that local African-American leaders applaud – even though they maintain (and local police chiefs agree) that there remain statistical disparities that still need to be addressed. Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP president Rev. Robert Campbell says Orange County’s approach – going all in on community policing while actively fostering a dialogue about race – could be (and should be) a model for other communities, like Charlotte and Tulsa and Ferguson.

That’s not to say ‘it can’t happen here’ – after all, it can happen anywhere – but Rev. Campbell says the local community is tackling the issue the right way.

Rev. Robert Campbell spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


Chapel Hill Residents, NAACP Members Stage Protest Against UPS

About 30 protesters stood and sat on Eubanks Road outside of the UPS Monday evening. They were hot, and they were tired but they continued to wave signs at and chant to passersby and cars.

They’re protesting what they say is the mistreatment and discrimination against the employees of UPS. One of those protesters is Lucy Lewis. She’s a member of the Labor Committee of the Chapel-Hill Carrboro NAACP. She said UPS has created a hostile work environment for the elderly and for people of color.

“This is not the kind of workplace we want in our local community,” Lewis said. “We want a workplace where workers can be treated fairly.”

Reverend Robert Campbell is the President of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro chapter of the NAACP. He also said the conditions are unfair, but not only at the Chapel Hill UPS location.

“We will be going to Durham,” he said. “We will be going to Morrisville. And there will be other locations that we will be going to.”

Campbell said the local branch of the NAACP wants to have a sit-down with the management at these UPS stores to come to an agreement.

“They need to have quarterly, monthly meetings with the workers and the management to resolve these issues that come forth every week, every month,” he said. “There are people who have filed over 100 grievances that have been fired and re-hired, fired and re-hired.”

Minister and NAACP member Michelle Laws gets ready to speak at the UPS Protest on Eubanks Road. Via Steph Beckett

Minister and NAACP member Michelle Laws gets ready to speak at the UPS Protest on Eubanks Road. Via Steph Beckett

Minister and NAACP member Michelle Laws also attended the protest. She said many of the UPS workers have also had to work overtime without proper compensation.

“How on one hand can you say that America is great, but to hell with the workers who are making it great?”She said.

Until UPS agrees to have the sit-down, protester and NAACP labor committee member Lucy Lewis says she and everyone else will continue to fight.

“I’ve met with these workers a number of times over the last year and everything I’ve heard has made me more determined to be here today,” she said.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP said they will pursue legal action if UPS declines a meeting.


Chapel Hill Moves Forward with New Cemetery Marker

Since the discovery of 361 unmarked graves in a section of The Old Chapel Hill Cemetery, the town has struggled to find the best way to honor them. A marker was installed in early February, but was quickly removed after community members expressed concerns about its wording and design.

Since then, the town has formed a committee to design a new marker based on community input. Parks and Recreation director Jim Orr presented the committee’s suggestions during the public meeting Monday night.

“Tonight we’re here to ask you to approve resolution R3 that recommends the wording from the naming committee to honor those buried in sections A and B at the Chapel Hill Cemetery, and to authorize the manager to use the cemetery funds for the project.”

The Council Naming Committee received input from Reverend Robert Campbell, president of the Chapel Hill – Carrboro NAACP, as well as from other community members, the Cemeteries Advisory Board and UNC organizations.

Orr’s presentation of the committee’s decisions included a sketch of the proposed marker with its dimensions and quote.

Proposed Chapel Hill cemetery marker. Photo via Town of Chapel Hill.

Proposed Chapel Hill cemetery marker. Photo via Town of Chapel Hill.

“This particular slide on the left hand side is the actual wording and quote from George Moses Horton and on the right hand side is an actual concept linear picture.”

George Moses Horton was the first African-American man to publish a book in the South—and one of the first to publicly protest his slavery through poetry. An excerpt from his piece titled, “The Rising Sun,” was chosen for the marker’s inscription. It reads, “Thus we, like birds, retreat to groves and hide from ev’ry eye, our slumb’ring dust will rise and meet its morning in the sky.”

Mayor Pam Hemminger said that many people were involved with the selection process.

“It was a large community meeting. Parts of UNC were well represented at the meeting as well, and I contacted them today to make sure they understood what was being presented. I talked to Minister Campbell who I think is going to be speaking with us a little bit later.”

In addition to the poem, the Cemeteries Advisory Board recommended an additional inscription on the marker.

‘”In honor of these buried here in unmarked graves’ with the date of September 18, 2016. That will be at the cemetery to unveil the marker,” Orr said.

The September 18 ceremony will take place in the cemetery with a reception at the UNC School of Government.

One of the main concerns about the previous marker was its size. Councilwoman Donna Bell raised this concern again during Monday’s meeting.

“Part of the conversation that was had about the size of the marker was to make sure that that it was easily seen when someone came by, and especially if they were coming by at some distance. And so I have a concern that if that inscription is at the very bottom of the marker that it might get lost.”

Orr addressed this concern and offered the construction of a prototype marker.

“I do remember the conversation about the concern from Reverend Campbell and the group about looking down at the previous marker – that’s why this one is much larger. When you’re standing there you basically will be looking eye level and the top line of the quote.”

Orr estimates the marker will cost $4,100 which will be taken from the Cemetery Beautification Fund.

A unanimous vote approved the marker’s revisions and will allow the group to move forward with the marker’s construction and installation.

The Memorial Cemetery was also discussed during Monday’s meeting when Orr recommended the implementation of a columbarium project – which is the installation of vaults designed to hold urns. The council approved his recommendation and will review the designs and fees in the fall.


Ben & Jerry’s Partners with NC NAACP to Release ‘Empower Mint’ Ice Cream

Ben & Jerry’s announced a new flavor of ice cream called Empower Mint on Tuesday at North Carolina Central University.  The ice cream makers have partnered with the North Carolina NAACP.

North Carolina NAACP President William Barber was joined by Ben & Jerry’s founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield.

The goal of Empower Mint ice cream is to raise “awareness about the divide between two connected issues: the movement to expand voter rights and the movement to get money out of the political process.”  According to a release, North Carolina was chosen “because of the regressive voting laws that have endangered access to democracy for all.”

In 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law that requires voters to present an approved identification card.  The law also includes provisions that eliminated same-day registration on Election Day and pre-registration for teenagers.

From Ben & Jerry’s:

“Democracy is in your hands! This fudge-filled flavor reflects our belief that voting gives everyone a taste of empowerment, & that an election should be more ‘by the people’ and less ‘buy the people.’ We all deserve an equal serving of democracy.”

Rev. Barber told the crowd gathered at the event, “They may have the money, but we have the movement.”

Empower Mint ice cream features peppermint ice cream with fudge brownies and fudge swirls. A portion of the proceeds will go to the North Carolina NAACP.




Chapel Hill Planning Ceremony For New Cemetery Marker

Chapel Hill is getting a second chance at honoring the memory of 361 slaves and free people of color that are known to be buried in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery.

In a meeting held Tuesday night, members of the town council and local community members discussed early plans for a September ceremony that could feature community leaders, speeches and music.

“It’s the mission of the NAACP to actually pass the traditions of African Americans in this community to the younger generations,” said local NAACP member Jesse Gibson. “One of the ways of doing that is to make sure they understand the history.”

A commemorative marker was installed in February, but was taken down after community members criticized the wording of the marker, which read “Here Rest in Honored Glory 361 American Persons of Color Known But to God.”

Allen Buansi explained why he thought they should change the wording of the marker.

“The people that were buried there, we don’t know they were all African American,” he said. “There were Native Americans around and other people of color.”

Community members were also upset because there was no ceremony celebrating the marker.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP president Robert Campbell said he thinks the ceremony the town is planning will be a learning experience, especially for local students.

“When there were some games here at UNC, people actually parked on the graveyard,” he said. “The crew went out to clean up, and they saw these odd shaped rocks and they decided they would take all the rocks away, but they were actually markers of graves.”

The committee will meet again May 15 to try to narrow down the options for the wording on the new marker.

Campbell said he was happy with the way the meeting turned out Tuesday and hopes for more community input moving forward.

“We’ll try to get more people to voice their opinion, at least about the service,” Campbell said. “I think we’ve got enough information to shape some wording on the marker itself, so I think we’re in a good place.”

Mayor Pam Hemminger said the tentative timeline has the town council formally hearing about the project plans in June.


Moral March Against HB 2 Planned for Monday

The North Carolina NAACP and the Forward Together Moral Movement announced a sit-in at the State Capitol planned for Monday.

The organizations held a press conference Friday condemning House Bill 2, as they held signs calling it “Hate Bill 2.”

House Bill 2 reversed a Charlotte ordinance that allowed people to use the bathroom based on their gender identity and extended protections to transgender individuals.

NAACP President Rev. William Barber said the bathroom provision of the bill was only a small part of the bill. It also prohibits local municipalities from making anti-discrimination policies and from establishing a local living wage.

“Do not be surprised that they would lie here and say that this is about bathrooms when really it is about manipulating the vote. It is bringing together homophobia, racism and classicism in a way that’s been used as long as we had to fight against racism,” said Barber.

Barber accused those who passed the bill as playing a political game.

“They got bad numbers in the polls, so what do they do?” said Barber, “they take this old playbook, this old poisonous brew, they shake it and mix it all up and put it in one bill.”

Last Sunday, Governor Pat McCrory appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and defended the bill as pushing back against government overreach and upholding our common expectations of privacy.

NAACP Attorney Al McSurely was confident that the legal battle challenging the bill would be successful.

“We are going to win this, we going to win it legally,” said McSurely. “The question is how much money do we spend, how many young people do we injure, how many suicides do we create, while they’re playing their games.”

Last week, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a ruling that prevented a Virginia transgender teenager from using the boy’s restroom at his school. That ruling could have an effect on House Bill 2, especially in regards to Title IX funding.

Barber noted that now, all eyes are on North Carolina.

“A movement is not national because it has a Washington DC address; it’s national because of its impact. Over and Over again I heard people saying North Carolina is the epicenter, and the fight that we are waging in the Forward Together Moral Monday Movement, is the center of the universe of fighting back,” said Barber.

On Monday, the groups plan to hold a mass sit-in in Raleigh as well as deliver a petition to Governor McCrory’s office.


NAACP Calls For Transparent Investigation Into Raleigh Shooting

NAACP leaders called for a “speedy” and “transparent” investigation after a Raleigh Police Officer shot and killed a man on Monday.

According to Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown, 29 year-old Officer D.C. Twiddy was pursuing a man when the officer shot and killed him near the intersection of Bragg and East Streets in Raleigh.

Deck-Brown said that the State Bureau of Investigation was leading the investigation. Dr. William Barber, leader of the NC NAACP said that any conclusion of the investigation should be accepted.

“That has to be the attitude of anyone who is leading a police force. We are going to do a through, impartial investigative with transparency and wherever the truth leads,” said Barber.

The mother of the deceased cried as she stood next to Barber. She said she has not yet been able to formally identify the body.

“She is entitled to know why her son, somebody’s brother, somebody’s nephew was killed and this investigation should be resolved in a speed manner,” said Barber.

Police have not released the name of the man who was killed but several media reports and the NAACP press conference identified him as 24-year-old Akiel Denkins.

In her statement on Monday, Police Chief Deck-Brown said that a firearm was found near the scene. “Initially, it is known that a firearm was located in close proximity to the deceased suspect,” Deck-Brown said, “that weapon, along with all other elements available at the scene, will be processed.”

Deck-Brown also told reporters that the man was a suspect wanted on a felony drug charge but Barber cautioned against letting that control the narrative surround the shooting.

“A warrant for arrest is not a license to kill,” said Barber.

Authorities say Officer Twiddy has been with the Raleigh Police Department since 2009. Twiddy has been placed on administrative leave until the completion of the investigation.

On Monday evening hundreds gathered near the site of the shooting. Barber said that historical tensions between African-American and police are present in Raleigh.

“This tension is present in most cities and Raleigh is no exception to that history, all of us in America dealt with it,” said Barber. “The NAACP’s very existence grew out of some of this kind of tension.”

A preliminary report of the shooting is expected to be released within five days.


NAACP Requests Records Over Hiring of Margaret Spellings as UNC System President

A group delivered a public records request to the UNC System General Administration offices on Tuesday regarding the firing of Tom Ross as System President and the subsequent hiring of Margaret Spellings.

Members of the North Carolina NAACP Youth and College Division along with members of Faculty Forward gathered at the C.D. Spangler Building on Tuesday morning asking for information about the hiring of Spellings to lead the 17-campus UNC System.

Longtime Chapel Hill civil rights attorney Al McSurely said that the group felt the board violated the state’s open meetings laws when hiring Spellings, the former U.S. Secretary of Education under George W. Bush.

“We believe this caucus secretly met in person, electronically and by phone to make decisions in an effort to avoid the strict sanctions of the open meetings law,” McSurely said.

McSurely said that he expected a response that some of the records requested are personnel files and therefore not subject to open records laws. He countered that they are “more than personnel matters, this goes right to the heart and soul of this university.”

McSurely added that the power the Board of Governors holds is given to them by the residents of North Carolina and the board members should be held accountable for their actions.

“We also pass laws – that’s the people, over at the people’s house – to prevent a small band of ideologues, bent on stealing rather than guarding our state treasure, to at least conduct their thefts in broad daylight,” McSurely said.

NAACP and Faculty Forward Protesting Hiring of Margaret Spellings as UNC System President. Photo via Blake Hodge.

NAACP and Faculty Forward Protesting Hiring of Margaret Spellings as UNC System President. Photo via Blake Hodge.

The group was protesting the 2015 firing of Ross that led to a much-criticized search process culminating in the hiring of Spellings. Kierra Campbell is a senior at UNC. Campbell said she was speaking out against Spellings for the President-elect’s connection with for-profit higher education.

“I came to UNC to get an education,” Campbell said. “I came to UNC to get a liberal-arts degree, and I’ve grown as a holistic person because of my education at UNC.

“And I believe any privatization of any type of education system is not going to allow other students to get the same opportunity.”

Altha Cravey is an associate professor at UNC and a member of the group of faculty speaking out against Spellings known as Faculty Forward. Cravey said she believes Spellings’ attitude toward students and faculty will be a detriment to the University System and the state.

“Margaret Spellings talks about students as customers,” Cravey said. “She does this repeatedly, and this is indicative of the ideology she holds that education is a private thing and not a public thing.”

Campbell said that she takes issue with Spellings and the process which resulted in her election as President.

“You’re hiring someone to represent us, to represent our needs, to fight for us and this woman doesn’t know us,” Campbell said. “She doesn’t know what students need. She doesn’t know what it’s like being on a campus. She’s not even a previous educator.”

Campbell added, “[Spellings] cares about the interest who put her in that power. She cares about corporate interest, and she cares about making money. And that’s what she’s good at, and that’s what she knows how to do. She doesn’t know how to take care of me.”

McSurely said the group was hopeful that the information would be delivered before the March 15 primary election is held in North Carolina.

Spellings’ first day as System President is set for Tuesday, March 1. The first BOG meeting under Spellings’ leadership is slated for March 4 at Fayetteville State University.


Thousands Attend Moral March on Raleigh

Despite freezing temperatures thousands came to downtown Raleigh Saturday morning to protest for voting rights and other causes.

The tenth annual Moral March on Raleigh and HK on J People’s Assembly was organized by the NAACP.

Handwritten signs called for healthcare for all and an end to private prisons, among dozens of others.

Tyler Swanson, an NAACP youth leader, said Raleigh was a good place to hold such a march.

“We stand in a city, we stand here on the shoulders of the great youth that came before us, to organize, to pave the way for us so that we can live in a better future,” said Swanson.

The crowd gathers before the march begins

The crowd gathers before the march begins

Advocates, like Kim Porter with NC Warn, spoke out for environmental protection.

“It’s a moral issue and an environmental justice issue when we worry about the water we drink, the air we breathe and the food we eat,” said Porter.

The event began near Shaw University before making its way down Wilmington and Fayetteville streets to the state capitol, with marchers chanting along the way.

The main theme of the march was voting rights. The NAACP is the lead plaintiff in a recent federal case regarding North Carolina’s photo ID requirement to vote.

Even though supporters for presidential candidates were there, Rev William Barber, leader of the North Carolina NAACP, said the march did not support any specific politicians.

“You can come but you can’t have the movement, you can’t hijack the movement, whoever you are supporting that’s fine but we are supporting economic sustainability, addressing poverty and labor rights,” said Barber.

Moral March with State Capitol in background

Moral March with State Capitol in background

Critics of the movement say that their demands would cost tax payers thousands of dollars.

Organizers passed out filers encouraging people to register to vote, as well as spreading information for the upcoming primary.

“At the end of this march we are going to do a mass organizing and we need to sign up thousands of youth to join a volunteer army,” said Barber.

Marchers were enthusiastic and the energy was high but it remains to be seen if these efforts will increase voter turnout on Election Day.


Moral March on Raleigh Planned For Saturday

Thousands are expected to march on the state capitol Saturday morning to protest voting rights, minimum wage and representation for all.

This will mark the 10th annual Moral March on Raleigh.

Dr. William Barber, leader of the North Carolina NAACP led a press conference announcing the march.

The march comes as a federal trail against North Carolina’s voter ID laws concluded last week. The NAACP was the lead plaintiff in the case, now Barber said they are taking the fight to the streets.

“This is our Selma, this is our time, this is our vote. We are fighting in the legislative halls, we are fighting in the court rooms but we are also determined and organized to fight in the street and to show up at the ballot box,” said Barber.

The ruling from the voter ID case isn’t expected to come down before primary voting begins in March, so voters will be required to bring a photo ID to vote unless they can prove a reasonable impediment such as disability, transportation or lack of proper documents. Lawmakers added the reasonable impediment clause last summer after a similar law in Texas was declared unconstitutional at face value.

Proponents of the bill say it helps prevent voter fraud. Opponents of the photo ID law say it disproportionately affects minorities.

“We believe that it is a tragedy that 50 years after the signing of the Voting Rights Act we have less voting rights today than we did 50 years ago,” said Barber.

North Carolina’s voter laws have changed rules regarding early voting and same day registration, though only the requirement to have a photo ID was being challenged during the trial.

Barber said he wanted to disprove the idea that anyone’s religious or personal beliefs would exclude them from the march.

“We are in fact made up of people who are deeply theological and conservative. I am,” said Barber.

Instead Barber advocated to judge policies on a moral basis.

“We look at policies based on, not personality but are those polices morally defensible, constitutional consistent and economically sane,” said Barber.

Critics have labeled the marches as left-wing activism.

Organizers of the event will also focus on registering voters and sharing information about the upcoming election.

“This will not just be a march, where we march and then go home. This is an organizing mobilization in the public square,” said Barber.

The mass moral march on Raleigh will begin at 9 am with an opening rally at Shaw University followed by a march down Fayetteville Street to the state capitol.