In the wake of last year’s national self-reflection on race and equal justice, New Hampshire was largely spared the turmoil. There were no deaths such as those of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor or Ahmaud Arbery to point to. There were no violent riots, burned buildings or looting, such as occurred in several major U.S. cities.
But there certainly was reflection, and while the Granite State is known as being homogeneously white, with more than 1.2 million residents, there are plenty of people of color here. And the injustices faced elsewhere have been felt here, too. As importantly, a good percentage of Granite Staters of all colors are devoted to equality, fairness and racial justice, realizing that if anyone is victimized by prejudice or hatred, then we are all vulnerable to it.
So it was not surprising New Hampshire took quick action. Gov. Sununu created an ad hoc panel — the Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency — of stakeholders from state and local law enforcement, the judiciary, advocates for justice, diversity, mental health and human rights, and members of the public. He tasked them with studying New Hampshire’s law enforcement practices and policies, and reporting back how best to improve justice here for those seen as “different.” He gave them 45 days, later extended by a month.
And in that time, the LEACT Commission met more than two dozen times, compiling a report on what the state does well, and what needs improving. The report featured 48 recommendations on training, policy, transparency and enforcement to improve policing and the judicial system in the state.
Sununu immediately embraced all 48. Within weeks he issued executive orders that enacted 20 of them. The rest require some legislative action. Part of that action is in the form of Senate Bill 96, passed by the Senate April 1. Among other things, the omnibus bill would encourage judges to seek training for implicit biases; change the definition of juvenile delinquency; and fund body and dashboard cameras for state police. One thing it won’t do, unless the House acts to amend it, is note the race of the person holding state driver’s licenses or other ID cards.
It was supposed to do that, and should do it. It was among the LEACT Commission’s unanimous recommendations. The thinking is that data needs to be collected, and made public, regarding the race or ethnicity of drivers stopped by police, since for years such traffic stops have been a sticking point regarding trust between police and people of color. Hence the creation of the term “driving while Black.”
But that requirement got stripped out of the bill by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a 14-10 vote along party lines. Instead, the bill now calls for a study committee to examine the issue and report back by November. Several Black members of the LEACT panel have publicly opposed the amendment, noting they already studied the topic prior to making the recommendation.
Without trustworthy data, it’s difficult to draw firm conclusions about the interactions between police and the drivers they stop. And though the “race” box on a license or ID would be optional for the individual if they object for privacy reasons, it would help track instances where race might play a role in altercations between drivers and officers.
Given the governor’s wholehearted support of the LEACT recommendations, we hope he’ll lobby the House to revert the language back to its original intent.