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Survey Says Race Relations Improving in Cumberland County

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FAYETTEVILLE — Improving relations between the races is an ongoing project for Americans. A new survey suggests Fayetteville residents are making better progress than people in other communities across the country.

James Burmeistermade national headlines two years ago for the racially-motivated murders of two black Fayetteville residents.

Today, theU.S. Department of Justiceis considering a lawsuit against thecity of Fayettevillefor alleged discrimination in the Police Department.

But a year-long study shows perceptions of racial problems may be inaccurate.

"The starting point in Cumberland County is, or seems to be, appreciably farther down the road than one sees elsewhere in terms of race relations," says Alan Secrest, part of the team that conducted the survey.

The survey of 600 Cumberland County residents -- based on race, gender and economic status -- shows only 20 percent of respondents believe race relations are a major problem.

The number seems particularly low when compared to figures in other cities: 48 percent in St. Louis; 34 percent in Baltimore; 33 percent in Atlanta; and 28 percent in Houston.

But Secrest is the first to admit there is still work to be done. "There clearly is a distance to go yet," he says

"Forty-six percent of residents agree [that] while they know it is wrong, 'Sometimes I have a hard time trusting members of different ethnic groups,'" Secrest says.

And 79 percent of black residents believe that African Americans face at least some discrimination.

Ray Shipman, of theNAACP, agrees with the survey's findings. "It is a fact we are in pretty good shape," he says, "and we've got a long ways to go. We have some burning issues here that must be resolved in order for us to continue our progress."

The study also showed about 75 percent of people polled live in racially integrated areas and 75 percent had groups of friends outside of work that are integrated.