Residents calling for a community oversight board to hold police accountable for what they believe are racist practices got into a heated exchange with Mayor Nancy McFarlane at last night’s Raleigh City Council meeting.
Ten residents signed up to speak on the topic of policing, addressing police brutality, mental health, and immigration, among other things, after the local nonprofit organization Justice Served NC called for people to voice their concerns at the meeting. The call to action came after a video of Raleigh police tasering and beating Frederick Hall, a black man who suffers from mental illness, went viral last month.
Speakers described the psychological trauma witnessing routine police violence against minorities has on people of color and the impact of increased immigration enforcement in the city. They rattled off a series of statistics: Seventy-one percent of drivers searched during city traffic stops are black, but just 20 percent are white. While black and white populations use marijuana at roughly the same rates, black people account for 67 percent of low-level marijuana arrests in Wake County but make up only 21 percent of the population. The RPD’s internal affairs division fields an average of thirty-nine complaints against police each year, but only 25 percent are sustained.
Resident Rolanda Byrd, whose son Akiel Denkins was shot and killed by police in February 2016, noted that officers have shot two other black men since—killing Jaqwan Terry and wounding Chijioke Madueke. The city settled a lawsuit against a man who claimed he was wrongfully strip-searched in March 2017. And in January 2018, Curtis Mangum died in police custody after officers “prioritized making a drug arrest over attending to his suspected drug overdose,” Byrd said.
Following the speeches, Corey Branch, the city council’s only African American, supported the group’s efforts.
“I hear you. I’ve heard you,” Branch said. “Let’s continue to work and build. Let’s work on moving things forward.”
Tensions boiled over when McFarlane attempted to address the crowd and several residents interrupted her, including Carolina Justice Policy Center executive director Dawn Blagrove, who asked McFarlane to recognize Byrd.
“This woman’s child was killed,” Hunter said. “You cannot take two seconds to acknowledge her?”
“I have had many private conversations with her,” McFarlane responded.
“Well, do it in public,” Blagrove said.
Byrd, overcome with emotion, approached the microphone and began to speak before McFarlane called a five-minute recess.
“You can’t decide to sit in that seat. You don’t need to be in that seat,” Byrd said before storming from the council chambers.