A month after 100 police, sheriff’s deputies and special agents swooped in on the small North Carolina town of Mount Gilead the morning of Election Day and made dozens of drug arrests, there’s still controversy around the timing of the Nov. 5 sting, which disproportionately affected African Americans. “It seemed kinda strange that they would have a bust on Election Day,” said Leon Turner, an African-American resident of Mount Gilead. The election involved a highly contested mayoral race that pitted sitting Mount Gilead Mayor Patty Almond against challenger Earl Poplin, a former mayor of the town. Almond first ran for mayor in 2011 and lost by two votes, but it was later discovered that four black voters were denied ballots after their residency was challenged. The state board of elections eventually ordered a new election, which Almond won, taking office last December. She lost her re-election bid last month by about 90 votes.
Given that local history, it’s not surprising that Mount Gilead residents have raised questions about voter suppression in the sting’s wake. Of the 60 arrests made around Montgomery County as part of the Nov. 5 bust, 31 occurred in Mount Gilead — and all of those involved African Americans. The town of 1,175 is 50 percent black. A list of the arrests provided by Mount Gilead Police Chief Cleve Willoughby shows most of those arrested were charged with either possession of or conspiracy or intent to sell narcotics, namely cocaine and marijuana. A conspiracy charge means a person was somehow involved with a drug transaction, though not passing drugs or money through his or her own hands.
There’s also a deeper history of policing being used to intimidate voters in the South. In Gary May’s book “Bending Toward Justice” about the demonstrations leading up to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, he recounts stories about how police across the region — including North Carolina — would troll through cities on election days arresting black people for all kinds of crimes, some as trivial as jaywalking, thereby scaring potential voters into staying home and away from the polls. More recently, a report on the contested 2000 presidential election by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights detailed how black voters in certain Florida neighborhoods complained about police traffic stops on Election Day. And in 2010, controversy erupted after police in Greensboro, N.C. set up traffic checkpoints between public housing projects in largely black neighborhoods and residents’ polling places in both the primary and general election.
Full Article: NC Election Day drug bust violated policing best practices.