Durham News: Opinion

Bob Wilson: Durham police chief adds fuel to the fire, again

By Bob Wilson


“Hopefully I can get some insight into what we can do to continue to build trust in this community.”

That was Police Chief Jose Lopez speaking at a meeting earlier this month of Durham CAN, a civic coalition that has been less than approving of the Police Department’s conduct in the city’s low-income neighborhoods.

Considering the ideological bent of CAN (Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods), Lopez merits credit for walking into the lion’s den. CAN and other activist groups have been pounding his department over allegations of police profiling and other transgressions against minorities.

These groups have clout. They have already secured the City Council’s approval requiring police officers to obtain written consent to search in some traffic stops.

CAN argues that the police are biased against black and Hispanic drivers, stopping them at higher rates than whites. Call it DWM, or driving while minority.

Lopez has been forced to go along with this offshoot of disparate impact theory, which bases allegations of discrimination on gauzy statistics, whatever the empirical basis of the traffic stops.

That black and Hispanic drivers might be at fault for being pulled over has nothing to do with disparate impact. It’s the disproportionate numbers that count.

For this and other reasons, I have modest sympathy for Lopez, who lost his cool at a June 18 CAN meeting when he was called out once more on allegations of profiling.

Lopez likely felt he had been ambushed by when the Rev. Tim Condor, pastor of Emmaus Way Church, pressed him to commit to CAN’s proposed anti-profiling demands.

Lopez, who had been in the audience at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, strode to the front of the crowd and declared that he felt confronted by Condor’s request.

Furthermore, Lopez said, he would not hop on the group’s bandwagon “because you’re trying to get me to commit to something right now.” When that went through the crowd like an Oklahoma twister, Lopez pleaded, “I need you to take a leap of faith.”

At this point, a mighty big leap, say across the Grand Canyon.

Such is the gulf between Durham’s activists and the police.

The activists must share blame, for some have worked night and day to undermine the police in the city’s minority communities.

These communities believe more than ever that the police, if not their enemy, are at the least an untrustworthy presence among them.

The Jesus Huerta affair, in which few in the Hispanic community believed that the troubled teen fatally shot himself in the head while handcuffed in the rear of a police cruiser, was a tipping point along with police shootings of black men.

Moreover, it became known last year that some enterprising officers had resorted to lying to gain warrantless entry into dwellings for searches. The tactic involved telling residents that the police had received a 911 hang-up call from their addresses.

That sort of deception didn’t win hearts and minds for the police.

To be fair, both sides have made blunders that cost them credibility.

Organizations spurred on by hot-blood community organizers have spun a web of us-against-them antagonism. Yet, whom do these people call when they too need help – Ghostbusters?

As for Chief Lopez, his people and managerial skills have been blunt from the get-go in 2007. His response to the CAN meeting should have been more diplomatic. Instead, he thoughtlessly heaped more wood on the fire.

How can this impasse be settled? Sympathy aside, when Lopez turns in his badge.

Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.