CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — A political scientist's research shows racial disparities in some North Carolina arrest records.

Frank Baumgartner, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studies the death penalty, traffic stop patterns and criminal justice issues.

What You Need To Know

  • Baumgartner's research shows young, black men are targetted in traffic stops

  • He studies in disparities of arrests in Black, latinx, native and white communities

  • Baumgartner says he sees some changes as a result of recent protests and civil rights movements

He first published research in 2012 on traffic stop patterns in the state. Baumgartner says it's the most common way people interact with the police.

"It's targeted on men," said Baumgartner. "It's targeted on young men, and it's targeted on young men of color and so naturally, people get angry."  

Now, he and his students are looking into North Carolina Admin of Courts data from 2013 to 2018. The numbers focus on the Black, Latino, native and white communities. For Black, Latino and native men and women, the more police there are per capita the more people get arrested. The same is not true in the white community.

"Are the police accurately targeting people who are engaged in criminal activity and making the community safer," asked Baumgartner. "Or, are the police, on the other hand, targeting people who fit a stereotype and causing those people to lose their constitutional rights to privacy and equal protection under the law?"

These are questions that came up in the 1990s as well. In 1999 North Carolina became the first state in the country to mandate collection of traffic stop data.

"But, the issue disappeared from the political agenda after that. One of the things that's so interesting about the current moment since Trayvon Martin is that now we've been in a period of five to six years now of sustained attention to the issue of driving while Black and racial disparities," said Baumgartner. "I think that's to the credit of the Black Lives Matter movement and cultural change, and how a new generation of political activists has come into adulthood and refused to accept the status quo."

In addition to the protests, Baumgartner says he sees the differences in who is being elected.

"People [are] targeting county sheriff's elections and district attorney elections recognizing they can use the power of the ballot and the vote to overturn some of these criminal justice policies by electing new people who promise different policies."