Owing to the strictures of Jim Crow, historically Black colleges and universities across the United States are located in traditionally Black communities, where parents are assured that their children are safe while learning in a nurturing environment before graduating and going out into the so-called “real world.”
On Saturday night, deadly gunshots from the real world punctured the nurturing academic village at N.C. Central University in Durham, killing two men in a school parking lot.
Two days later, another shooting in broad daylight took the life of another man, just across the street from NCCU.
Durham police spokeswoman Kammie Michael told the INDY in an email this week that it was about 9 p.m. when officers were alerted to the sound of gunfire in a parking lot adjacent to the Latham Parking Deck in the 700 block of East Lawson Street on the NCCU campus.
The officers found two men, Shamori Brown, 21, and Tavis Rhodes, 20, both of Durham who were both mortally wounded. The victims were taken to the hospital, where they died a short time later.
Investigators do not think the shootings were random, and described a black Nissan Altima at the scene as “a suspect vehicle,” Michael stated in a press release.
Less than 48 hours later, police found another person shot dead just across the street from NCCU’s Farrison-Newton Communications Building.
It was shortly after 1 p.m. on Monday, when police were dispatched to a “sound of shots call” in the 500 block of Dupree Street, Michael said.
The officers found a man inside of a home with multiple gunshot wounds. The victim, whose name has not been made public, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Like the shootings that happened 48 hours before, investigators do not think the shooting on Dupree Street was a random incident.
The unprecedented double slaying during NCCU’s football game against Winston-Salem State University prompted school administrators to release a series of press releases over the weekend.
School officials emphasized the victims were not NCCU students.
The first release from campus police provided an update and “reassurance.”
The release also stated that campus officers and Durham police had taken control of the crime scene and had ordered a lockdown at O’Kelly-Riddick Football Stadium and the surrounding area.
“There is no ongoing threat to campus,” campus police reported.
The next day, NCCU’s communications and marketing department issued an “important message” that once again reiterated that the shooting victims were not university students.
The statement further noted that “students, and all guests who were on campus, swiftly complied when a lockdown was issued in and around O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium,” and that officers spent several hours safely getting people out of the football stadium, while personally escorting guests to their vehicles.
“Thanks to the well-trained, quick acting NCCU Police Department, no members of the NCCU community or its guests were impacted by this tragedy,” school officials stated in the release.
During a press conference Monday, N.C. Central Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye offered condolences to families of the victims, and said the campus remains a safe and healthy environment.
“While unforeseen tragedies such as these occur, this one took place too close to the heart of North Carolina Central University, where our students both live and learn,” Akinleye said. “Over the past three years, we have invested more than $3 million in state-of-the-art security technology on our campus.”
The chancellor added that “violence of any kind, anywhere is unconscionable,” and pleaded with city, county, and state officials to devote more resources and attention to the issues of crime in the Bull City.
NCCU student body president Derrick C. Stanfield said Saturday’s shootings mirror “the growing issue of violence in the Durham community and its overflow onto our campus.” He added that he remains confident in the “university’s commitment to ensuring the safety of the members of our university community.”
Michael, the police spokeswoman, told the INDY that gun violence this year has been on a downward trajectory. Shooting incidents in the city have decreased by 16 percent, while the number of people shot has gone down by 12 percent when compared to the same time period last year.
Police have so far reported 32 homicides this year. Last year, there were 22 during the same time period, and 26 in 2019. Likewise, there have been reports of 579 shootings this year. Last year there were 688, and 493 in 2019.
Michael credits the reduction in gun violence to the creation last fall of a centralized violent crime unit that prioritizes gun crimes. There’s also a bolstered effort to “identify gangs, gang members and trends involving violent crimes since gang activity does account for some of our gun crime.”
Michael said the police department has also made a greater effort to identify the root causes of violence, by relying on a crisis intervention approach to address mental health concerns and a community engagement unit that offers outreach activities to children and adults. She pointed to the Police Athletic League as one constructive outlet that, in addition to athletic activities, sponsors gardening sessions and a summer fitness club.
For Chancellor Akinleye, change cannot happen soon enough.
“It is critical to protect the lives of individuals living and learning on our campus, those in the neighborhoods adjacent to NCCU and residents in the greater Durham community,” he said during Monday’s press conference. “This is an important matter of health and public safety for our students, faculty, staff and Durham residents. We will not live in fear or have our health and well-being at risk due to gun violence and crime. It has to stop today.”
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