Law enforcement, residents learn from each other at Raleigh forum
Posted March 26, 2015
Updated March 27, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — One by one, law enforcement and legal officials took turns dissecting video of a hypothetical situation involving a disgruntled motorist and an aggressive police officer.
Trey Peebles, 16, was highly interested in their responses.
Peebles had an encounter with law enforcement last year where a family member was placed in custody. The experience further soured his view of police, but the high school junior wanted to have a good understanding of what to do when stopped by law enforcement.
“I thought it would be a good experience to know how to deal with law enforcement because I see all the time in the news, young black boys being arrested,” he said. “I wanted to make sure how to not be in that environment.”
Peebles was one of more than 50 people at a forum Thursday night at Shaw University about how to interact with law enforcement. Sponsored by the Iota Iota Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., the event was the second held by the organization to help residents understand how law enforcement works and for authorities to hear the community’s views on policing.
“This is the type of dialogue that we need to have,” Raleigh City Councilman Eugene Weeks said. “Ask the questions you want to ask…so we do not have in the City of Raleigh the same things that we are having in these other cities. We don’t want to see that happen in the City of Raleigh and we hope and pray that it does not happen.”
In the video, a black driver is stopped by a white police officer for weaving in and out of lanes. The driver, who has been stopped multiple times recently, became belligerent with the officer, who eventually placed the driver in handcuffs. The officer assumed the driver was involved in illegal activity based on recent happenings on the same road.
It was a situation Casey Mackey said he could relate to. He said he was stopped three months ago on suspicion of breaking into a house.
“For me, that’s not new to me,” said Mackey, a North Carolina State University student who sat on the panel. “And that’s what we’re taught to perceive. If you’re in a situation like this, just do what you need to get done, but just assume that the person that’s coming already has something against you because you’re African-American.”
Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison took offense to the hypothetical officer’s attitude.
“Once you’re stopped, comply, and then complain,” he said. “Not that night, it’s not the time to do it. The time to do it is after everything. Calm yourself down, and then complain. We listen to those complaints.”
North Carolina State Highway Patrol Sgt. Joe Wright said officers are trained to be courteous to those they encounter.
“Our protocol is to hear you out and get your side of why you did the violation,” he said. “To know what’s going on so we can help you guys out. We’re not just out here to cite people or write tickets, we want to help you."
The key when dealing with law enforcement is to always be calm, said Ashleigh P. Dunston with the state Attorney General’s Office.
“At the same time you don’t want to be stereotyped because you’re a black male or a black female, the officer should not be stereotyped either,” she said. “Not every single one coming up to you is going to speak to you harshly. You don’t want that just the same way as they don’t want that as well.”
While tensions have simmered since the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City, both unarmed black men whose deaths by law enforcement sparked protests in the Triangle and across the country, concerns regarding police interactions with residents remain high, especially in African-American communities.
Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African-American studies at Duke University, says that fear has been long-standing.
“The tensions that occur around police officers and black communities, there’s an extension of that in so many cases, that so much of what moves America is about property rights, and once you had the emancipation proclamation, the concern is about controlling black movement,” said Neal, who was not at Thursday's event.
The aforementioned incidents have shaken Sonjia Colson’s view of law enforcement, but the Shaw sophomore from Rougemont said Thursday’s forum will help improve relations between residents and police.
“With the way history is, sometimes people are already afraid of us or afraid of young black males,” she said. “But I feel there is a way to go about things and that more people need to be informed regarding how to approach law enforcement.”