After a Minneapolis officer murdered an unarmed George Floyd in May 2020, people took to the streets demanding a full accounting of force used on citizens. Some wanted the names of officers using it.
”We need law enforcement to participate in this conversation, to be transparent,” said Rebecca Trammel, a North Carolina community organizer who helped lead marches in Wilmington after Floyd’s death. “The more they resist transparency, the longer they are going to feed distrust.”
Their calls revealed a gap in North Carolina. No one was tracking all cases in which officers used deadly force.
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat and longtime prosecutor, created a task force to study racial inequities in policing in June 2020. He called on the State Bureau of Investigation to create a center to study use of force by law enforcement.
The governor’s order was clear: ”promote transparency” about officers’ use of force.
Legislators, with Cooper’s signoff, did the opposite a year later. All information on events where officers kill or badly injure people will be stored in a confidential database.
A criminal justice reform bill passed last summer protects the identities of officers reported to the database. Residents won’t be told whether the incidents were deemed justified, and if they weren’t, what discipline officers received.
A provision tucked within the state’s 628-page budget made the secrecy ironclad. It requires that information on these cases collected by the state be kept secret. Local agencies are forbidden from releasing the data.
The public will have no way to know how many critical incidents happened in their communities. Nothing about whether the person police encountered was hurt or killed could be disclosed. Even the date of the incident would be considered confidential.
State officials are now citing the budget provision when refusing to release new and historic data on incidents where police killed or badly injured people in this state.
“That just shows you the more we try to take one step forward, they are going to push us and continue to try to push us two steps backward,” said Kerwin Pittman, a member of the governor’s racial equity task force and director of policy and program for Emancipate NC, a Raleigh-based advocacy group.
This was not where many thought North Carolina was heading in 2020.
Cooper’s executive order launched two groups to advise on criminal justice reform: the racial equity task force and an advisory group to the SBI Center on Reduction of Use of Force by Law Enforcement.
Activists on the task force, particularly those representing Black residents, pushed for greater scrutiny and disclosure around use-of-force incidents.
“Public servants do not have any expectation of privacy,” Kristie Puckett-Williams, regional field organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said in an interview. She is an advisor to the SBI Center.
For months, Puckett-Williams and others seemed to gain traction.
In an email sent to task force members in November 2020, Matthew Brody, special advisor to the SBI director, noted a consensu
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