From an editorial in The Fayetteville Observer on Monday:
There is something wrong with basic, routine law enforcement in North Carolina. Maybe. That view surely will prevail until someone provides a more plausible explanation for sharp racial disparities found in a statewide study of traffic stops.
Such disparities are familiar to residents of Fayetteville, which has for two years been embroiled in controversy over this very thing. The city and its Police Department have properly taken steps to address the problem.
The newly obtained data offer abundant proof that its not over yet.
The study, done by an Advocates for Justice task force at the urging of the American Bar Association, says blacks and Hispanics are almost twice as likely to be searched and twice as likely to be arrested as whites.
Anyone whos casting about for a plausible explanation can safely rule out coincidence.
Attacking the study because its the work of trial lawyers is also likely to be unproductive. The study interval was Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14 of last year, and all reported stops for that period were included.
Methodology, perhaps: Does the study take into account the important distinction between reasonable suspicion searches and searches for probable cause? Yes without changing the big picture.
Might there be some statistical oddity that explains this without inviting criticism of law enforcement officers? The study didnt say there wasnt one, but it did say this: The disparities appear greatest when the level of officer discretion is highest seat belts, vehicle equipment, and vehicle regulatory issues.
The state Department of Justice is involved, as it should be, along with law enforcement, prosecutors and judges. Keeping the legislative leadership apprised makes sense, too.
The danger is not that such tactics will succeed. The numbers are out, and cant be put back. The danger is that politics will impede the frank discussion that should now commence among the people of this state. We have a problem. It involves injustice. It involves race. What are we going to do about it?