Urbana leaders, residents discuss whether racial profiling plays a part in traffic stops

URBANA--The Urbana community came together Saturday to discuss whether race plays a part in traffic stops around town.

Lorraine Cowart was pulled over by Urbana Police when she says she hit a curb while making a turn. She was given a citation, but it wasn't until weeks later that she realized it was for improper lane usage.

"I think it was a racial profile," said Cowart. "But when they came, it was a little old lady sitting behind the wheel."

Stories like Cowart's were shared by many in attendance at a town hall meeting in Urbana Saturday. City leaders and residents gathered to discuss whether race is a factor when police make a traffic stop.

"We hear the frustration, we know that they're there," said Patricia Avery, the impact chair for the Urbana IDOT Traffic Stop Data Task Force. "We know that there's disparities going on in these stops. We know that. The numbers don't lie, so the question is, what are we going to do about it?"

According to the 2010 census, African Americans make up 16 percent of Urbana's population. But the IDOT Traffic Stop study found that nearly 30 percent of all people pulled over in 2013 were black. So last year, the city formed a task force to figure out why.

"We've looked at a number of different areas where multiple stops have been taking place," said Avery. "We kind of know where these zones are. I think that's important information to have that we've learned."

The next step was to hear from those who have been stopped.

"I wasn't afraid that the police would physically harm me," said Cowart. "I was afraid of what they could put down on paper."

This spring, the task force will consider those testimonies when it puts together a paper of its own, detailing their findings and outlining any recommendations on police policies for the Urbana city council.
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