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Hispanics Carry Lopsided Share Of DWI Arrests

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RALEIGH, N.C. — WRAL has learned that 33 percent all drunken drivers arrested in Wake County are Hispanic, although the latest census numbers indicate that Hispanics make up only 7 percent of Wake County's population.

This past weekend in Wake County, 69 people were arrested and charged with DWIs. Twenty-three of those drivers were Hispanic. While DWI is the most common charge, many of those charged with that face additional charges, such as driving without a valid license. People on both sides of this issue say more education is the key to helping solve this problem.

"We've known for some time that the Hispanic population is overrepresented in DWI arrests and DWI collisions," said Lt. Everett Clendenin with the North Carolina Highway Patrol.

The Highway Patrol says that while Hispanics make up roughly 7 percent of the state's population, they make up more than 17 percent of the patrol's DWI arrests and are involved in 15 percent of their alcohol-related crashes.

"In Mexico and other Latin communities, traffic laws are not taken as seriously as they are here in North Carolina and also in our nation," said Clendenin.

"I definitely don't want the police targeting me based upon how I look, and I don't want them targeting me because I came out of a certain store or nightclub," said defense attorney Ricardo Velasquez.

Velasquez said he believes racial profiling has something to do with the high numbers, but the statistics appear to be too high and too consistent to simply be the result of selective enforcement. And Velasquez agrees that his clients do not always understand the laws and their severity.

"I think that there needs to be more education in that area," he said. "That's why we do emphasize, we talk to them about what happened the first time and what's going to happen next time."

"We're trying to encourage our district commanders to get out and work with Hispanic communities," said Clendenin. "We want to do that. We want to share this important message."

The Highway Patrol recently appointed a Hispanic liaison to work with this community on this issue. Defense attorneys say one roadblock to the process right now is that undocumented immigrants have difficulty acquiring valid licenses, which is the foundation of being a legal driver.


Amanda Lamb, Reporter
Courtney Davis, Photographer
Dana Franks, Web Editor

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