Human Relations Commission hears profiling complaints

jalexander@newsobserver.comJanuary 23, 2014 

  • What’s next

    The Human Relations Commission will hear a presentation from the Durham NAACP chapter at its next meeting, 6 p.m. Tuesday, in the City Hall Committee Room. It will hold a public forum on the issue of racial profiling at 7 p.m. Feb. 4 in the Committee Room.

— Keith Ragland was sitting in his Jeep Grand Cherokee talking with a friend one night in November 2012, when he was racially profiled by Durham police officers, an attorney told the Human Relations Commission Wednesday night, as Ragland sat behind him.

Ian Mance, an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, told the stories of three men including Ragland, all of were in attendance, and all who made the same claim against the department.

Ragland, a former Durham Public Schools educator who walks with a cane, was sitting in his SUV waiting for his wife in the Phoenix Square parking lot to join him so they could go out to dinner. He saw a friend and invited him into the car.

That’s when two white officers approached his vehicle and asked him for identification, Mance said.

“How did you afford that car Mr. Ragland?” the officer asked.

Mance said this wasn’t the first time Ragland had been pulled over, so he wasn’t surprised when the officer asked him this.

“What does that have to do with this?” Ragland asked.

The officer pointed to another car. “You see that?” he asked. “That’s the gang unit.”

He then asked to search the car, but Ragland refused.

Ragland says the gang unit searched anyway, and forced him to get out of the car without his cane while he was frisked. The officers didn’t find anything and left. Mance said Ragland filed a complaint with the Police Department, which was sustained.

The other two men whose stories Mance told Wednesday also filed complaints that were sustained, and all were found innocent of any wrongdoing, he said.

More than 50 people attended the meeting. No police representatives attended.

“The department should have been here,” Mance said in an interview.

Racial disparities

Wednesday night’s meeting in City Hall marked the second of three presentations by organizations accusing the department of racially profiling people of color. The department made its own presentation in December meeting. Deputy Chief Anthony Marsh did not dispute data collected by the department that show racial disparities in traffic stops and searches but said it did not indicate racial profiling.

According to the N.C. Department of Justice, blacks made up 59 percent of the drivers stopped in Durham during the past five years, while making up 41 percent of the city’s population in the 2010 census. Whites accounted for 39 percent of the stops and 42 percent of the population.

In Durham County, a black motorist is more than twice as likely as a white to be searched after being stopped for speeding, according to a study by UNC political scientist Frank R. Baumgartner, who analyzed data from more than 13.2 million traffic stops from more than 10 years. The likelihood is even greater after being stopped for a seat-belt violation.

Mance said those numbers could be greater because blacks are underrepresented in the driving population compared to the overall city population.

The community coalition FADE (Fostering Alternative for Drug Enforcement) was the first of the three groups to present information to the commission. It recommended:

• Mandatory “racial equity training” for police commanders and patrol officers;

• Open repudiation by police of current profiling practices;

• Making marijuana enforcement the Police Department’s lowest law-enforcement priority;

• Increasing the availability of pretrial-diversion programs for drug offenders.

“They’re all very solid presentations,” said Phil Seib, vice chairman of the commission. “I’m optimistic that some of these recommendations can come to fruition. I just hope we can be a part of making the city a better place.”

The commission will hear from the NAACP next week, and come together at a later date to make its final recommendations to the City Council. City Councilman Steve Schewel stood in the back of the room during Wednesday’s meeting.

“I think they’re raising really important issues and I’m listening,” he said.

Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1

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