In at least two incidents in a two-week span, black people reported being hit by BBs or Skittles fired from a paintball gun by white men from the back of a red pickup truck outside of downtown Durham establishments at night. In one incident, the victim reports that the pickup was flying a Confederate flag from the back.
Deborah Smith—not her real name—and her coworker, who asked to not be identified, were sitting together on the outside deck at Motorco on Sunday at about 10:00 p.m. when they say they were hit with a fusillade of Skittles.
“I’m a black woman; he’s a white man,” Smith says. “We were the only people shot. The bed of the truck was in front of us. The truck was going maybe fifteen miles-per-hour-ish.”
The Skittles, she believes, were a “Trayvon Martin throwback,” referring to the black Florida teenager fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012. Trayvon had a bag of the candies on him when he died.
“It was a paintball gun,” she says. “There was a pop-pop-pop sound. There were two people in the bed of the truck, with one person driving.”
Smith called the police. A police report confirms that a Durham officer investigated the incident, including interviewing a witness whose identity is withheld in the report.
“Because I was with a white man, that was why we were targeted,” Smith says.
Smith and her coworker say they knew of a friend who had experienced a similar incident two weeks earlier.
The victims of that incident asked not to be identified.
Derek Johnson (a pseudonym) says that after Black August in the Park at Durham Central Park on August 10, he regrouped with friends at Criterion, a downtown bar. He was seated around a table with about a half-dozen people, some black, some white.
“The majority was black,” he says. “We stood out in the entire group of people that were socializing in front of the establishment. Not only were we black, but the males at the table, we all had beards and long dreads. We looked very distinct.”
Johnson says he had his back to the street when the assault took place.
“Next thing we know, a truck comes by and sprays the area with BBs,” he says. “I got hit by three or four BBs. I didn’t realize what had happened. We all kind of looked around. There was a candy-apple red pickup truck. There was Confederate flags in the back. There was guys sitting in the back of the truck.”
Johnson says he chased the truck eastward on West Main Street, hoping to get a license plate number, but the truck turned and he lost sight of it. He didn’t report the incident to the police.
The reported incidents at Motorco and Criterion fit into what antiracist activists say is “a disturbing pattern of attacks on the community.”
A bulletin circulated by the Defend Durham Facebook page and other antiracist social-media accounts late Tuesday warns community members to be on the lookout for “neo-Confederate drive-by pellet/BB shootings in the Durham area.” The bulletin cites an unspecified incident at Pizzeria Toro that reportedly took place at about 10:00 p.m. on Tuesday. The INDY was unable to confirm the incident.
The bulletin also referenced an incident reported by WRAL in which a seventy-one-year-old man riding a bicycle on Nantucket Avenue was shot in the back by BBs at about 11:15 p.m. on Monday.
Johnson says the attacks against him and Smith are especially concerning given the current climate of escalating racial tensions.
“It’s just a very disturbing situation that this would happen at a time when the racial climate is at a high right now,” he says. “It’s almost like they were trying to provoke something. It’s a fear-driven tactic.”
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