Racial profliling in Alamance County

By Armando Bellmas, Director of Communications

The U.S. Department of Justice released its findings yesterday after a 2-year investigation into the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office here in North Carolina. According to the release, “the Justice Department finds reasonable cause to believe that [the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office] engages in a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing against Latinos.” Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson (pictured, right) has created a culture of discrimination and racial profiling against Latinos within his Sheriff’s Office. This type of law enforcement makes communities less safe and undermines the Sheriff’s Office’s ability to serve and protect Alamance County’s Latino residents and the community at large. Not only is this a serious case of racial profiling, but these findings violate the Constitution and civil rights laws.

According to the Justice Department’s investigation, the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office’s (ACSO) discriminatory policing activities include:

  • ACSO deputies target Latino drivers for traffic stops;
  • A study of ACSO’s traffic stops on three major county roadways found that deputies were between four and 10 times more likely to stop Latino drivers than non-Latino drivers;
  • ACSO deputies routinely locate checkpoints just outside Latino neighborhoods, forcing residents to endure police checks when entering or leaving their communities;
  • ACSO practices at vehicle checkpoints often vary based on a driver’s ethnicity.   Deputies insist on examining identification of Latino drivers, while allowing drivers of other ethnicities to pass through without showing identification;
  • ACSO deputies arrest Latinos for minor traffic violations while issuing citations or warnings to non-Latinos for the same violations;
  • ACSO uses jail booking and detention practices, including practices related to immigration status checks, that discriminate against Latinos;
  • The sheriff and ACSO’s leadership explicitly instruct deputies to target Latinos with discriminatory traffic stops and other enforcement activities;
  • The sheriff and ACSO leadership foster a culture of bias by using anti-Latino epithets; and
  • ACSO engages in substandard reporting and monitoring practices that mask its discriminatory conduct.

As a result of these findings, the Department of Homeland Security release this statement:

“The Department of Homeland Security is troubled by the Department of Justice’s findings of discriminatory policing practices within the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO).   Discrimination undermines law enforcement and erodes the public trust. DHS will not be a party to such practices. Accordingly, and effective immediately, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is terminating ACSO’s 287(g) jail model agreement and is restricting their access to the Secure Communities program.”

It is one thing to lose a federal law enforcement program to budget cuts, and another more serious matter to lose it because of discrimination and racial profiling. We hope North Carolina state legislators are paying close attention to the Justice Department’s findings.

You see, Sheriff Johnson is a lead law enforcement advisor to the North Carolina General Assembly’s House Select Committee on the State’s Role in Immigration, a committee formed in late 2011 to determine what kind of, if any, immigration legislation the state of North Carolina should pursue in the wake of similar legislation in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. Surely the Select Committee will now reconsider their dependence on Sheriff Johnson’s misguided and discriminatory policies for the state of North Carolina.

Sheriff Johnson and the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office is not our North Carolina. Our North Carolina is better than that.


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