By Henry Haggart
New demands that Durham Police Department improve how it treats residents swelled last week after news broke that police officers approached Black children with guns drawn at an apartment complex.
Three days after dozens of community members, many parents and children, gathered in front of Durham City Hall in protest, event organizers continued to demand action today.
They want police to release body camera footage of the encounter, which involved kids aged 8, 11 and 15. They also want a recording of the phone call that summoned police to Rochelle Manor Apartments on Aug. 21.
“Most importantly, commit to reforming community policing efforts to ensure the officers are not only members of our community but be regular participants of engagement, committed to strengthening the relationships between officers and civilians,” organizers wrote Monday on a Facebook post.
Sarah Hinton and others organized Friday’s protest after seeing a WRAL report about parents’ anger at the incident, which resulted in police temporarily detaining the oldest kid in the group, 15-year-old Jaylin Harris, in handcuffs.
Durham Police Chief Cerelyn Davis on Sunday said the officers were responding to a call about a “suspicious person with a weapon” at Rochelle Manor in East Durham. The caller claimed that the person in question had “a gun and drugs” and suspected that he had been involved in a prior shooting, her written statement said.
The families of the children met with members of the Police Department, including Davis, last week. But on Friday they said they were not satisfied with the outcome.
“The solution that we wanted, we didn’t get,” said Makeba Hoffler, the mother of Zakarryya Cornelius, the youngest of three boys who family members said were playing tag when police arrived. His birthday was the day ofter the encounter.
“We didn’t get an apology,” Hoffler said, adding after the meeting she was not convinced that officers cared for the children.
Davis wrote that she had expressed “sincere remorse” to the families in her statement. “We recognize that the current climate of adverse encounters by police in communities of color around the nation continue to resonate,” she said.
City Council members Charlie Reece and Mark-Anthony Middleton attended Friday’s protest and encouraged participants to keep demanding change by contacting city officials and pursuing other avenues.
“Stay in our faces, stay in our inboxes” said Middleton, who assured participants that the city, as Davis said in her statement, will thoroughly investigate the incident.
If officers violated any rules, they will be held accountable, Middleton said. “If badges need to be snatched, they’ll be snatched,” he promised.
Before the crowd dispersed, 15-year-old Jaylin Harris, and 9-year-old Zakarryya Cornelius spoke and expressed gratitude for the people who gathered on their behalf.
The incident with the police “made me feel like I won’t be able to come outside,” Cornelius said. “Thank you for coming to stand here and listen to us.”
Organizers said they plan to reconvene on Friday, for a second protest at city hall to be followed by a march to the Durham Police Department headquarters.
9th Street photographer Henry Haggart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Top photo: After Friday’s protest finished, a child studied a sign protesters brought to Durham City Hall. Photo by Henry Haggart