In the wake of ongoing protests against police brutality, local activists have called for changes to the criminal justice system.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2017, the jail incarceration rate for Black residents in Orange County was 669.8 people per 100,000 residents. The jail incarceration rate for Latinx residents in the county was 226.8. This is compared to 48.8 people per 100,000 white residents.
The overpopulation of Black and brown citizens in jails and prisons is a function of systemic racism in policing and the entire criminal justice system that has been going on for years, said Dawn Blagrove, executive director of Emancipate N.C., a group that supports North Carolinians who have been incarcerated.
“There is a direct correlation between slave codes and slave catchers, and the overpopulation of Black and brown people inside of our criminal justice system now,” Blagrove said. “So literally, in North Carolina, the history of the connection between policing and the over-policing of Black and brown bodies has been going on since before North Carolina was even a state.”
Policing and arrests
According to law enforcement data analyzed by UNC Professor Frank Baumgartner in 2015, despite Black people comprising 10 percent of Chapel Hill’s population, they made up 47 percent of people arrested for marijuana possession and 24 percent of individuals stopped by the Chapel Hill Police Department.
To mitigate racially-biased policing, the Orange County Bias Free Policing Coalition presented a list of 11 recommendations in 2015 to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the police departments of Chapel Hill, Hillsborough and Carrboro.
One of the coalition's recommendations to designate marijuana as a low law enforcement priority is in place in Orange County, said county Sheriff Charles Blackwood. Another recommendation was requiring the use of written consent-to-search forms, and Blackwood said they are employed when practical.
“My idea about how to do this job is to come to work every day with an opportunity to make improvement,” Blackwood said.