Police chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis made her way to the front of a quiet meeting room inside the Criminal Justice Resource Center on East Main Street. “Can I touch you?” she asked a man in a black T-shirt. He was sitting hunched over in his chair, focusing on the meeting’s speakers, who were talking about their past lives in gangs.
“I want to congratulate each of you on the work that you’re doing, because it’s a difficult task to find a balance of saving young people and putting young people in jail. We don’t want to put young people in jail; we want to save our young people,” she told the crowd of almost forty, most of whom, like Davis, were members of the Durham Gang Reduction Strategy Steering Committee.
The committee meets every month; at this, its most recent meeting, on August 10, it heard from organizers of a gang truce in Raleigh, which was initiated last month.
That, Davis said, “is what we need” in Durham.
As of April, the Durham Police Department had 1,182 validated gang members in its database. Between 2006 and 2015, validated gang members were suspects or victims in an average of 1,130 incidents per year. In 2015 alone, there were 1,118 gang-related incidents, everything from aggravated assault and homicide to robbery and drug possession. Gangsnotably the Bloods and Cripshave long fought each other, but in 2014 there was a spike of infighting, meaning members of the same gang fighting one another, and that caused an increase in violent crime.
“I know truces and meetings with gang members can be very volatile situations, but we don’t want to be intrusive,” Davis told the organizers. “We want you to know that we are here when you are ready for us to come and sit and talk or whatever we need to do. … You do have the Durham Police Department’s support.”
Truces like Raleigh’s have seen mixed results across the country. In 1992, rival gangs in Los Angeles forged a cease-fire that led to decreased street violence over the next decade. (The truce is no longer in effect.) Last year, however, after members of the Bloods and Crips in Baltimore called a truce after the death of Freddie Gray, the city saw record-breaking numbers of homicides.
The Raleigh truce, which was formalized on July 13 but started two days earlier, has seen anecdotal success, though it’s too young to have hard data.
The seeds of the truce were sown last summer, following the shooting death of James Elvin Alston III, a former Blood who tried to initiate a cease-fire between Raleigh’s gangs.
Earlier this year, Don McQueen, executive director of the charter school Torchlight Academy in northeast Raleigh, and Diana Powell, executive director of the nonprofit Justice Served NC, took up the mantle. They’d been talking with McQueen’s students about police shootings of African-Americans when one student raised an important point: black gang members were killing black men, too.
“It kind of struck something,” McQueen says.
At Justice Served, Powell works with both current and former gang members. Equipped with the students’ comments, she approached some gang leaders she knew.
“We decided it was a moment,” Powell says. “You have to recognize who your enemy is; it’s not each other, so why are you killing each other?”
Soon after, gang members called a truce. The day it started, members of the Bloods and Crips were seen marching together in the streets of Raleigh after a meeting in Quarry State Park.
“The violence in our neighborhood went down a whole lot because of what we did,” William Hinton, Alston’s uncle and a longtime Raleigh resident who helped organize the truce, told the steering committee. “We’ve got stuff going down in Durham. We’re going to meet up, and it’s going down in Durham.”
That meeting will take place at Oxford Manor on August 20. But organizers say they’ve already started laying the groundwork for a truce, including several meetings with receptive gang members.
This article appeared in print with the headline “Stop Killing Each Other”