On Monday evening, Raleigh was easing into an 8:00 p.m. curfew after a long weekend of charged protests.

In Durham, however, the streets were just beginning to fill up as more than 1,000 protesters gathered at The Carolina Theatre for a #DefundThePolice rally organized by the BYP100 Durham Chapter

“If you’re not talking about abolition,” BYP 100 National Director D’atra Jackson told the crowd, “then what’re you talking about?”

Nearly everyone was dressed in black, per organizers’ instructions. The most visible pops of color were the signs and the masks, which organizers had also instructed protestors to wear in a Facebook invite that asked protesters to “bring comrades,” mask and glove up, and practice social distancing.

Although the crowd seemed respectful of space, social distancing proved difficult, as people continued to show up in droves. The fact that a global pandemic was still underway did not go unacknowledged. 

“There’s a pandemic. Some of us have families without health insurance, but we’re here because our lives depend on it,” one organizer said, taking the microphone. 

Noticeably absent: police. Raleigh’s protests have been marked by walls of police officers and the presence of the National Guard, which Governor Cooper had called in on Sunday. Nationally, protests formed to challenge police brutality against the Black community have been met with excessive police force—tear gas, rubber bullets, targeted aggression against members of the press, and waves of arrests have all been documented in real-time. 

In Durham, though, the police presence appeared minimal, evidenced mostly by cruiser escorts, what appeared to be a few plainclothes cops, and the outlines of officers inside buildings. 

A low police profile had been a theme of the day. Earlier, dozens of protesters gathered at 1:00 p.m. in the parking lot of Los Primos Supermarket for a march organized by the artist and activist Skip Gibbs’s organization, OAM (Other America Movement). That march wound down South Alston Avenue in Hayti, a historically African-American district, to the “Blue Bridge” at Exit 11, where organizers dropped a banner that read “We can make a deal, we can make a change.” Below, cars honked in support. 

The location was symbolic: Hayti, a once-thriving Black residential district, had been razed in two by Highway 147 in 1970, one of the many Black communities to be destroyed in the name of urban renewal. When the banner dropped, protesters marched down the exit ramp. Police, who had been contacted ahead of time, were stationed far away, as protesters scattered across four lanes of traffic, preventing cars from moving. Many cars beeped in support; a few frustrated commuters got out to try to convince them to move. 

Gibbs’ objective, he said, was to get a community summit with the city council and Sheriff Clarence Birkhead. 

“Settle in for a long afternoon,” Gibbs instructed protesters—one pulled out a boombox, while another skateboarded down the empty highway with a sign reading “No justice, No peace”—but within 30 minutes Durham Police Chief C.J. Davis was on the phone with Gibbs, confirming a Friday meeting at The Fruit in Durham. Shortly thereafter, protesters marched back to Los Primos, where Mayor Steve Schewel was waiting in the parking lot to talk. 

“Today, residents from across the Durham community took their message and demands to the streets once again,” a press release from Sheriff Birkhead’s office read later that afternoon. “This time, their peaceful actions have directly resulted in City of Durham Police Chief Davis and I [agreeing] to participate in a conversation about law enforcement tactics and practices.”

The statement set the tone for the Monday evening protest.

At the Carolina Theatre, organizers from BYP100—including NC Community Bail Fund of Durham director Muffin Hudson—led protesters in chants before setting out toward a downtown that was in the process of being boarded up, as business owners girded themselves for a long night. Some businesses went ahead and whipped out the graffiti: a boarded-up Pinhook had “Justice for George Floyd” spray-painted on the front, another storefront spelled out “Black Lives Matter.” 

The first stop of the night was at the county jail. Inmates could be heard banging on the glass as the crowd chanted messages of support and organizers distributed a list of seven demands, which included decarcerating the jail, increasing funding to the Lincoln Community Center, and paying all essential workers $15 an hour. D’atra Jackson grounded a speech about police brutality with stories of Black people killed in Durham, including DeAndre Ballard, an N.C. Central student who was killed in his apartment complex by a security guard in 2018. 

As the sun set, the crowd streamed past the upscale condos on South Dillard. A chant emerged: “Out of the condos and into the streets.” A few people were gathered on condo balconies, and at least one older white man yelled back, telling protesters that they were “fucking stupid.”

Elsewhere, as the march moved back through downtown and toward the Durham Police Department headquarters, shop owners and families came out on the sidewalk to clap and join chants. Police escorts lingered in the background, but it was volunteers in orange vests who stopped traffic and directed protesters through it. 

Much of the narrative around peaceful protests has been that police do crowds a favor when they cooperate. But police are civil servants: In Durham, the story seemed to be that because the police kept to the back, the crowd had the option to maintain peace. Rather than making sure to have a physical presence—as in Raleigh, where today police forces knelt with protesters less than 48 hours after releasing tear gas onto them—the answer seemed to have more to do with having no presence. 

Outside the DPD headquarters, chants took over as it grew dark and a dance circle broke into the electric slide. Bottles of water and hand sanitizer passed through the crowd. BYP100 leaders announced that they were concluding their portion of the evening, after which many people left. One protester sprayed “Fuck the Cops” across the building, but otherwise, the HQ was untouched.

Only when the crowd spotted an officer perched at the top of the building did the evening kick again into high gear, as the remainder of the crowd continued down East Main—and back to Highway 147, where the day had started. Once again, a symbolic exit was blocked. 

Most cars did not seem to mind, though. One man put on his mask and got out of the car to sit on the ramp, while others rolled down their windows and raised fists, as protesters periodically parted to let cars in the right lane through. One driver stuck in the left lane rolled his window down to ask if he could be let by, gesturing to his wife, who was in the backseat with their four-month-old.

Word passed through the group, which soon parted, as people yelled, “Let the baby through!”

Then it was back downtown. There was evidence of some damage that had happened, while the core group of protesters was gone: Bar Brunello had “Fuck 12” sprayed on it and in front of the old courthouse, the marble base where a confederate statue had stood until 2017 bore a new message: “Fuck the KKK.” Later in the evening, at least two businesses had windows damaged. 

Around 11:00 p.m., the group reached the intersection of Duke and Main, where, before dispersing for the night, people lay down in the street and began chanting the original call and response of the evening.

“What’s his name?” 

“George Floyd!”


“No justice!”

“No peace!” 

Contact deputy arts and culture editor Sarah Edwards at sedwards@indyweek.com.

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