How would you feel if you were almost six times more likely to be sent to prison than the average person? Or if you were two times more likely to be stopped by a traffic cop? Or after being arrested, your chance of being sent to jail before your trial is greater than your chance of being released on bond? What if it happened because of the color of your eyes? Or your height? Or the texture of your hair? Or whether you are right- or left-handed? It would seem ridiculous and unfair. Although it is both of these things, some people are treated differently by law enforcement and the legal system in North Carolina. If you have been treated roughly by police officers because of your appearance, you may have been a victim of police violence.
Police violence happens when police officers use unnecessary or excessive force with a suspect or civilian. The cause of much of this violence is generally considered to be racism or personal bias, but the problem is also caused by inappropriate procedures and training. It is a problem that was exposed to us all in 2020. With increasing regularity, news reports told of police killings and subsequent protests all over the United States. The killings and the protests moved a conversation about police violence to the mainstream.
Wilmington Firing of Police Officers
In Wilmington, North Carolina, a conversation between three police officers was accidentally recorded, by their own patrol car cameras, in which they made racist comments and threats. The recording included racially charged comments about people of color in general, Black Lives Matter protesters, black peer police officers, and a black judge. The comments were discovered by another police officer during a monthly audit of recordings. To the credit of the police chief, the officers were fired, and an investigation is occurring. Criminal charges are possible.
Raleigh Task Force Recommendations
In 2020, the governor of North Carolina assembled a statewide task force to investigate racial equity in their criminal justice system. The task force’s report was released in January 2021. It advised police departments across the state to:
- Eliminate the use of chokeholds
- Reforming the practice of sending people to jail before their trial if they cannot make bail
- Reforming the court system’s application of cash bail, court fees, and court fines
- Legalizing marijuana
- Establish a policy requiring police officers to intervene and report cases of other officers’ use of excessive force with a suspect
The intended outcome of these reforms is to identify and remove police officers who have a racial bias so that law enforcement serves all North Carolinians equally.
What You Can Do About It
North Carolina is taking positive steps to reform police violence. For many people who have already been a victim of police violence, those reforms will come too late. If this is you, consider talking to a legal expert in police violence.