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Evidence of Racial Profiling in Durham Prompts Public Debate

Photo: Wilson and other concerned citizens protest what they say is racial profiling by Durham Police. Courtesy: SpiritHouse
Photo: Wilson and other concerned citizens protest what they say is racial profiling by Durham Police. Courtesy: SpiritHouse
October 1, 2013

DURHAM, N.C. - Citizen groups are stepping up to protest what they say is racial profiling by the Durham Police Department during traffic stops. Tonight they will meet with city leadership on the issue, and their allegations are supported by more that four years of analysis by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. The organization found that, in the last year alone, more than 80 percent of vehicle searches during traffic stops involved African-Americans, although they make up just 40 percent of the Durham population.

According to Nia Wilson, executive director of SpiritHouse, a group of citizens concerned about systemic barriers such as racial profiling, those figures do not show the cops doing good work.

"The police department goes for the lowest-hanging fruit," Wilson declared. "You will find what you're looking for if you continue to target your efforts in one area."

When asked for comment, Durham city authorities released a copy of municipal policy on "bias-based policing," which states the Police Department will be fair and impartial in law enforcement.

SpiritHouse and other concerned citizens are asking Durham Police officers to undergo "racial equity training". Charlotte used the same program several years ago.

Wilson said their request boils down to one thing.

"We want all of our communities policed in the same way," she specified. "We all want to feel safe. The numbers and experiences of community members speak very differently to that fact."

There is a public hearing at 7 tonight at City Hall, where city leadership will meet with citizens such as Wilson. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is assisting citizens' groups in their efforts to get the police department to change its practices regarding traffic stops.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC