Last night, Batalá Durham assembled for its weekly practice at Durham Central Park. The community-oriented samba-reggae percussion ensemble has been at the center of a conflict that spotlights one of the ugly realities of Durham’s urban development. Though the group has had permission to practice in the park during warm months for over a year, complaints from a resident at the new Liberty Warehouse Apartments across the street have resulted in Durham police shutting down the group’s rehearsals.
We ran a story about the issue last week, and several residents of Liberty Warehouse chimed in with their support of Batalá Durham. Several appeared at Monday night’s gathering to demonstrate their support for the band, and others have signed a petition and left comments in favor of Batalá.
There was a baseline crowd of about fifty people, adults and children, and it swelled to nearly a hundred at its largest. Most of the practice went on without issue—and indeed, the whole situation felt like a net positive. Neighbors and community members met each other for the first time, friends and family members gathered to hang out and dance, Liberty residents and Batalá drummers smiled and chatted warmly with each other. It felt as though everyone was on the same spirited team.
At seven fifteen, a Durham Police Department officer pulled up. Officer B.K. Mincey approached the group and spoke with Caique Vidal, Batalá Durham’s musical director, and Justin Anderson-Pomeroy, its cofounder and de facto communications officer. The three calmly discussed the situation for a few minutes, the officer taking attentive notes as Vidal and Anderson-Pomeroy explained their presence.
As the officer wrapped up the conversation, Vidal gently asked if the group had to end its rehearsal. The officer scoffed, made a face, shook his head, and waved on the group, bidding them a good night before he walked away. All seemed well.
And then the clouds rolled in.
Around 7:42 p.m., two DPD SUVs arrived at Durham Central Park, and heavy rain began shortly thereafter. Officers J.S. Tyler and N.T. Thorpe met with Joy Vidal, a member of Batalá Durham (she’s married to Caique Vidal). They explained that they were responding to a noise complaint and were there to end the rehearsal. (The officers didn’t formally stop the practice, but Caique Vidal elected to bring it to a halt when he saw his wife speaking with the officers.)
Officer Tyler said that the noise complaint wasn’t based on specific decibel levels—in fact, he said, the department’s decibel meter is currently out of service, because it had to be sent back to the manufacturer for a regular calibration. Tyler told the group that it could be in violation of other ordinances, but he did not specify which ones.
“We have to use our reasonable senses,” he said, adding that that the single complainer’s concern was “just as valid as anybody else’s.”
Durham’s city noise ordinance dictates that nighttime noise (between eleven p.m. and eight a.m.) should not exceed fifty decibels, and daytime noise should not exceed sixty decibels.
In a mildly tense but polite exchange that lasted nearly half an hour, the officers explained that the group’s best route toward a resolution was to get a permit with a variance, which only the city manager can issue. Officer Thorpe told the group that their visit would be documented as a warning, and any further complaints would lead to a citation. Such a citation would result in a $35 fine, plus $173 in court costs.
But Batalá Durham isn’t done yet. As this week’s gathering made clear, the community is listening—several drummers and audience members gathered around officers Thorpe and Tyler to listen to them explaining their reasoning to Joy Vidal. The situation will continue to develop as Batalá Durham decides whether to show up again next week and risk a citation (all signs point to yes). We’ll keep you updated on all of it as it unfolds.