DURHAM — Complaints of racism in the police department and the community in general got an hour’s airing before the Durham Human Relations Commission Tuesday night.
A standing-room only crowd in the City Council chamber heard 18 speakers’ stories, opinions and suggestions regarding violence, profiling and “institutional racism.”
Several speakers quoted traffic-stop and drug-arrest statistics to back up their claims of police bias and disparities in the way whites and minorities are treated in the criminal justice system.
“We will take the information that has been given us, we will go through it, … and we will make a recommendation to the City Council,” commission Chairman Ricky Hart said after the last speaker finished.
At least one speaker wanted more.
“You can make a recommendation that (city authorities) will ignore,” said Alphonso Jarrett. “How many times have we had this discussion?”
Mayor Bill Bell directed the 15-member commission to hear allegations of racist behavior and violence by police after a group brought complaints to the City Council’s Sept. 19 work session.
“We want your work to be as transparent, as thorough and as open as possible,” Bell said to the commissioners before the public hearing began.
However, Bell said the commissioners should not consider matters currently under investigation lest they “unwittingly compromise” the investigations.
“It’s totally wrong to tell us there are certain things we can’t speak on,” said Jackie Wagstaff, a former City Council member. “They are supposed to allow us to be heard, not suppress us.”
Those matters include a discrimination complaint filed by an assistant police chief with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and two recent fatal shootings by police.
Several speakers called for an independent citizen review board with authority to subpoena officers and review the police department’s own investigations of officer misconduct.
Others called for police and other city officials to go through anti-racism training, and require officers to obtain written permission before being allowed to search motor vehicles.
“It’s just outrageous, what happens here,” Jarrett said. “Forget all these meetings that go nowhere; we need to just stop it.”