By Matt Goad
Orange County leaders and citizens gathered virtually Saturday to talk about what they have done lately to improve local police departments and what else should be done.
“We have to do better,” said Anna Richards, president of the local branch of the NAACP, which hosted the virtual meeting. “We have to do better.”
Chapel Hill and Carrboro officials talked about how both towns recently had issued proclamations that, among other items, prohibited the use of chokeholds by police, as part of efforts to reform the departments.
The focus on police brutality and racial equity in law enforcement comes in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police last month and ensuing widespread protests, including in Chapel Hill.
Calls to defund the police, mostly meaning to reduce police budgets and shift the funds to social programs, also have spread across the nation. Carrboro recently took a small step in that direction, delaying the staffing of two vacant positions.
Other changes to local police departments, some members of the public said during the virtual town hall, should be decriminalizing or legalizing low-level marijuana offenses and not charging for family members of the jailed to make visits.
Moderator Paris Miller said the police should follow the same rules as everyone else. She also called for the police to withdraw from any militarization programs. Ivy Drew, a UNC student, said that any payments for police misbehavior should come from the pension of the offending officer and not from general funds.
Drew added that she actually favors the abolition of the police, and participates with abolitionist groups.
Soteria Shepperson pointed out that it’s not people of color shooting up schools, asking why black students are then targeted by police. Drew added that when a gunman killed 17 at a high school in Parkland, Fla., an officer could be heard on the radio saying he wasn’t going in because of the risk, which raised, she said, the issue of the efficacy of the police.
A number of local officials participated in the forum, including Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue, Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board members Rani Dasi, Amy Fowler and Joal Broun, Chapel Hill Town Council members Hongbin Gu and Tai Huynh, Carrboro Town Council members Barbara Foushee, Jacquelyn Gist and Randee Haven-O’Donnell, Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich, and Matt Hughes, Hillsborough town commissioner.
“This is the beginning of a conversation,” Richards said.