Mayor Bill Bell wants a discussion about how city officials use social media after Friday’s spontaneous protest in response to reports of a potential KKK rally that never materialized.
“We, as elected officials, have got to be more responsible, in my opinion, in how we use social media when it comes to instances such as this,” Bell said during the city council’s Monday meeting. “… If I were going to pass something along, I would have gotten in touch with the sheriff or the police chief … and they probably would have said it’s unconfirmed.”
The remarks were made as council members commended the police department for how it handled the protest, which drew about a thousand people downtown Friday afternoon. There were no reported injuries. One person was charged with failing to disperse.
Council member Steve Schewel asked Chief C.J. Davis about her concerns about hate groups coming to Durham. Davis said she recently met with Sheriff Mike Andrews about sharing information with “public safety in mind first.”
“Typically, when something is planned, there is some chatter about it. So we paid very close attention to the intelligence not just from our area but intelligence that federal entities send our way,” Davis said.
Talk then turned to the “rumors” that prompted the protest.
Schewel asked city staff to think about how to put out factual information faster. City manager Tom Bonfield said staff answered “countless” media inquiries about whether the city had issued a permit to a hate group to march in Durham Friday, but “people didn’t want to believe” the response.
Silent during the nine-minute discussion were council members Charlie Reece and Jillian Johnson, who had been vocal about the demonstration on social media. Friday morning, Johnson shared a tweet from Scott Holmes, an attorney representing people who have been charged with dismantling a Confederate monument last Monday, saying “white supremacists” were arriving in Durham at noon. Holmes says his information came from the Sheriff’s Office.
After Monday’s meeting, Johnson defended her decision to share Holmes’s post.
“I think that the Klan poses an important safety risk to Durham, especially black people in Durham,” she said. “If I get credible information that the Klan is coming to town, I will share that with the community.”