Durham’s violent year continues.

A string of three shootings over a twenty-four-hour period beginning Monday night has left two dead and eight wounded—and a community grappling for answers. 

Almost two months ago, at a September 3 city council meeting, council member Mark-Anthony Middleton, reacting to an uptick in violent crime that included the death of a nine-year-old boy, asked Police Chief CJ Davis whether “there was a gang war going on.”

Davis responded that there were “various elements” in the city and “certain specific gang groups” with a limited number of individuals responsible for the violence.

“We have seen quite a bit of activity,” she said, “especially as it relates to just beefs and a kind of back and forth between two or three groups.”

There may not be a war, but it has been a hell of a battle between the “two or three groups” mentioned by the chief.

With these latest killings, the city’s homicide toll, now at thirty-four, has already eclipsed last year’s mark of thirty-two and 2017’s count of twenty-one. Durham is on pace to exceed the especially bloody year 2016, when it saw forty-two homicides. (The city’s thirty-four homicides do not include three other deadly encounters this year. Police have determined that two were in self-defense, and the third has been classified as negligent manslaughter, spokeswoman Kammie Michael told the INDY.)

At least three of shootings were drive-bys, two of which occurred within ten minutes of each other in South Durham. A third took place along the eastern edge of the downtown district, the fourth near the Northgate Mall. 

The first shooting happened at about 10:23 p.m. Monday night, in the 1200 block of Wabash Street, where two men walking in the area were struck by gunfire from someone in a dark-colored car.

One was shot in the hand. The other victim was hit in the leg, The News & Observer reported.

Minutes later, at about 10:30 p.m., three people were struck by shots fired from a similarly dark-colored car near the intersection of North Dillard and Liberty Streets, police say. Witnesses say several people were standing at a city bus stop were the targets of gunfire that came from a passing car. 

Emergency workers rushed one man to the hospital, where he died a short time later. 

Police on Tuesday made public the name of the man who died. He is Kerry Graham Jr., twenty-four, of Durham. Graham was shot in the chest, police reported.

The other two victims—a man and woman—were also taken to the hospital, where they were treated for injuries not considered life-threatening, police reported.

On Tuesday, at about 2:00 p.m., police were alerted to a third shooting in the 100 block of North Driver Street and found a man dead when they arrived, the N&O reported. On Wednesday, police identified the victim as seventeen-year-old Zaeveon Hershel Tucker. 

The fourth shooting took place at about 5:30 p.m. near the corner of Watts Street and Club Boulevard, near the Northgate Mall. According to witnesses, multiple shots were fired from at least one vehicle, striking two people. A third was injured by flying debris. They do not appear to have life-threatening injuries, the N&O reported. 

Police have not made any arrests or disclosed a possible motive for the rash of shootings.

The Bull City recorded its first homicide seventeen hours into the New Year, with a domestic squabble that was interrupted by a neighbor with a handgun. The second and third homicides followed a few hours later, setting a deadly pace that hasn’t relented. Over the ensuing six months, twenty-three more people were killed, most by gun violence.

After six people were slain in eleven days in January, Mayor Steve Schewel called the killings an “anomaly.”

“I don’t want to minimize it,” the mayor said at a City Hall press conference. “But going forward, I expect this to change.”

It hasn’t.

Last week, investigators charged twenty-four-year-old rap artist Antonio Nathaniel “Lil Tony” Davenport Jr. with the death of nine-year-old Z’yon Person, who was killed in a drive-by shooting while traveling with his aunt and other children for snow cones in August. 

In a statement posted to Facebook, council member Charlie Reece, who is seeking reelection next week, called the shootings “heartbreaking.”

“Gun violence represents a failure at every level of government, and every shooting tears a hole in the lives of the family members of the victim and in the heart of our community,” he wrote. “We must do more as a community to reduce gun crime, and we are pushing forward on multiple fronts to make a difference on gun violence here in Durham.

“I hear the fear in our city right now. I understand that fear, and I feel it, too. … But the answer to how we keep ourselves safe as a city is not a police officer stationed at every street corner. Certainly, we can put more officers in hot spots that show a particularly high level of gun violence on a temporary basis, but we can’t do that everywhere in the city of Durham, and we can’t do it permanently. We need to keep doing the same difficult, persistent policing that our current Police Chief CJ Davis does so well while continuing to boost our efforts at tackling the pernicious root causes of violence in our community.”

This summer, Reece was one of five council members—along with Schewel, Javiera Caballero, and Jillian Johnson, all of whom are on next week’s ballot, as well as Vernetta Alston—to vote against Chief Davis’s request for eighteen additional officers. He was one of four votes against Schewel’s proposed compromise that would have added nine officers to the force. 

That vote has become a key issue in the election. 

On Tuesday, challenger Joshua Gunn, who placed fourth in the October primary and who supported Davis’s request for more cops, issued a press release demanding action from city officials. 

“Our city is in crisis, our people are hurting, and I am calling upon all of us to proclaim, ‘Enough is Enough,’” the rapper and businessman said in the release.  

Gunn, who is black, pointed out that more than 90 percent of both the victims and those charged in their killings are African American and added that he is “in no way advocating for over-policing or a police state.” But, he continued, “my heart breaks for the families that are losing their loved ones weekly in our city, and for those who constantly live in fear that they may be the next victim of a bullet.”

Schewel told the INDY Wednesday morning that he’d hold a press conference at 11:00 a.m. to discuss the shootings.  

This is a developing story. 

Contact staff writer Thomasi McDonald at tmcdonald@indyweek.com. 

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2 replies on “What the Hell Is Going On in Durham?”

  1. Durham voters keep putting in City Council members who pander to anti-police “activists” and refuse to add additional police that Chief requests. Then they wonder why there is so much murder and crime! To the council members, it is the police that are the problem, not the gang members! Poor decisions mean poor results and this is what happens when you vote in leaders who live in an ideological fairy tale land when it comes to crime and keeping citizens safe. Programs and jobs are great for the long run, but the Police Chief needs officers now to stop the bleeding…yet is denied. Wake up Durham!

  2. We have a serious failure of leadership in Durham, from the top on down. They are more concerned with their own agendas than safety. Fact: the DA is not on the side of the cops Fact: stories have been written about not taking guns from felons in Durham. Fact: we have a demoralized and understaffed police force Fact: our courts are revolving doors Fact: we have decriminalized violent offenses that take place on school grounds. Fact: We release violent criminals because their freedom is more important than immigration law. Vote for new leadership!

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