Citizens, leaders discuss 'Driving While Black'

March 10, 2011 8:28:08 PM PST
Citizens and community leaders in Fayetteville met Thursday to discuss what the NAACP calls "Driving While Black."

Fayetteville Police Chief Tom Bergamine told a packed forum Thursday night racial profiling by his officers is more a perception that a real problem.

"I do not think any of my officers are racially profiling," Chief Bergamine said. "We hear a lot from the community about drug houses [and] weapons violations."

The Fayetteville Police Department's own numbers reveal black drivers are pulled over at a much higher rate than white drivers. The NAACP calls the numbers disturbing.

The department's numbers were collected from four years of police reports on traffic stops and searches. Those numbers show that between February 2006 and December 2010, over 9,000 African American drivers were stopped by officers. During that same period, just over 2,500 white drivers were pulled over and searched.

That's roughly a 4 to 1 difference.

Of those traffic stops, several resulted in officer involved shootings.

Many of the citizens who attended Thursday's forum say they feel like they are victims of driving while black.

Police say some stops and searches are part of criminal investigations.

Retired Judge Coy Brewer says the police reports don't require officers to objectively explain their reason for pulling over a motorist.

Chief Bergamine admits some of his officers need to do a better job of explaining to motorists why they are stopped.

In the end, the question of the night was will the problem or perception change?

Most who attended the forum left feeling that the discussion was a good start.

A city spokesperson says the U.S. Justice Department has offered to train Fayetteville police on how to avoid racial profiling. The training should begin in April or early May.

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