Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department detains, searches, and inflicts violence on people of color at higher rates than it does white people, according to a city-funded study.
It examined CMPD data from more than 538,000 traffic stops between 2015 and 2020.
The findings, which Assistant to the City Manager Julia Martin told City Council were “statistically significant,” included:
- Black drivers were almost twice as likely as white drivers to have violence inflicted on them during a traffic stop;
- Black, Asian, and Hispanic drivers were more likely than white drivers to experience severe violence, including lethal force, at the hands of the cops;
- Black drivers were 1.7 times more likely than white drivers to be arrested following a traffic stop;
- All minority groups were less likely than white drivers to receive a mere warning following a traffic stop;
- Black pedestrians were three times more likely to be detained than white pedestrians;
- Hispanic pedestrians were 1.5 times more likely to be detained than white pedestrians;
- Black drivers were 2.6 times more likely than white drivers to be asked for consent to search their cars; and
- Hispanic drivers were 1.5 times more likely than white drivers to be asked for consent to search their cars.
The findings mirror nationwide trends demonstrating that Black people are more likely than others to be stopped and searched by police. The report also accords with national data finding that Black people are more likely than white people to be subject to police violence.
Although CMPD officers asked Black and Hispanic motorists for permission to search their vehicles more often than they made such requests of white drivers, the study found that searches turned up contraband at the same level among drivers of all races.
It turns out everyone was holding at the same rate, but Black and Hispanic drivers were more frequently suspected and searched.
This, too, tracks nationwide trends that demonstrate drug use across racial categories is roughly the same — even though people of color bear the brunt of anti-drug laws, arrests, prosecutions, and incarcerations. Meanwhile, white people are more likely to deal drugs than Black people, but Black people are more likely to be arrested for it.
In absolute numbers, CMPD searched Black motorists 18,919 times while searching white motorists only 3,182 times. Officers searched Hispanic motorists 2,095 times and Asian motorists 135 times.
CMPD detained 259,366 Black drivers and pedestrians, but only 133,512 white drivers and pedestrians. The department detained 49,714 Hispanic drivers and pedestrians and 8,243 Asian drivers and pedestrians.
City staff who presented the findings to City Council attempted to downplay the findings of racism.
“Critically, RAND differentiates between racial disparity, which can be measured statistically, and racial bias, or individual perceptions and feelings that are difficult to define and measure,” the report’s executive summary explained in an attempt to argue that racial disparity does not implicate CMPD in racism.
Martin, the assistant to the city manager who presented the report’s findings to Council, reiterated this idea.
“Racial bias is a measure of how people feel and think and their intrinsic motivations and is difficult, if not impossible, to measure in a statistically significant way,” she said.
Were we to accept this conception of racism, we would be incapable of assessing racism in law enforcement — because no one can see into the hearts and souls of others. Racism would be defined out of existence not only in police departments, but everywhere.
But we aren’t compelled to accept such a narrow, cramped definition of racism.
A different, fuller conception of racism — often called “systemic racism” or “institutional racism” — accounts for racially identifiable results stemming from seemingly race-neutral policies and practices. This broader definition extends the descriptor “racism” to all policies or practices that produce racially identifiable outcomes — like, we now know, those of CMPD.
While the city’s preferred, narrow definition of racism examines racially identifiable social phenomenon from the perspective of those in power — here, the cops — the broader definition of racism emphasizes the perspective and experience of those who bear racism’s burdens: the men and women of color who are more frequently detained, arrested, assaulted, and killed by law enforcement.
In the wake of the report’s publication, the disproportionately Black and Hispanic victims of CPMD’s violence should not expect any meaningful changes to lessen or eliminate their suffering, certainly not at the behest of City Council or the upper echelons of the municipal bureaucracy.
Despite the determination that CMPD targets people of color, city staff concluded, “RAND was not able to identify specific policies or strategies that were causing the racial disparities observed in the data, and commends CMPD’s policy directives and data transparency.” CMPD, according to the city’s top administrators, is to be feted despite disproportionately subjecting Black and Hispanic men and women to state violence.
Instead of somber reflection on the news that well-documented racism animates Charlotte’s law enforcement, bureaucratic self-congratulations filled the Council’s meeting room after this week’s presentation.
“I think this is probably the most comprehensive review and analysis of CMPD since I’ve been here,” said Chief Johnny Jennings, a thirty-year veteran of the department.
Other city officials echoed his emphasis on the act of compiling the data, not on the departmental racism documented in its analysis.
City Manager Marcus Jones touted the “collaboration” necessary to complete the report.
Councilman Victoria Watlington offered “kudos to the data analysts,” while Councilman Larken Egleston described the city’s “innovation” and “ground-breaking” work. (In fairness to Watlington, she also said she thought one of the data points showing racism in the police department “would raise some eyebrows over at CMPD.” This seems unlikely since Jennings immediately dismissed the significance and accuracy of the data point that caught Watlington’s eye.)
Said Mayor Vi Lyles, “Kudos to the team for the work that they’ve done.”
Never one to pass up an opportunity to obsequiously praise law enforcement, even when the cops are at their most brutal, Councilman Tariq Bokhari greeted the news of CMPD’s racism with “a head nod and a thanks to those men and women in uniform.”
He added, “I personally say ‘thank you’ to them.”
For the violence.
For the brutality.
For the racism.