Anything that could be thrown had to be removed.
In anticipation of a sizable citizen protest against Durham police last Friday, workers spent part of a stormy afternoon downtown picking up bricks. There were stacks of them on several corners, saved for streetscaping projects.Given the tense and often combative relationship between Durham Police and many citizens, particularly in communities of color, the streets needed apparently swept of potential projectiles.
However, as if on cue, the storm clouds parted, the sun came out and the three-hour demonstration and march, held in solidarity with Baltimore protesters over police brutality, was peaceful. The mood was buoyed by Maryland State’s Attorney General Marilyn Mosby, who hours before had filed felony charges against six Baltimore officers over the death of Freddie Gray. But if past is prologue, somewhere in America, any day now there will be another Freddie Gray.
These tragedies always prompt the old trope: Can it happen here? Social justice advocates and defense attorneys argue that in Durham, it already has. In 2013, there was a spate of officer-involved, fatal shootings—Derek Walker and Jose Ocampo—and the case of Jesus Huerta, who allegedly shot himself while handcuffed in the back of a DPD car. (No criminal charges were filed against the officers.)
The erosion of trust between Durham police and citizens is real—and warranted. Contrary to the chief’s exhortations, a city report concluded that racial profiling and bias exists at DPD. Last year, we learned a cop used a bogus 911 call to gain entry into a suspect’s home. Last week, we reported on an unconstitutional search and seizure conducted by a DPD officer.
Body cameras could help hold police accountable, although issues of privacy, access have not been resolved. On the state level, House Bill 713, would make the recordings off-limits to the public until an investigation is complete, which could take years.
At tonight City’s Council meeting, Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez is scheduled to discuss the city’s first-quarter crime report. If a U.S. Department of Justice analysis, released last month, is any indication, the news will not be good. The number of gun-related murders and aggravated assaults is increasing in Durham; the number of convictions has fallen. African-American boys and men ages 15–34 are at greatest risk of being killed by a gun. The rate is 41.6 per 100,000 people, about eight times the national rate. By contrast, the rate is 38 per 100,000 for Hispanics, and just 7.2 for whites.
I remembered that statistic while at last week’s protest. I came upon a group of African-American teenagers who were waiting for the march to begin. They were doing what any kids would do on a crisp Friday afternoon in spring: Hanging out, taking selfies, smoking a few cigarettes up by the railroad tracks. I wanted every opportunity and possibility for them. But, frankly, I was worried. Especially for the boy.
Also, put these dates on your calendar: Public forums on DPD’s potential use of body cameras:
- Monday, May 11, 6–7:30 p.m., Durham Public Schools Staff Development Center, 2107 Hillandale Road
- Tuesday, May 12, 6–7:30 p.m., Antioch Baptist Church, 1415 Holloway St.
- Thursday, May 14, 5:30–7 p.m., City Hall
- Tuesday, May 19, 6–7:30 p.m., Russell Memorial CME Church, 703 S. Alston Ave.
- Wednesday, May 20, 10–11:30 a.m., Durham Housing Authority, 330 E. Main St.
- Thursday, May 28, 6–7:30 p.m., Southwest Regional Library, 3605 Shannon Road