Wilmington Police Chief Links War on Drugs to Strained Law Enforcement / Community Relations
A series of Town Hall meetings began a couple of years ago in Wilmington after a spike in concerns over violent interactions between law enforcement officers and members of minority communities. These Community Conversations are evolving and now include formal participation from the City of Wilmington, New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, Wilmington Police Department, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, community members / facilitators.
The reasons behind the strained relationships between law enforcement and residents in minority or high-poverty neighborhoods are legion and long-standing.
But, says Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous, the misguided war on drugs is a large part of the current conflict.
"The use, abuse of drugs, and the addiction of drugs should not be a police problem. It should be a public health problem, and it should be treated as such. We need a national conversation on drugs. Unfortunately, we see a big overrepresentation in some of our minority communities of violence and guns and gangs and drugs. Unfortunately, the heroin epidemic – the major customers are white people."
Deborah Dicks Maxwell, President of the New Hanover County NAACP, agrees -- even calling the war on drugs the new Jim Crow.
"…Because some of these laws are just illogical. They’re insensitive to the needs of the community and the public. And North Carolina’s a prime example of that. But in my mind, you can’t arrest someone for substance abuse without having the facilities to treat."
Dicks Maxwell says the recent support of Trillium Mental Health Services – by New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington is an important step in the right direction.
To hear more about these Community Conversations, listen to the February 3rd edition of CoastLine: