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Wed September 19, 2012
ACLU Seeks Stories Of Racial Profiling
By Gurnal Scott
State police agencies are mandated by law to track every traffic stop they make...who was pulled over and why.
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina says a disproportionate number of minorities are stopped, searched and -- at times -- arrested. It is kicking off a campaign to urge minorities to document each time they feel they've been racially profiled.
Gurnal Scott: Many of us have been there. We've sat on the side of the road after hearing that siren sound...watching the officer slowly walk up in the rear-view mirror and ask for a license and registration. Lelynd Darkes says he's been on the wrong side of it more times than he cares to count. He remembers one stop in Raleigh very well.
Lelynd Darkes: When I was pulled out of the vehicle, I was placed in handcuffs. Then they told me, they're pulling you over because we smell marijuana. At this time, I'm just shocked like..how could this be when I'm in my car, windows up driving and you're behind me and I'm being pulled over in my vehicle because you smell marijuana.
A Raleigh Police spokesman confirmed the citation for misdemeanor possession. Lynette Aytch is Lelynd's mother.
Lynette Aytch: When I got home..he was literally in a fetal position. He was crying and so upset. And it is just terrible to see your child in that situation. It was extraordinarily frightening for him.
Raul Pinto: We want them to report incidents of racial profiling to our organization.
Raul Pinto is the racial justice attorney for the North Carolina A-C-L-U. The group is starting a "Put It In Writing" campaign.
Raul Pinto: We want to receive these stories in order to come up with and develop tactics in order to address this issue.
The A-C-L-U cites a U-N-C Chapel Hill study analyzing 13 million traffic stops in North Carolina. The author, Frank Baumgartner shared his findings on W-U-N-C's "The State of Things"
Frank Baumgartner: A black person who is stopped by a police officer in North Carolina from 2000 to 2011 is 77 percent more likely to be searched. And an Hispanic is 96 percent more likely to have their car searched than a white when pulled over.
The data appears to be an indictment on police procedure
Eddie Caldwell: No one can honestly say that isolated instances of police misconduct haven't occurred because we've got plenty of examples otherwise.
Eddie Caldwell is executive vice-president of the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association. He questions the U-N-C study not because of what it says..but because of what it doesn't.
Eddie Caldwell: The study does not take into consideration things like crime data, neighborhood demographics and other things like that. If you are working on a high-crime unit in a high-crime area in a neighborhood that has certain demographics, the people you interact with are going to meet those demographics.
Some law enforcement agencies do acknowledge a problem and they want to change it. Deborah Weisel is a criminal justice professor at North Carolina Central University working with state police chiefs on how to avoid bias.
Deborah Weisel: If a citizen feels like they have been the subject of biased policing, the first thing they need to do is go to the department and file a complaint.
Guilford County resident Reginald Woods did just that. He was stopped in Durham. He says he was never told why he was stopped..and was told by the officer to shut up. Then he asked for the officer's name and badge number.
Reginald Woods: Then I reached to grab my pen..and he tazed me.
He complained to Durham police. A month and a half after the incident, he got a letter from Durham Police Internal Affairs saying the officer in his case acted improperly. Raul Pinto with the A-C-L-U says his group wants results like that
Raul Pinto: In our presentations we ask folks to be as cooperative with police as possible and we ask them to know their rights and..we can help with that.
There are other ways to monitor whether police officers are acting properly. Again..Deborah Wiesel of North Carolina Central.
Deborah Weisel: Cameras. They're in almost every squad car now that I've seen and often we have officers wearing lapel cameras to record stops and interaction.
The A-C-L-U is collecting stories on its website. It hopes to work with agencies that draw a lot of complaints. But the group hasn't ruled out lawsuits either.