Editorial: Cooper listens, acts

Posted June 10, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT

CBC Editorial: Wednesday, June 10, 2020; Editorial #8551
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.

In communities across North Carolina – big and small, rural and urban – diverse crowds are pouring into the streets. They are demanding an end to the systemic racism that plagues law enforcement and our judicial systems.

They aren’t looking for more studies, more convenings or kumbaya moments. They want action. They are right.

Tuesday Gov. Roy Cooper showed he is listening, even as the leadership of the General Assembly displayed astonishing tone deafness.

Cooper ordered state agencies under his authority – cabinet departments with sworn law enforcement divisions such as the state Highway Patrol, Capitol Police, Alcohol Law Enforcement, prison officers; state park rangers and others – to take immediate, specific steps to address systemic racial discrimination in the conduct of their duties.

The governor directed Department of Public Safety Secretary Eric Hooks to act to avoid abuse of suspects. Hooks is to review existing policies on “use of force and de-escalation techniques, arrest procedures, treatment of persons in custody, cultural sensitivity training, crisis intervention and internal investigation processes.”

Cooper’s executive order directs these agencies to make sure policies for law enforcement personnel are clear and transparent -- that officers have a duty to intervene and report cases they witness where an officer or officers use excessive force or abuse a suspect.

Additionally, Cooper orders the Department of Public Safety to redouble its efforts to recruit and hire a racially diverse workforce and establish a paid internship program with a particular focus on the state’s historically black college and universities “to recruit a workforce reflective of the entire community.”

Those are immediate steps – and there’s more he can and should do, right away. For example, there needs to be a ban on the use of chokeholds.

The order also seeks to examine systemic issues and correct them through a Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice. The task force will bring together state and local law enforcement officials, legislators, local elected officials, judges, prosecutors and public defenders along with advocacy groups. It will take a broad review of law enforcement policies and training to eliminate “disparate outcomes in the criminal justice system for communities of color.”

Further, he creates a new Center for the Prevention of Law Enforcement Use of Deadly Force to collect data on police use of deadly force; develop training to reduce the use of lethal force when possible; and provide a resource for collaboration and public policy development between the various law enforcement agencies in the state along with higher education institutions, community and advocacy organizations.

Cooper’s order also urges agencies that are not under his authority – such as the legislature’s police force; UNC system police forces as well as local law enforcement agencies, to conduct similar reviews and make appropriate policy updates and changes.

It is a vivid contrast to the General Assembly, where the leaderships’ response to the popular outpouring has been muted and tepid. House Speaker Tim Moore announced a “task force” on justice, law enforcement and community relations. But he only named three leaders and said it won’t do anything until after August.

Further, rather than calling on the several former law enforcement officers, judges and prosecutors among the House’s ranks to lead the effort, he’s picked three legislators without any direct experience in law enforcement or judicial systems.

So, there’s a huge problem, citizens are reasonably demanding immediate action and what do the people of North Carolina get from their legislature? A public relations ploy offering Inexperience and procrastination.

Cooper’s order is certainly not the whole answer. There is much more that can be done now to address the deep divide and suspicions in our communities regarding racial discrimination in law enforcement.

There are several proposals before the legislature now that need action – but we’ll save that for an upcoming editorial.

The governor recognized action now – just as much or even more so than more study – is what citizens legitimately demand.

He’s listening and acting. Others need to take his cues.

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