Moogfesters ambling along Mangum Street on Saturday afternoon might have noticed a small cluster of bodies outside Durham City Hall. They weren’t watching an impromptu synthesizer performance or listening to a talk about the future of cyborgs. Instead, they were there to hear Shanika Biggs speak.
Biggs’s twenty-one-year-old son, La’Vante, was killed by Durham police officers last September. Clearly suicidal and holding what was later revealed to be a BB gun, Biggs was shot following negotiations with DPD officers that lasted about fifty minutes. At various points, he set his gun on the ground, once for as long as three minutes. Ultimately, four officers fired a total of twelve shots at Biggs, five of which entered his body.
Last Tuesday, Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols announced that, following a review of the State Bureau of Investigation’s file on Biggs’s death, no charges would be filed. “There is no evidence … that rises to willful, malicious, or criminally negligent conduct by law enforcement or that the use of force by law enforcement was unreasonable or excessive,” was the official word.
The DPD also conducted its own investigation, and on Thursday the city council and city manager Tom Bonfield met in a closed session to discuss the extent to which that investigation might be made public.
“While we appreciate this step toward transparency, we do not view this as accountability for what happened,” Shanika Biggs said on Saturday, flanked by La’Vante’s father, Tyrone Ruffin, and several representatives from the NAACP.
Council member Jillian Johnson says that, although both investigations concluded that officers did nothing illegal or against policy, “we need to have a better infrastructure in place for police responding to mental health crises.”
On May 28, at 6:30 p.m., the Biggs family will gather again, at East Durham Park at 2500 E Main Street in downtown Durham, for a remembrance of La’Vante. He would have turned twenty-two on May 27.
“If the decision is that no law or policy was broken in this instance,” Shanika Biggs said, “then it is clear that something needs to change.”