After six months and many meetings, the city’s Human Relations Commission reports Thursday on its probe of alleged racist behavior and racial profiling by Durham police.
According to Mayor Bill Bell, the report is the last item on Thursday’s City Council work session agenda so members can get through with other business and give the report full attention.
Bell said late last week that he had not read the report and would have no comment on it until after the work session.
“Obviously, we will listen to their report with an open mind,” said Councilman Eugene Brown, who is co-chairman of the Durham Crime Cabinent and co-chairman of the public safety task force in the mayor’s neighborhood-by-neighborhood anti-poverty campaign.
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Commissioners officially approved the report for presentation to the council last week, but not without some dissent. Two commissioners, Dick Ford and Misty Odell, voted against approval after failing to persuade others to change some of its language.
Most of the discussion pertained to the statement “Based on our research, supported by testimony from Durham citizens, we found the existence of racial bias and profiling present in the Durham Police Department practices.”
The department has acknowledged racial disparities in traffic stops and searches, and in drug-law enforcement, but says those disparities do not prove racial profiling or discrimination.
Commissioner Jeffrey Clark questioned use of the word “research,” since the commission only held hearings and did no primary research on its own. Ford questioned including the statement at all.
Commissioners inserted the statement at the end of a three-hour special meeting April 29 at which they made final edits on the report and approved its 34 specific recommendations one by one.
Ford said there was nothing in the mayor’s charge to the commission asking it to determine whether or not racial profiling existed, and Clark said he had “problems” with the blanket statment.
“We just kind of came down hard on the Police Department,” Clark said. “I’d rather we get rid of the bad apples than cut down the entire apple tree.”
Odell said the statement would put police on the defensive rather than encourage them to take the commission’s recommendations seriously.
“We want them to look at these,” Odell said.
But other commissioners countered that a majority of the group felt strongly that the investigation had found proof of racial profiling, and that the report should reflect the opinions of citizens who spoke out at its hearings.
“We have done our due diligence,” said Commissioner Annice Fisher. “It’s pretty clear we think there is a problem.”
By consensus, the statement remained as written.
Ford also took issue with a recommendation that “the City of Durham partner with the Human Relations Commission and outside organizations (Fostering Alternative Drug Enforcement, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, etc.) to promote a comprehensive program to educate the citizens of their rights in regards to police stops, searches, and their avenues of redress.”
The three groups named are among those alleging police racism. Ford suggested omitting the specific names, but was voted down.
Brown, the city councilman, said he had not read the report but knew that it carried a conclusion that police had practiced racial profiling.
“Some people, not necessarily me, believe there is somewhat of a rush to judgment on the report itself and particularly the part where they are accusing the entire Police Department of housing racists,” Brown said. “That’s a very serious indictment and we will follow through and try to get to the truth of it. ... I want to see the empirical evidence.”