Last month, 20 year old Janisha Fonville
was shot and killed by a Charlotte Mecklenburg police officer, because she was wielding a kitchen knife at officers in her apartment. Fonville was black. The officer who shot her is white.
On Tuesday, Rep. Rodney Moore, D-Mecklenburg, filed a bill that prohibits discriminatory practices by law enforcement officials and compels law enforcement agencies to provide cultural diversity training to new hires. The bill, H193,
also seeks to capture traffic stop and homicide data, in order to prove or dispel claims of racial bias, and it authorizes the use of municipal citizen review boards to investigate potential incidences of police misconduct.
“This is a great first step in having a conversation about how police and law enforcement agencies interact with our communities of color, and with the community as a whole,” Moore said. “We are striving to come up with ways to rebuild the public’s trust in law enforcement agencies and have open and fair dialogue about the ways we can hold people accountable for misdeeds.”
Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Pitt, Rep. Cecil Brokcman, D-Guilford, and Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, are co-sponsoring the legislation. Farmer-Butterfield said her constituents asked her to sign onto the bill following a panel discussion with police, faith leaders and a person who had been racially profiled.
“During the discussion, I heard they want fairness and justice, for people to be treated the same and for a watchdog to oversee that people are treated equally,” she said.
Brockman, a young African American himself, said he has personally experienced instances with law enforcement “where I didn’t agree with why I was pulled over.”
“A lot of members of the African American community have had the same experience,” Brockman said. “This bill is a great way to try to fix that.”
Moore said he has had “some conversations” with the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association as well the North State Officers’ Association, and that those groups are in “wait and see mode.” Moore said Republican leadership in the Legislature has been receptive to the bill but members have questioned whether it is needed, since the state and U.S. Constitution already makes racial profiling illegal.
“There are provisions in the law, but are they being enforced..?,” Moore asked. “This bill serves as a template, a guiding document. Once the law is enacted, we can get the judiciary’s view of how to hold people accountable.”
Rep. Garland Pierce, the chair of the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus, added that the bill isn’t limited to prohibiting discrimination against young men of color, but of all people who are profiled by law enforcement.
“This is a big piece of legislation affecting a lot of people,” Pierce said. “It affects black young men and people from other ethnic groups.”
“This bill is about profiling on the basis of nationality, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual identity,” Moore said. “It’s critical for groups of people who have been profiled or discriminated against at some point in time.”
The Rev. Nelson Johnson of Greensboro said he is “grateful” for the bill.
“Profiling is happening all over the US to lesser and greater degrees,” he said. “Don’t wait for more imprisonment, more deaths. This bill is right, it is moral and it is overdue.”