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Community Conversation: Mecklenburg County DA pushes ‘cultural competency’ in his office

Published: Oct. 22, 2021 at 6:28 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather is serious about making sure his office has training in cultural competency.

In 2019, he kicked off a Diversity and Inclusion Committee within his office.

“The question for myself and all of my colleagues in our office,” Mecklenburg County DA Spencer Merriweather said. “How can we make sure that we are thinking about it - positioning ourselves to be that we can serve every sector and every corner of Mecklenburg County in the right way.”

Merriweather says there is no budget for this diversity initiative. He also says there is a curriculum.

He says the work is important.

“One of the things that’s important to me is to understand that no life is cheap,” Merriweather said. “And that we know that the impact of the people of color. The impact of people from under-represented communities in our community. That they are disproportionately impacted by crime in our community. So the people who speak on their behalf - when they go in court - the people who actually go and have to see people, who have been damaged by crime in our community. They ought to have a level of cultural competency. They ought to have a level of understanding about why somebody might be resistant about the criminal justice system.”

The curriculum includes attorneys and staff in the DA’s office choosing an activity.

It could be reading a book, taking a part in a 21-day equity challenge, or getting involved in the community.

There is also an activity where people in the DA’s office hop on a bus and take a tour of the diverse communities.

This cultural competency has made a difference in the way attorneys do their job.

“I just don’t read a witness statement on a sheet of paper,” Mecklenburg Count ADA Heidi Perlman said. “And assume I know everything and so that I can understand what they experienced or what they talk about when they come to meet with me or when I talk to them. I want to have a completely open mind. I don’t want to go off what I just read that could be not exactly how they meant something or there could be more to it - more behind or history.”

Merriweather says this work is needed because of the conversations he has had with the community.

“People have looked me in the face,” Spencer said. “And told me - listen - I don’t necessarily trust you. I don’t trust you because I don’t believe you understand the plight of a woman. I don’t trust you because you don’t understand the plight of someone who is not from this country.”

During the pandemic - this training is happening virtually. Spencer wants to continue the cultural competency training when the staff returns to the office.

The DA wants people to feel dignity from his office no matter where they come from or look like

“The idea is that everybody in my office recognizes that this is not a field trip,” Merriweather said. “This is the work. And that every time we pick up a file. Every time we pick up a phone and talk to a victim that this becomes a part of the work. Because it shifts attitudes. It motivates us.”

Community Conversation airs every Friday night at 7:30 during WBTV’s OYST with Jamie Boll.

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