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Racial Justice

The ACLU is dedicated to combating racial and ethnic bias and upholding racial equality in order to preserve and extend constitutionally guaranteed rights to people who have historically been denied their rights on the basis of race or ethnicity. Our Racial Justice Project works with local communities to investigate reports of racial profiling across North Carolina. 

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – A federal judge today dismissed a civil rights lawsuit filed against Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson by the U.S. Department of Justice, which charged that under Johnson’s leadership, the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office unlawfully targeted Latino residents for investigation, traffic stops, arrests, seizures, and other enforcement actions.

“Today's decision flies in the face of a mountain of evidence that Sheriff Johnson and the Alamance County Sheriff's Office engaged in discriminatory policing,” said Carolyna Caicedo Manrique, Staff Attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC). “During the trial, the Department of Justice presented expert testimony that Latinos in Alamance County were seven times more likely to be stopped and cited than non-Latinos in the community. This profiling was no accident. According to witnesses, Sheriff Johnson repeatedly and explicitly instructed his deputies to target Latinos, at one point even telling them to ‘go get me some Mexicans.’ We urge the Department of Justice to appeal this miscarriage of justice in order to ensure all Alamance County residents can again have confidence in their Sheriff's department.”

The ACLU and other groups have been receiving complaints about Johnson, his deputies, and their treatment of Latinos for years. A 2012 statistical analysis commissioned by DOJ found that along three major Alamance County highways, ACSO deputies were approximately 4, 9, and 10 times more likely, respectively, to stop Latino drivers than similarly situated non-Latino drivers. The lawsuit listed examples of Latino drivers being followed by Alamance deputies for long stretches of time and then pulled over for little or no reason. Witnesses also testified about numerous incidents in which Johnson and other ACSO employees expressed prejudice against Latino residents.

Message of Hope

Posted on in Racial Justice

Last week, a noose was found hanging from a tree in front of the student union at Duke University. Campus officials and students have rallied to condemn the act, and a student has since admitted to hanging the noose, according to officials.

In the aftermath, ACLU-NC Executive Director Jennifer Rudinger, a Duke alumna, wrote the following letter to the editor to the Duke Chronicle:

"As a 1991 graduate of Duke University, I read with profound sadness the reports of recent racial tensions on campus that culminated with the discovery of a noose hanging in front of the Bryan Center in the wee hours of April 1. The fact that some students of color have expressed that they feel unwelcome and unsafe needs to be taken very seriously. As difficult and painful as it can be for the dominant culture to look critically at our own reflection in the mirror, recognition of the microaggressions, biases, denial and in some cases, overt hate that has been exposed here is something that needs to happen not only at Duke but throughout the nation.

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by Raul Pinto, Staff Attorney, ACLU-NCLF

Anyone who has ever been stopped by police officers on a state road can attest that it can be an unnerving experience.   The unsettling nature of a stop can be exacerbated if the driver believes that the officer’s biases played a role in the officer’s decision-making process.  Racial biases, conscious or unconscious, can be the most damaging because they create a perception that people are treated differently in the eyes of the law in violation of their civil rights.

The term “racially biased policing” was coined to cover overt discriminatory treatment of minorities, as well as subconscious biases that may affect police decision-making.  In 1999, North Carolina was at the forefront of recording data to prove or disprove whether minorities are stopped and searched at disproportionate rates by enacting a law requiring police to record demographic information about detained drivers.  Other states also adopted data collection as a tool to diagnose whether racially biased policing is a problem in their communities.  However, in North Carolina, recent analysis of the data collected as a result of the law gives cause for concern.

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RALEIGH – The U.S. Department of Justice yesterday filed a motion for summary judgment in its civil rights lawsuit against the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office (ASCO) in which it asks a federal court to rule quickly in order to stop “ACSO’s unlawful discrimination” against Latino residents.

The motion for summary judgment expounds on the Justice Department’s previous claims that ACSO, under the direction of Sheriff Terry Johnson, fosters a culture of anti-Latino bias among its deputies, including alleged use of racial slurs, disproportionate traffic stops and arrests, and examples including “an ACSO captain sending his subordinates a video game premised on shooting Mexican children, pregnant women, and other ‘wetbacks.’”

“The abhorrent and unconstitutional practices outlined in this motion should not be tolerated in our state and cannot be allowed to continue,” said Raul Pinto, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC) Legal Foundation. “After receiving similar complaints about the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office for years, we continue to urge Sheriff Johnson and his department to immediately cease their discriminatory practices and comply with the U.S. Justice Department’s requests at once. All residents of Alamance County deserve fair and equal treatment from their law enforcement officers.”  

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By Cassandra Stubbs, ACLU Capital Punishment Project

For just over three years, it looked like North Carolina was going to pull out in front of states that still have the death penalty on the books. The state's Racial Justice Act was the only in the country to prohibit racial discrimination in jury selection and in the imposition of the death penalty in capital cases – bias we know to be pervasive. This week, Governor Pat McCroy repealed the law, wiping off the books a historic piece of civil rights legislation.

It is clear that the law was removed because of its successes: four North Carolina death row inmates had prevailed in showing systemic discrimination across North Carolina and in their own cases. Using the law, these defendants had uncovered evidence that prosecutors made racially derogatory notes during jury selection and discriminated against large numbers of African American prospective jurors.

We cannot help but be discouraged by such a direct assault on civil rights and racial justice by our government. Adding insult to injury, the North Carolina legislature chose the 50th anniversary of Medger Evans' murder to enact the repeal bill, and the Governor chose the anniversary of the Senate passing the Civil Rights Act to sign it. The dates are just another sign of the legislature's and the Governor's lack of concern about the protection of civil rights.

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