Serena Sebring sent the INDY this account of her experience at the Dec. 19 protest during which demonstrators clashed with Durham police. Officers dressed in riot gear threw tear gas into the demonstration.
I’m a resident of Durham, a mother of three, and I work with an organization called Southerners on New Ground (SONG). On Dec. 19, my family and I were among members of the local community who went downtown to support the Huerta family after the loss of their son, Jesus, and to hold the Durham police accountable for the suspicious death of a minor in their custody.
We were told that Jesus Huerta’s family wanted this to be a peaceful event, and we came to the vigil with flowers and a candle to leave at the site of his death [at police headquarters]. When we arrived at CCB Plaza we faced an unexpected level of police presence: Dozens of officers lined the streets, and barked at us to remain on the sidewalks. A multi-racial, and multi-generational group of community members took part in the vigil, including many families with children.
Throughout the entire event, we complied with police orders, as did everyone else that I observed. We gathered at the police department around the Huerta family as they said prayers and sang to remember their lost loved one, and were both surprised and somewhat intimidated by the appearance of a riot squad in full gear.
After leaving our flowers and candles there we walked back to CCB Plaza and it seemed things were winding down. I was waiting in line to sign up for future contact from a group who was forming to support the Huerta family and this community, when suddenly, and without any warning that I could hear, the riot squad began moving in on the crowd. We ran, but not fast enough to escape the tear gas that had been thrown in our direction by police. It burned our eyes, and filled our lungs with heavy smoke making it difficult to breathe. We left feeling terrorized by the police who are supposed to protect and serve us, and shocked to have experienced such brutality at an event calling for accountability for police brutality.
At home, I washed the toxins out of our clothes (which had begun to irritate and inflame our skin), but even today we are suffering from the physical effects of the tear gas. As a community member, I am deeply concerned about these actions by the police department. I believe that Durham should be a place where our kids can live free from fear of violence, and where we can assemble to demand police accountability without being gassed or beaten.