Public Forum Monday Will Address Race And Policing

Monday night, you are invited to a town hall-style discussion about racial disparities in policing, 7-9 pm in Chapel Hill Town Hall.

On hand will be Chapel Hill police chief Chris Blue, Carrboro police chief Walter Horton, and Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood, as well as elected officials and other community leaders. Joel Brown of WTVD will moderate.

This has been one of the most talked-about issues of the year, both nationwide and locally. Just this month, Chapel Hill announced a series of new measures to address the issue – including wider usage of body cameras, periodic reviews of traffic stop data, racial equity training for officers, and consent forms for vehicle searches.

Monday’s forum is co-sponsored by Chapel Hill’s Justice in Action Committee and the District 15B Racial Justice Task Force; it’s one of many that have been devoted to the topic in the last two years.

If you can’t make it to the meeting in person, you will be able to stream it online: click this link for the streaming page.

The full list of announced panelists is below:

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue
Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton
Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood
Carrboro Alderman Michelle Johnson
Chapel Hill Attorney Tye Hunter
Community member Terrence Foushee
Director of Empowerment Inc. Delores Bailey
Executive Director of the Scholars Latino Initiative Ricky Hurtado
UNC Law Student Quisha Mallette

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.

Mothers & Daughters, Part 2

After recording this week’s show, I was a daughter who missed her mother a little more than usual.

In talking with Brenda & Sara Stephens for this (and last) week’s show, I was reminded of something hard to quantify – the shorthand between mothers and daughters in their humor and in every way of how they talk to and about each other.

The Stephenses are funny. They have tremendous humor about everything from who has “good hair” to hot sauce in Hillary Clinton’s bag. Doing a sound check for the show before we began recording, Sara put her headphones on and began speaking … “Hello?” she said, then quickly launching into Adele’s smash hit song. (Sara’s got a voice, by the way) Then Brenda responds by singing “Is it me you’re looking for?” (Lionel Ritchie).

And this is BEFORE we began the show.  When we got going “on the record” we talked about race, about guns and about a wonderful play the mother/daughter dynamic duo are doing again later this year. It’s about Hillsborough native Elizabeth Keckley, seamstress to Mary Todd Lincoln. They both play Keckley at different stages of her life.

Meet us at the Watercooler at 6:00 pm on Saturday. I promise not to sing.

Hopeful After ‘Healing Discussion on Race & America’

I write to extend a heartfelt letter of gratitude to the 300+ community members who attended and spoke at “A Healing Discussion on Race & America” on Monday night at the United Church of Chapel Hill.

I believe all in attendance were happily surprised to see the large number of concerned citizens joining together in the spirit of unity. There is no doubt that we are a privileged people; we are educated and reside in a low crime community with vast resources and access to wonderful opportunities. All of which are hallmarks of Orange County. We are blessed indeed. And yet, we have the capacity to hurt, disrespect, and even kill our neighbors.

Thus, it is ever so important that we continue to gather together to listen, learn, and share our emotions, perspectives, testimonies, values, and solutions to the healing of America. I also wish to offer a special thank you to Rick and Jill Edens, co-pastors at UCCH, UNC’s Dr. Frank Baumgartner, who provided statistical insight on NC traffic stops, Chief of Police Chris Blue who eloquently commented and answered numerous questions regarding policing and community engagement, and WCHL’s news anchor Aaron Keck for his steadfast support and publicity of the event.

I am hopeful that this occasion improved our race relations by simply providing a safe space for us to hear the cries of Black residents and the possibilities of a community that cares. We can do better, and I am confident that we will if we are all committed to be accountable to one another.

Time will certainly tell.


— Deborah Stroman

CHCCS Board Talks Race

How to change the culture around race in our schools was the topic at Thursday’s school board meeting.

The Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School Board met to hear a presentation from the Campaign for Racial Equality in Chapel Hill – Carrboro Schools, a group made up of parents, teachers, administrators and other members of the community.

The campaign passionately presented an overview of their 88 page report analyzing inequality in the school system.

Their report was based on data from the school system about student achievement with the purpose to see why, overall, African – American and Latino students do not do as well as white students.

In Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, black students make up just 11 percent of total enrollment, but account for 39 percent of all out-of-school suspensions and 41 percent of in-school suspensions. Latino students are 14 percent of the school population but make up between 19 and 22 percent of suspensions.

“The primary objective of this group is not to say there is a problem but to work with the district to achieve result to the problem,” said Greg McElveen who spoke for the campaign for racial equality.

But he said previous efforts haven’t been enough. The coalition cited the growing achievement gap between white students and students of color as evidence that the systems previous initiatives to improve equality have not worked.

“We were a bit surprised but we might know the reason that the gap hasn’t been reducing but increasing,” said McElveen.

The most important aspect to making our schools more equal, said Wanda Hunter, is changing the culture in our schools.

“When our children come to school and they see that it’s all white kids in this class and all kids of color in this class, they’re already getting some messages that we aren’t even meaning to teach them but you know we are creating that culture,” said Hunter.

Changing the culture is a lot more difficult to do than simply changing staff or sending administrators to half-day seminars on racial equality said Hunter. But both the campaign and members of the school board, like Rani Dasi, recognized the work it will take.

“Everyone needs to commit that this work is so important that we will not leave because of hurt feelings, we will not leave because of disagreements. We will continue to focus on the outcome which is making a better outcome for our children,” said Dasi.

Much of the group’s presentation tried to identify in what ways race is creating an unequal environment for students. They also voiced their desire to be involved in a long term process with the school board.

But they did propose an immediate suggestion, a online database or “dashboard” that would measure progress towards racial equity. Some of the board members, like Andrew Davidson, took interest in this idea.

“If we can be honest and take a fresh look, what works? What doesn’t? Obviously we want to put our eggs in the basket of what does work,” said Davidson.

How exactly they would track their progress isn’t clear. But the coalition emphasized that it will take more than a few workshops to change racial attitudes.

“Changing culture is not a check-off in a box, saying I’ve attended. It is an immersion of reflection, critical analysis and repetitiveness around new information,” said Stephanie Perry, a member of the campaign.

The coalition’s proposals were far reaching and as they stressed, are efforts that really need to last a lifetime. But Perry said that the solution to solving the problem begins with something simple.

“I think that we begin with dialogue. The revolution is dialogue, it is real communication,” said Perry.

The School Board seemed eager to go forward and begin work on this issue but it remains to be seen whether efforts will be successful in making the public school experience equal for all kids, regardless of race.

Stroman On Sports: Lessons From The Field

College campuses across the country (including UNC) have witnessed a wave of protests and demonstrations, as the troubling issue of race relations is once again front and center in American political discourse.

What lessons can we take from the world of sports that will help us in these and other debates?

Deborah Stroman is a professor at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and an expert on analytics in sport. She spoke last week with WCHL’s Aaron Keck. (They also discussed UNC’s recent on-field success – prior to Saturday’s NC State game – as well as the intense demands placed on coaches at the highest level of college athletics.)

“Race and Current Events” Marks Beginning of Carolina Conversations

The first in the series of discussions entitled “Carolina Conversations” will be held Monday evening.

“Carolina Pulse: Race and Current Events” is scheduled to begin at 5 o’clock and run until 6:30 at the Aquarium Lounge of the FPG Student Union.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp says the university wants all of the students – no matter race, religion, identity, orientation, or any other difference – to feel they are being heard and valued on campus.

“What we’re trying to do is acknowledge that we want this campus to be a place where all of our students, without respect to any adjective that you put in front of them, and all of our faculty and all of our staff,” he says, “can feel accepted, can feel respected and included.”

Crisp adds the program will take many different shapes to provide varying venues where people of all different beliefs will have an outlet to express their opinion in a safe environment – from town hall-style events to smaller facilitated discussions.

You can find more information about Carolina Conversations, including details about upcoming events, here.

Report: CHCCS Discipline Disproportionately Impacts Minority Students

In Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools, an African American student is five times as likely as a white student to get in-school suspension, five times as likely to get out-of-school suspension, and three times as likely to get sent to the office. That’s according to an official school district report that looks at discipline data over the past two academic years.

At Thursday night’s meeting, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board member Jamezetta Bedford said we have to be careful in interpreting this data.

“All that shows you is that the risk for ISS (in-school suspension) discipline reaction is five to one,” said Bedford. “You can’t assume the child deserved it and did those actions.” She said some teachers and administrators may discriminate in whom they choose to discipline.

White students make up about half the district’s student population, and black students are 11 percent of the population. According to the report, Latino students, who make up 14 percent of the student population, are also disproportionately disciplined.

Aggression, defiance and disruption rank as the most common infractions among all students. The report says the largest disparities between white students and black students are in vaguely worded infractions, like disrespect.

“Disrespect was one of the hardest things for teachers to define,” said Nancy Kueffer, the school district’s behavior support coordinator. “So we’ve decided that we don’t want that on our office discipline referral form.”

Kueffer said the district needs to update policies and rewrite the code of conduct to clearly define infractions. She said the district should also help teachers think about the function of students’ misbehavior. This can help the teachers see behavior patterns and respond based on those patterns.

Board member Annetta Streater worries that seeing this data could strengthen stereotypes and cause teachers and administrators to racially profile students.

“I am concerned about this information – for it to be shared with some authority figures, administrators or whomever,” said Streater. “It definitely gives an idea based on comparing demographic groups.”

“It can be thought of that way or it can be thought of that the school is not meeting the needs of those students,” said Kueffer in response. “If we don’t have the data there, we can’t have that discussion . . . ‘Well why is that happening there? And why would it be any different for any kid of color?’”

“Political Problem…Led To Firing Of Three Black Men”

CHAPEL HILL – Chapel Hill Civil Rights lawyer and NAACP Redress Chair, Alan McSurely says the town has a political problem on its hands that has led to the firing of three black men.

“The problem is that the Town Council has allowed the Town Manager to run roughshod over the rights of its employees—particularly its black employees,” McSurely says.

Late last week, Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil announced his ruling to uphold the firing of Kevin “Lee” Thompson for the misuse of Town resources that resulted in personal profit and after multiple written warnings of “incidents of detrimental personal conduct and/or unsatisfactory job performance.”

However, McSurely says his client believes he was dismissed for other reasons.

“The system is rigged against black employees and people who join unions,” McSurely says.

Kerry Bigelow and Clyde Clark, otherwise know as the Sanitation 2, were fired from the Town of Chapel Hill in October 2010 for insubordination and complaints by town residents about their job performance. An investigation was conducted by Raleigh-based human resource and compliance firm, Capital Associated Industries (CAI) and recommended the men be fired; the Citizens Advisory Committee concurred. In an email to WCHL, McSurely calls CAI “a union-busting outfit”.

However, the advisory committee, which McSurely referred to as a group of impartial hearing officers, did not agree with the firing of Thompson in a unanimous vote, 5-0. Stancil released his findings after that ruling, while taking it into account.

The Sanitation 2 are in a 30 day window with which the Town can appeal the ruling the North Carolina Court of Appeals gave earlier this month stating the two men should be given a hearing in front of a jury. Once that time is up, McSurely says they plan to take further action in the cases.

He says part of the discussion will be about how the two cases contradict themselves. He says Thompson was fired for doing extra work for which someone asked, while the Sanitation 2 were fired for not doing an extra favor while on the job.

“We send our black employees out into the neighborhoods, and we’ve done it for years with very little guidance about how to respond to requests of residents to do small favors,” McSurely says. “The Town has never developed a solid training program or policies that help guide our employees. The Town Council knows that; they obviously knew that from the Sanitation 2 case, and they have not done anything about it.”

The personnel appeals committee agreed, at least during the Thompson case, that there needs to be “a formal written policy regarding work performed by employees on private property” and additionally that “all Final Written Warnings are time-limited and include specific performance expectations.” Those recommendations were made by the appeals committee and sent to Stancil on February 27, 2013 after the committee ruled on Thompson’s case.

McSurely says before going back to court, he and his clients want to address the issue that they believe is still in place.

“We intend to issue to the Council first and try to get them to step up and do what they’re supposed to do, which is to help set policy for the town,” McSurely says.

No one from the Town was immediately available for comment.

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