Despite a packed agenda at the Raleigh City Council meeting Tuesday, more than a dozen local activists, joined by run-of-the-mill Raleighites, put the spotlight squarely back where it belongs—on the tasering death of Darryl Williams at the hands of Raleigh police.

Williams, 32, died on January 18 after being tased multiple times by police officers. At one point, the man was tased twice in less than a minute, with police placing their tasers directly on his body. Williams was heard on a body-worn camera saying, “I have heart problems,” according to the five-day report released by the Raleigh Police Department (RPD). 

Williams was sitting in a car in a parking lot in Southeast Raleigh when he was approached by Raleigh police officers on a “proactive patrol,” according to the report. The policy has been compared to stop-and-frisk by activists, who say it disproportionately targets Blacks and harasses them for being in their own communities. 

One by one, a steady stream of people came to the podium Tuesday night to speak about Williams’ death, including Dawn Blagrove, executive director of Emancipate NC; Zainab Baloch, a former city council candidate; and Annette Exum, owner of the property where Williams was killed. 

“I’m here because several nights ago, someone called me and told me that someone was killed on my property in Raleigh, North Carolina. Killed. And he was in police custody,” Exum said, slowly and steadily. “That was unconscionable.”

Collectively, the public commenters demanded the end of taser use and proactive patrolling by the RPD, the firing of the officers involved in Williams’ death, and a restructuring of the city’s police advisory board, among other things. 

Blagrove, who spoke about an hour and a half into the meeting, demanded the city council ban the use of tasers until RPD can prove they will follow their own policies around the use of force. 

“Darryl Williams is dead because RPD failed to follow its own written policies for justification and use of non-deadly force,” Blagrove said, alleging at least 16 policies were violated by officers that night. “Flagrant disregard of [policies] transforms non-lethal weapons into instruments of death.”

Blagrove went on to say that the RPD suffers from an “irresponsible and dangerous lack of oversight and accountability.”

“An out-of-control police department with no accountability or functioning leadership creates a real and present danger to Black and brown people in Southeast Raleigh,” she said. “You were elected to run the city in a way that is ethically and fiscally responsible. Allowing RPD to run roughshod over an entire community, with impunity, satisfies neither of the aforementioned responsibilities.”

Meanwhile, Jennifer McKenney of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice demanded the end of “proactive patrols” by RPD, calling it “surveillance of Black neighborhoods” and saying officers “must stop approaching individuals without probable cause that a crime is being committed.” 

Baloch, who ran for city council last year before dropping out just ahead of the November election, spoke passionately about the need for the officers involved in Williams’ death to be brought to justice. 

“These officers electrocuted Daryl Williams to death in a parking lot. Daryll was not a threat to the public nor did he have any weapons on him. He was merely a Black man existing in Southeast Raleigh,” Baloch said. 

“If any other department had an employee that violated a policy and it resulted in the death of a person, they would be fired immediately and charged with murder. The fact that these officers are suspended with pay shows that we do not value human life.”

During the evening meeting, several people also brought up longstanding concerns about RPD’s budget and the city’s crisis response unit. 

Cole McMullin criticized the city council for continually increasing the RPD’s budget despite what he called a legacy of “wrongful arrests, deaths, and no-knock warrant raids.” Yet another commenter re-raised the idea of revamping Raleigh’s ACORNS unit, citing Durham’s pilot programs, including one that embeds counselors in the 9-1-1 call center. 

Despite the variety of demands placed on the city council, one thing the public commenters agreed on was that policing itself is a racist system, with roots in white supremacy. In asking for change, people said that radical shifts were needed, if not an entire rebuilding of the system. And when it comes to RPD, the city council has the power. 

What did the city council say? 

Earlier on Tuesday, during an afternoon meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Corey Branch also brought up Williams’ death, questioning how the city council should move forward to ensure “everyone returns home at night.”

“Every life is important. As much as we want our officers to return home safe and sound, we want every resident in the city to return safely home,” Branch said. “We want to make sure any encounter is an encounter where everyone can walk away.”

Body camera footage of the incident is set to be released Friday, said City Manager Marchell Adams-David. Per procedure, the State Bureau of Investigation is also conducting a criminal investigation, while RPD conducts its own administrative and internal affairs investigations. 

When asked if the city’s police advisory board would consider revising policies around taser use, Adams-David said while they are not meeting specifically on the matter, “I am certain that some of those policies will be lifted up as part of their review for the work plan this year.” 

That answer is unlikely to satisfy activists, who are already concerned about the RPD not following its written policies. The city’s police advisory board has also been criticized for being effectively hamstrung by the city itself, which has not allowed them to conduct independent investigations or discipline officers.

Jeremy Gilchrist, who also gave public comments Tuesday, pointed specifically to the advisory board, saying it has “no teeth” and must be disbanded and rebuilt with investigative and subpoena power. 

“Nothing has really changed since George Floyd in 2020,” Gilchrist said. “We’ve made a lot of symbolic gestures. We’ve renamed things. We’ve taken down a few statues. But in the end, so what? People are still getting killed. We still have modern-day Jim Crow out there going on right now.”

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