Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published by “Charlie Zong”

In city with surging shootings, police looking for armed man terrified children and mothers

By Charlie Zong
and Cameron Oglesby

As Durham faces a surge in gun violence this year, it’s not just shootings that can pose risks to residents.

Police videos released this week show how terrifying it can be for children and parents when officers rush into a neighborhood looking for someone they believe is armed and dangerous.

Teenager Jaylin Harris and two young friends were playing tag on the lawn at Rochelle Manor apartments on Aug. 21 when Durham police arrived. Officers were responding to a 911 call that reported a Black man in a white tank top who was armed and selling drugs out of an SUV parked near where the children were playing.

The videos, recorded by officers’ body cameras and a Rochelle Manor security camera, show Jaylin, the 15-year-old, watching from a rear corner of a building as officers scouted the building and the parking lot. 

After an officer saw him, the teen went behind the building toward the other side. At least four officers drew handguns and ran after him as residents and children nearby screamed.

Jaylin’s playmates, 8-year-old Zakarryya Cornelius and an 11-year-old boy, cowered on stairs next to him as officers ordered Jaylin to the ground. One officer briefly pointed his gun toward one of the younger boys before recognizing that he was a kid. The officer then cuffed Jaylin’s wrists behind his back and yanked at his tank top and shorts to frisk the teen.

As adults rushed to the scene, officers ordered them to keep a distance. Makeba Hoffler, Zakarryya Cornelius’s mother, arrived frantic and nearly hyperventilating. She begged an officer to let her get her boy. Once she beckoned her son and the 11-year-old boy over from the stairs, she tried to help Jaylin.

“He’s a baby. He’s a child, he just turned 15,” an anguished Hoffler said, pointing to Jaylin. “Please take them cuffs off him!” 

“Well we’ve got to figure out what’s going on,” an officer replied.

With Jaylin Harris at left, Zakarryya Cornelius thanked people for showing support at a rally on their behalf in September. The boy’s mother, Makeba Hoffler, stood behind him, to the right. Photo by Henry Haggart

Officers uncuffed Jaylin after about 2 minutes and 30 seconds. They told the teen to sit on the sidewalk. Before letting him go, one officer told Jaylin that he should not run from the police.

Long wait for videos

Superior Court Judge Josephine Kerr Davis ruled in September that City Council members could see the body camera footage. But the city could not release it to the public until after the Durham Police Department finished an internal investigation, Mayor Steve Schewel said. The investigation was completed last week.

After the investigation, Police Chief Cerelyn Davis disciplined two of the seven officers involved in the incident, including a one-day suspension of Officer Zack Starritt, according to City Attorney Kim Rehberg. 

Release of the footage was long overdue, said Hoffler. She said she requested that the videos be made public within days of the incident, when the mothers of the children involved met with Chief Davis.

“We should have had it by that Monday. They just stalled a lot,” Hoffler said, referring to the police department. “They didn’t want it released because we were in the right, and they were wrong.”

Attorney Daniel Meier, who represents officers involved, said the footage showed that officers followed the department’s procedures.

“They’re responding to someone with a gun, they’re going to have their weapons ready,” Meier added. “They see a person who matches the suspect run, they’re going to detain them.”

Meier stressed that he didn’t believe anybody involved had acted inappropriately. “The officers did nothing wrong here but the kid didn’t either,” he said, referring to Jaylin, the teen. “He just got caught up in an unfortunate situation and, I mean, this is what policing is.”

But Schewel said he thought that a 15-year-old handcuffed for even two minutes and 30 seconds was restrained for too long in that situation. “I think that he should have been immediately uncuffed,” the mayor said.

“I can certainly see why that was so traumatic,” he added. “It would have been for anyone. And I could certainly see why it was what it was for his mother, and for all the people who were there. It would have been incredibly traumatic.”

Although Schewel said he couldn’t speak to the exact reasoning behind Chief Davis’ decision to discipline the officers, he made clear that he supported her response.

“Clearly, the officers made a mistake in identification. And it was a mistake that I’m sure has very adverse consequences for this young man, and for the other children who were there watching and their families,” said Schewel. 

Gulf between families, police

Fear swept through the people present when police started chasing Jaylin. 

Surveillance cameras showed two small boys who immediately raced up the stairs on the other side of the building to get indoors. But other young children clung to parents and watched from a distance while Jaylin was handcuffed on the ground.

The fact that residents and police officers don’t know each other is repeated again and again during the videos. Officers and parents made clear they feel that’s a serious problem, but for different reasons.

After Jaylin was released, Ashley Harris, his exasperated mother, told an officer that Jaylin was a child. Police should not have pointed guns at him no matter what, she said.

“I understand you’re upset — Ma’am, we’re responding to a 911 call, a person with a gun,” the officer said, explaining that the police had no way of knowing Jaylin was just a child.

“And he don’t know y’all, that’s what I’m saying,” Harris said. “Y’all are killing people, he’s terrified.”

“When officers come out here, and they respond to a threat — somebody out here called, alright? We don’t know nobody out here. We don’t know if he’s 15 or 25,” said the officer, who asked Harris if she wanted him to call Jaylin the following week.

“No, I want y’all to stay away from my kids,” Harris said. 

Months later, the mothers are still trying to help their children cope with the incident.

“How can I tell my kids to trust you when the last thing they remember was you holding a gun to them?” Hoffler, the mother of Zakarryya Cornelius, who turned 9 the day after the incident, said during an interview this week.

“We still got to be careful calling the cops to our own house because they’re so gun happy,” she added. “Now we have to protect our kids from the people who’re supposed to be protecting us.”

Hoffler said officers needed to get to know the community so they would be familiar with kids who are usually outside playing, rather than treating them as suspects. An increasing number of teens aged 15 to 17 are participating in gang-related shootings in Durham, Chief Davis revealed in a recent interview.

“If they came around and got to know these kids, they’d have a whole different perspective with how they approach our community,” Hoffler said. “They would have known it’s the same boys out here every single day doing the same thing.”

Hoffler said she hoped the release of the footage would lead to more accountability for the officers involved.

“I hope they review this case again and take more action against these officers, take them off the streets for a little bit,” she said. “What if it happens to someone else’s kid and they aren’t as lucky as our kids were? Is that what it’s going to take?”

“One day, that’s a little vacation for him,” she said, referring to the 8-hour suspension handed to Zack Starritt, one of the officers at the scene.

9th Street Journal reporters Charlie Zong and Cameron Oglesby can be reached at charlie.zong@duke.edu and cameron.oglesby@duke.edu.

At top: Recordings from body cameras and surveillance video capture police handcuffing a teenager at Rochelle Manor. The footage from August shows Durham police responding to a 911 report that an armed man was seen at the apartment complex. Mothers say police were wrong to point guns towards kids and handcuff a teenager. City officials released the video this week after police investigated the officers’ behavior and disciplined two officers. Video edited by Cameron Oglesby.

Hoover Road residents want rats cleared from where children play

Residents at Hoover Road public housing knew much-needed repairs to their roofs would begin in June. 

But they didn’t expect the project, not yet finished, would bring rats to the space where children play near their front porches.

Since July, Hoover Road residents have been grappling with an outdoor rodent infestation under a storage trailer and a makeshift dumpster. The containers, full of materials and bags of waste from the renovations, were placed in the middle of a grassy corridor between two apartment buildings where multiple families with young children live.

Community activists and residents want Durham Housing Authority, which runs Hoover Road and other public housing complexes, to fix this problem. They want the trailer and a growing rodent colony underneath removed.

The container sits in the middle of a narrow space where children play between two rows of apartments. Photo by Henry Haggart

In a brief phone conversation Friday morning within earshot of a 9th Street reporter, Emanuel Foster, DHA’s director of housing operations, reassured community organizer Ajax Woolley that the agency was aware of the problem. He said the roofing contractor would be moving the trailer, which workers were still opening and taking materials out of on Friday, and the agency would retain another company to fill in the rodent burrows.

When pressed on if it would happen soon, Foster wouldn’t say. “I can’t give a timeline,” he said.

He promised to update Woolley, part of a team of activists working on housing issues at Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods, a community group, by noon Friday. Woolley at 5 p.m. said that he has not yet heard back from Foster and that he plans to raise the matter with the joint city-county Environmental Affairs Board and City Council members.

Some Hoover Road residents say their complaints have long been brushed aside.

Shaneeka Marrow, who has lived at Hoover Road since 2015, said that maintenance workers first alerted Cheryle Roberts, a long-time DHA employee who is property manager for multiple complexes including Hoover Road, to the rodent infestation in mid-July.

Marrow, whose front porch is a few feet from the trailer, said DHA employees told her in July that they would handle the situation when they could.

“They’re not doing their job,” Marrow said. She described a host of long-standing complaints, including black mold in bathrooms, possible lead exposure, insects in her home, and a screen door that has been falling off its hinges for three years.

Residents say rats dug holes, including this one, beneath the structure stored outside apartments at the Hoover Road public housing community. Photo by Henry Haggart

Multiple calls and emails to Durham Housing Authority and its CEO, Anthony Scott, went unanswered on Friday. A prerecorded message informed callers to the Hoover Road property manager’s office that only emergency maintenance requests would be considered at this time. The voicemail inbox was full. 

Hoover Road is one of Durham’s oldest public housing complexes, built in 1968. After hundreds of people living at McDougald Terrace, another DHA property, were evacuated last year due to unsafe conditions there, city officials blamed inadequate federal funding.

But housing authorities elsewhere in North Carolina manage to keep their properties in better shape than Durham does in the same tough funding environment.

Public housing in Durham has failed significantly more federal Housing and Urban Development inspections than has public housing in Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Raleigh, and Greensboro.

In 2019, Hoover Road was the only DHA complex to score lower than McDougald Terrace in the annual HUD public housing inspection. This year, Hoover Road was rated 60 out of 100, the lowest passing score.

Marrow said she would like to allow her four children living with her at Hoover Road, ages 5 to 15, to play outside more often. But she’s worried for their safety. “I’m not letting them anywhere near the rats,” she said.

Sasha Pass, Marrow’s next-door neighbor, said some residents have largely given up voicing concerns. “A lot of us speak up, and it feels like we’re wasting our breath,” said Pass, who lives with seven children, ages 1 to 11. “Why do I say anything when nobody does anything?”

Pass said Scott, the DHA CEO, visited her apartment last year and she showed him mold and other problems, which she said have not been fixed.

Pass said the problems families and children face in public housing are far greater than rats or even deteriorating homes. She said the threat of violence from outsiders who gather at Hoover Road to sell drugs, as well as a lack of safe outdoor activities, create an environment where she feels she has to forbid her kids from playing outside at all.

“What are they gonna do?” she said, gesturing at a tiny playground at the end of the path. “It’s hard to accept that this is where you and your kids have got to be for a while until things get better,” she added, cradling her youngest son as her children ran across the patchy grass.

9th Street Journal reporter Charlie Zong can be reached at charlie.zong@duke.edu

At top: Children who live at in the Hoover Road community play near a storage container sitting outside apartments. Photo by Henry Haggart

Correction: This article was corrected to note that Sasha Pass lives with seven children, ages 1 to 11.

City Council divided on best response to gun violence surge

Kenneccia Woolard was in her North Carolina Central University dorm room when she heard gunshots outside. Just as she was about to look out the window, a stray bullet shattered the glass and sent splinters flying. 

“I was just inches away of losing my life,” the visibly shaken student told City Council members on Oct. 8.

“I believe that we need an action plan immediately, because our campus is not safe from the residents and criminals that are surrounding our community,” Woolard said after describing the September incident. “I am facing this trauma each and every day, the anxiety, the fear.”

Woolard is one of a growing number of people demanding that Durham leaders take action to reduce rising gun violence, which has soared here over the last twelve months. As cities across the nation confront a rise in violent crime this year, Durham is facing a surge that is a stark reversal of a downward trend since 2017.

Stories of tragedies involving students, children, and elders are emerging from communities most vulnerable to daily gunfire, which residents say makes them afraid to go outside or sleep at night.

At the same virtual meeting where Woolard made her plea, NCCU Chancellor Johnson Akinleye emphasized the need for city leaders to act to reduce the dangers posed by gunfire. “Doing nothing at all is not an option,” Akinleye said.

City Council members agree a response is urgently needed. But they haven’t reached consensus on what to do, in part due to long-standing disagreements over policing.

Gangs, guns, coronavirus

Data makes clear that gun violence is surging in Durham. 

From Oct. 1, 2019 to Sept. 30, 2020, 1,081 people were reported as victims of shootings. Police define victims as people close enough to be hit by a bullet, including people in rooms that bullets fly through. That figure is up 56% from 693 victims in the previous twelve month period.

The number of people shot in Durham has also soared 59% during the past twelve months to 221 people. One out of every six gunshot victims in Durham during that time was younger than under 18, including eight children under 12.

On a recent City Life broadcast, Durham Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said city residents are increasingly encountering “random gunfire” coming from “neighborhood conflicts and individuals warring with each other” on city streets.

A collage of a fraction of Durham Police Department descriptions of shootings posted on Twitter this month.

Many of these conflicts are motivated by gang activity and are fought with weapons reported as stolen from legal gun owners, Davis said.

The pandemic is also playing a role. Jails are releasing inmates to reduce coronavirus exposure risks, children are at home rather than attending school in person, and some community programs that diverted teens from joining gangs have been paused, Davis said.

“This is just an environment that has allowed for various gangs in the city to wreak havoc,” Davis said.

Numbers don’t come close to conveying the scope of this problem, which disproportionately harms Black families and children, said City Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton. He has made it a personal mission to try to reduce daily gun violence.

“We saw a major stakeholder in our city come forward saying, essentially, that this is a state of emergency,” Middleton said, referring to the statements from NCCU students and administrators.

City Council reacts with debates

Middleton supports five recommendations that Chancellor Akinleye presented to the City Council on Oct. 8. Fellow council members DeDreana Freeman and Pierce Freelon also voiced support for all of the initiatives during the meeting.

Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson said she supported Akinleye’s request that NCCU police be allowed to patrol neighborhoods surrounding their East Durham campus. She said she wanted city staff to research and prepare a report on the other four recommendations.

Akinleye also urged the city to increase its own police patrols nearby and install speed bumps around campus, which is near neighborhoods the city has identified as hard-hit by violent crime.

The city should accept a six-month trial of ShotSpotter, an automated service that alerts police when shots are fired, something that residents who hear shots so often don’t always do, he said. Akinleye also pushed for the city to appoint an NCCU administrator to serve on the city’s new public safety task force.

The City Council rejected ShotSpotter in 2019 and again in September. Council members Javiera Caballero, Charlie Reece, Freelon, and Johnson cited the unclear evidence for its effectiveness and the $195,000 the city would need to pay each year.

They also said they were reluctant to embrace a tool they felt would lead the city to continue depending too much on police to solve problems. 

Middleton, a longtime backer of trying ShotSpotter, reiterated during an interview last week that the six-month trial would at least give the city valuable data for free. He also rejected the idea that ShotSpotter would lead to over-policing of already-vulnerable neighborhoods.

“We know that unreported gun violence is a problem,” he said. Refusing to invest in tools to measure the extent of that problem, he said, was “morally indefensible.”

For Mayor Pro Tem Johnson, solving the problem of gun violence means tackling deeper “root causes” in the community, rather than reflexively expanding the police. 

“There will be less violence in Durham if people can stay in their homes and not be evicted, if people can find jobs that are safe,” she said during an interview the day before the Oct. 8 meeting. “It’s not a lack of policing that causes our economic and social disruption.”

Johnson said she feared that continued job losses linked to economic disruption from the pandemic, a coming wave of evictions, and other problems caused by the pandemic will fuel an increase in crimes, like selling street drugs, that often turn violent. 

The city set aside $5 million for its COVID relief fund and poured another $1 million into Durham County’s housing and rent relief program. But Durham doesn’t have the scale of resources to offset residents’ financial distress, she said.

“What we really need, number one, is more federal support,” Johnson said. “We’ve been watching very closely the situation with the federal relief bills.”

In addition, City Council members haven’t taken a close enough look at alternatives to increased policing, she said. 

Johnson pointed to Bull City United, a “violence interrupter” program overseen by Durham County. Paused during the pandemic, the program trained workers to identify and defuse potentially violent conflicts in McDougald Terrace and the Southside neighborhood, two communities especially affected by gun violence.

“Those conversations need to continue,” she said.

Two Durham Police Department cruisers downtown with lights flashing. Photo by Henry Haggart

Tracking gangs, tracing guns

The police department is working to reduce the surge in gun violence by focusing on the gang members who are committing most of the shootings, Chief Davis said.

Officers are being trained to identify shooters linked to gangs, she said, adding that she wants her department to focus on tracking and stopping repeat offenders rather than “casting a wide net on communities.”

A serious challenge is the widespread availability of stolen guns used during violent conflicts, said Davis. She estimated that 40% of the guns recovered by her department were reported as stolen. 

The department is trying to educate gun owners on ways to store their weapons more securely, hoping to stem the flow of illegal firearms onto the streets.

Davis said she agrees that gun violence is a problem that requires more than a police response. Many of the people involved in violent conflicts are teenagers between 15 and 17, she said.

“There have to be other entities involved in helping to redirect our young people’s activities on a daily basis,” said Davis. She noted that officers are working on building relationships with residents by being more visible in communities, including by attending neighborhood events.

Programs in the works

City leaders are making plans, Johnson said, to develop and fund an expanded violence interrupter program run by the city, an initiative Middleton supports.

City staff are also analyzing 911 calls to identify tasks like responding to mental health crises that could be redirected to other city departments, freeing up police resources to address violent crime, Johnson said.

“The police department has a very specific mandate from council to focus their resources on violent crime,” she said.

The city is still working with the county and school board to launch the Community Safety and Wellness Task Force, a group of residents and researchers tasked with recommending alternatives to policing, which Johnson has said will be more successful at reducing violence compared to “reactive” tools like ShotSpotter.

“If we don’t deal with root cause issues, the need for police will actually increase,” she said.

But for Middleton, too much is at stake to not act more aggressively now while discussions about long-term interventions continue. 

“Every time somebody says root causes, I want somebody to point to our budget and say here’s a root-cause initiative, and here’s the amount of time it’s going to take for gun violence to come down in our city,” he said.

9th Street reporter Cameron Oglesby contributed to this article. 9th Street reporter Charlie Zong can be reached at charlie.zong@duke.edu

At top: Data shows a surge in overall shootings as well as gunshots between Oct. 2019 and Sept. 2020. Shooting victims increased by 56% to 1,081 people. The number of people shot increased even more by 59%, reaching 221 gunshot victims. Data provided by the Durham Police Department. Graphic by Charlie Zong

 

Some groups want no police, but BLAST works to better connect

When Chris Kenan pulled up to his childhood home in East Durham last month, he saw seven mothers standing resolutely with a crowd of children.

At the Rochelle Manor Apartments to help run an event bringing police and residents together, Kenan quickly realized that something was very wrong.

Police had confronted three kids playing tag with guns drawn earlier that afternoon while searching for an armed suspect. The oldest, aged 15, was handcuffed. The mothers were furious at what they saw as the latest example of unjustified harsh treatment by police.

“The mom said, ‘The police just came over here and threw my child on the ground and pointed guns at the kids’,” Kenan recounted. “I was blown away by what had just taken place.”

Mayor Steve Schewel, at Rochelle Manor to attend Kenan’s event, quickly arranged a meeting between the families and Police Chief Cerelyn Davis. “I thank God that we came right after it happened because we had the mayor there,” Kenan said. “It was able to escalate pretty fast without a lot of blowing up.”

Chris Kenan watches a woman fill out a voter registration form at the Hoover Road public housing complex. Photo by Henry Haggart

Helping families in communities like Rochelle Manor feel heard and supported by police and city leaders is why Kenan helped create BLAST, or Building Leaders for a Solid Tomorrow.

The 32-year-old father of three, a physical education teacher and football coach at Neal Magnet Middle School, in 2015 began giving away toys and bikes at Christmas to kids at Rochelle, where he lived as a kid. 

After George Floyd died in May when a Minneapolis police officer refused to stop pushing his knee into his neck, Kenan organized a rally for athletes to protest racial injustice outside the Durham County Courthouse in June. Some of Kenan’s former students, Duke University football coach David Cutcliffe, and members of the Duke football and men’s basketball teams attended.

After that, Kenan and three friends decided to put a name to their efforts and launched BLAST, which now includes a team of around 30 volunteers — students, lawyers, doctors, athletes, and other professionals included. 

At a time when activist groups and city council members are pushing to reduce the role of police in key discussions about the future of public safety, BLAST is working to strengthen relationships between children, parents, and the police working in their neighborhoods.

Chief Davis praised Kenan for creating “an avenue for positive community engagement between the police and the community” in a statement emailed to The 9th Street Journal.  

Some police officers stood at the edge of the circle when residents, officers and city officials created a circle at the Hoover Road event. Photo by Henry Haggart

The chief was intrigued by Kenan’s passion, said police spokesperson Jacquelynn Werner. “Using the trust they built, and trusting us, we’ve been able to allow our officers to go to the events and start new dialogue, as well as continue some existing conversations,” she said.

Persistent lobbying helped grow BLAST from a project by four friends into a group with significant buy in from decision makers. “We send texts out to every judge, every lawyer, every city council member, the chief, the sheriff, the mayor,” inviting them to events, Kenan said. 

Some view efforts to better unite residents and police as urgent in Durham. Gun violence is on the rise. As of Sept. 19, there were 689 shootings in the city this year. That’s up from a total of 495 shootings to that date last year.

And after a summer of protests, this is a time when relationships are frayed between officers and Durham residents most vulnerable to that violence.

Since July, BLAST has put on nine “Safe Zone Friday” events at Rochelle Manor and at four Durham Housing Authority complexes. Kenan and his co-founders hand out groceries and school supplies and go door-to-door to sign students up for free tutoring. Over a dozen police officers typically attend, allowing kids to enjoy a few hours outdoors without the risk of hearing gunfire, Kenan said.

“My biggest concern is simple,” he said. “Can the kids come outside and play?”

After police body camera footage emerged in July of an incident in 2019 where a Durham police officer was accused of assaulting a high school student, and recent protests over the treatment of the Rochelle Manor youngsters, BLAST’s mission has deepened. Now improving relationships between police and residents, especially youth, has become more urgent for Kenan.

“People think that these matters are just national matters,” Kenan said. “I’m glad that we were able to have a real incident in this city that we can shine a light on but that nobody was hurt from physically. But we still have some healing to do.”

Kenan’s personal history motivates him to help the community heal. Like Zakarryya Cornelius and Jaylin Harris, two of three kids at the center of the drawn-gun incident, Kenan grew up at Rochelle Manor, experiencing the social and financial challenges that many children living in subsidized housing still face.

“My mom raised us in a tough environment, and she did a great job – I could never thank her enough,” said Kenan. He was the only one to graduate high school and college out of 10 childhood friends, he said. 

“Everyone else I grew up with is either dead or in prison,” he explained.

Blast co-founder Arkeem Brooks knocks at an apartment door at the Hoover Road community. Photo by Henry Haggart

At each Safe Zone Friday event, BLAST leaders invite adults and kids to speak out about their needs and any long-standing issues in their neighborhood at Safe Zone Fridays, gun violence and conflicts with police included. That allows Mayor Schewel or other decision makers who attend to hear directly from the community.

A rainy day gave way to sunshine and a cool breeze by the time two dozen officers congregated last Friday at a grassy corner at the Hoover Road complex shortly after 5 pm. As children lined up for ice cream, Kenan and volunteers laid out food trays donated by Home Plate Restaurant, owned by long-time supporter Brian Bibins, whose son was coached by Kenan.

Loud speakers blasted a song that put perceptions about policing center stage. It started with the sound of blaring police sirens. Then a male voice, raw and staccato, rapped about George Floyd’s death and the “shooting, shooting, shooting” of Black people by police.

The officers, a mix of city police and county sheriff’s deputies, didn’t flinch. They talked and bumped elbows with kids and their parents. One deputy threw a football across a muddy clearing to a boy.

After passing out food and goodies to the kids, volunteers ushered residents and officers into a large circle around a grassy clearing. Devonte Smith, a BLAST co-founder, stepped forward and offered help.

“If you need to find a job, maybe we know somebody,” Smith said. “If you need better relations with the police, you come talk to us.”

A BLAST call for donations to help residents at McDougald Terrace public housing community posted on Twitter.

But mostly, he said, he wanted those present — including City Council members DeDreana Freeman and Pierce Freelon — to hear residents say what they and their children needed.

“Education!” one woman offered. “Computers, basketballs, you know, simple stuff — a jump rope!” added another.

Residents called for better parks and community centers too. Several parents said they wanted safe outdoor activities for their kids.

Kenan said BLAST plans to respond to that need with “Training in the Trenches,” an after-school program BLAST will kick off in October. Police officers and former student-athletes, including some of Kenan’s former students, will teach kids sports ranging from football to golf.

Officers did not speak during the circle at Friday’s event. But after the event, Sgt. Daryl Macaluso of the Durham Police Department said that community policing, where officers are assigned to neighborhoods where they get to know residents, is essential.

Macaluso is with the department’s Community Engagement Unit, which focuses on crime prevention in Durham’s public housing communities. The department doesn’t have enough officers to ensure that those who respond to a call know the people in neighborhoods where they are dispatched, he said. 

“I don’t think that would have happened if the officers knew the kids,” he said of the Rochelle Manor incident.

As the Safe Zone event finished, Hoover Road resident Dontray Cole, 45, was laughing and filming as BLAST volunteer Omar Humes, 50, played a spirited game of basketball with one boy.

“Almost, man! Get it!” Cole chided as the neighbor’s son ran across the packed dirt, dribbling past Humes to try to make a basket into an old hoop shorn of netting.

Cole’s expression became more pained as he described how he views the way police usually interact with Hoover Road residents. He praised a white officer who he said comes and speaks with the kids every morning. But some officers were “rude” and “hostile” to residents they perceived as dressing or appearing similar to gang members, he said.

“It gets to your heart,” Cole said. “Don’t treat us like zoo animals.”

Cole said that gunfire in and near the complex, which he attributes to gang members who don’t live in Hoover Road, is a problem. “The kids are way too young, the shooting gets to their mind,” he said.

Events like Safe Zone could help with both gun violence and residents’ relationships with the police, Cole said.“That’s what we need — show their support. Come check on how everything’s doing,” Cole said, as about half a dozen kids started heading toward their homes as night fell.

9th Street reporter Charlie Zong can be reached at charlie.zong@duke.edu

At top: Sgt. Daryl Macaluso, who work with police department’s Community Engagement Unit, throws a football to a kid at the Hoover Road community. Photo by Henry Haggart

Durham debates more change to rules limiting police use of force

A summer of change was just beginning when Durham’s elected leaders vowed on June 15 to “transform policing” in response to local and national protests against systemic racism and police brutality — matters long debated in Durham.

Among other promises, Mayor Steve Schewel and council members pledged to review and reform the police department’s rules on police use of force in the next 90 days.

With that deadline approaching, the mayor and Police Chief Cerelyn Davis are preparing to release a presentation concerning the department’s rules on police use of force, said David Anthony, executive officer to the police chief. 

The mayor’s office and police department have not specified a release date or whether the presentation will be the city’s final response to the 90-day pledge.

“Force” in this context means physical tactics police can use against people who don’t comply with lawful orders as spelled out in department policies. The department updated those policies in June, but activists and some city council members say some rules are still not clear enough.

The reform campaign 8 Can’t Wait, a project by Campaign Zero, a national group that promotes what they say are evidence-based reforms, won the support of some Durham officials, activists and residents.

Launched June 3, the campaign urges police departments across the nation to adopt eight policies intended to restrict the use of force. They include banning chokeholds, requiring officers to exhaust all means before using deadly options like firearms, and requiring police to intervene if they witness another officer using excessive force.

Durham police department spokesperson Amanda Fitzpatrick said in an email that the department’s rules “are currently aligned with the recommendations.”

But an analysis by The 9th Street Journal of Durham’s manual of rules for officers — which was updated on June 10 — found that DPD written policies meet only six of the eight recommendations explicitly.

Years in the making

Efforts to reform how police interact with residents began long before this summer. 

In 2013, a 17-year-old named Jesus Huerta committed suicide in the back of a Durham police cruiser. Investigators determined Huerta shot himself with a gun hidden on him at the time of his arrest, and officer Samuel Duncan was suspended without pay for violating search protocols and failing to switch on the cruiser’s video and audio recording devices.

Though the Huerta family ultimately accepted the findings, police donned riot gear and released tear gas at a vigil for Huerta. The controversy intensified pressure on the city to reform its police department.

From 2013 to 2019, 203 people were killed by police in North Carolina, according to the Mapping Police Violence research project. Black people were 38% of those killed, though they make up only 21% of the state’s population.

Durham, where police killed 5 Black people and 1 white person between 2013 and 2019, had the largest racial disparity between rates of Black and white civilians killed by police among major cities in the state, the research project found. Officers were not charged in any of the cases, as tracked by Mapping Police Violence.

In 2015, the city commissioned a study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police that found the Durham police department faced “deteriorating relationships” with the community and a “lack of public trust” in part from perceptions of racism and discriminatory practices. 

In 2016, the city hired police chief Cerelyn Davis, who vowed to build a “culture of trust” between police and the community.

Durham has made significant strides since Huerta’s death in 2013, said City Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton.

They include requiring police to obtain written consent before vehicle searches, de-emphasizing marijuana violations, and monitoring data on traffic stops for racial disparities. Davis has been a “change agent” who led “a definite shift in the culture of our police department,” Middleton said.

But recent controversies over a police officer being accused of assault of a high school student and officers drawing weapons on three youngsters have renewed demands for an end to police violence.

The reform campaign

The 8 Can’t Wait recommendations are based on Campaign Zero’s 2016 analysis of civilian deaths involving officers and restrictions on the use of force at 91 of the 100 largest police departments in the country, including Durham.

The group’s analysis says the typical department uses only three of the eight deadly force reduction practices intended to help prevent officers from harming or killing civilians. According to the group, in 2015 Durham had only two of eight policies on the books explicitly.

“Harm reduction is important and you can’t enforce what isn’t against the rules,” said Samuel Sinyangwe, a co-founder of 8 Can’t Wait.

Cities across the country, including Raleigh and Durham, have moved to reform their policies in line with 8 Can’t Wait’s recommendations. 

With revisions made in June, Durham police department’s General Orders Manual explicitly lists six of the eight recommendations. What’s missing?

Durham officers are encouraged — but not required — to exhaust all possible alternatives before resorting to deadly force, the manual states. 

Officers are required to file a use-of-force report only if physical force or injury occurs. The 8 Can’t Wait recommendations say reports should be filed every time violence is threatened, including when officers point guns at people.

Fitzpatrick told The 9th Street Journal that the manual is being updated “to explicitly state officers have a duty to intervene to prevent or stop excessive force if witnessed.”

The manual states officers are not trained in the use of chokeholds. Nor are they listed among authorized force options, which escalate from hand techniques and pepper spray up to firearms. But the manual does not explicitly say chokeholds are prohibited, either.

In an interview, Mayor pro tem Jiillian Johnson said that ambiguity in the policy is a problem. 

Johnson early this year criticized Durham as “one of the poorest performing cities” when it comes to having a clear and explicit use-of-force policy, citing the absence of an explicit ban on chokeholds and the department permitting officers to use deadly force before exhausting other options if the officer deems it “objectively reasonable,” according to the manual.

“When you give the officer discretion to determine whether it’s reasonable … That’s my main point of contention with the interpretation that we meet these guidelines,” Johnson said. “Those hedges make it so that we don’t actually meet the guidelines as they’re written.”

She and a co-author called for “significant improvements” in a January op-ed in USA Today that recently retired city manager Tom Bonfield and council member Mark-Anthony Middleton strongly rebuked.

Middleton said he did not agree that police use-of-force rules were only effective if they closely followed the wording in standards created by 8 Can’t Wait or other groups. 

“It’s not true that our department is woefully lacking in use-of-force standards,” he said.

Debate over police reform to continue 

While 8 Can’t Wait has gained traction among local governments being pressured to take action, not all local activists agree its agenda is enough.

Some say cities, Durham included, should “defund” or abolish their police departments and focus instead on community wellness and crime prevention. Andréa Hudson, director of the North Carolina Community Bail Fund, said she considers the emphasis on 8 Can’t Wait a distraction from defunding the police and spending more money on community health and safety initiatives. 

“A system that has white supremacy embedded in it will not change just because you banned them from doing things that they shouldn’t have been doing in the first place,” said Hudson.

But city council members remain focused on achieving what they say is sustainable, long-term change. The city council in June unanimously passed the city’s $502 million 2020-21 budget, which included $70 million for the police, despite a vocal campaign from local activists.

In a June op-ed in Spectacular Magazine, council member Middleton pointed to the city council’s 2019 decision to reject hiring 18 officers — only to hire 6 officers several months later in response to gang violence — as evidence that the city needs to first develop viable alternatives to the police.

Also in June, council members committed $1 million to form a Community Safety and Wellness Task Force, a resident-led group that will recommend alternatives to traditional policing.

As the city wraps up its 90-day pledge to review police use-of-force rules, Johnson said she wants to see an explicit ban on chokeholds and more comprehensive reporting when police use force. But Johnson’s end goal is deeper.

“These reforms are useful, but they’re not systemic reforms,” Johnson said. “Ultimately, I want to do less policing overall.”

9th Street Journal reporter Charlie Zong can be reached at charlie.zong@duke.edu.

At top: Protesters march through downtown last week in support of the families of three Black kids who police confronted with drawn guns at an apartment complex in August. Photo by Henry Haggart

Pavement protest murals: Will they stay or will they go?

Chances are you’ve spotted them on social media streams: super-sized words painted on pavement outside two government buildings in downtown Durham.

“DEFUND” yells one in large yellow letters in front of the police department headquarters. “FUND” demands the other, outside the Durham County Human Services Complex a block away.

People pushing for massive change in local policing created them in protest last month, days after the City Council approved the city’s $502.6 million 2020-2021 budget. Tucked inside was $70.3 million for the police department, a 5% spending increase from last year’s budget.

What’s not known is how long the street murals will remain. City officials with the Cultural and Public Art Program and the transportation department remain undecided about keeping the pavement art, city spokesperson Amy Blalock told 9th Street Journal.

Talking back

On June 19, scores of people answered a call from local activists to join a “community art action” and rally coinciding with Juneteenth. That’s the holiday commemorating June 19, 1865, when the last group of enslaved people in the Confederate states learned the Civil War was over and they were free.

The action occurred during week three of national demonstrations against racism and police violence after George Floyd’s death on a Minneapolis street. An officer, since charged with murder, kept pressing a knee into Floyd’s neck after the handcuffed man repeatedly said he could not breathe.

Durham Beyond Policing, a coalition of activist groups planned the pavement-art protest. The group was formed in 2016 to oppose the construction of the new Durham Police Department Headquarters, which cost $71 million.

“Juneteenth means abolition,” organizers wrote on the Durham Beyond Policing page on Facebook, referencing police abolition, a movement seeking to replace police and prisons with other approaches to community safety.

The coalition had organized a mass email campaign urging City Council members to redirect police funding to education, health care, and alternative community safety programs. After all City Council members voted to pass the city’s proposed 2020-2021 budget at their June 15 meeting, supporters of the coalition were disappointed. 

The lettering of the protest mural isn’t easy to read up close. This portion was painted outside police headquarters on East Main Street, near shelters protesters set up. Photo by Henry Haggart

“The unanimous vote really hit our collective and community very hard,” said Kyla Hartsfield, an organizer with Durham Beyond Policing. “We tried through comments, emails – and here’s another way to push the message of defunding the police,” she said.

During the event, participants went to work with paint rollers, spelling out big yellow letters and an arrow pointing at the police headquarters on East Main Street.

As police officers and volunteers diverted traffic, protesters marched one block down the street to paint again, this time with an arrow pointing to a building hosting county services such as public health, social services, and veteran services.

A local, national trend

The Durham street murals are part of a growing number of anti-racist street murals sprouting up in cities across the nation.

In past weeks, local governments and businesses have signaled support for police reform by commissioning painting of the “BLACK LIVES MATTER” slogan. The artworks can stretch across multiple city blocks.

Not everyone pushing for changes to community safety likes the trend of murals paid for by elected leaders. Some activists say city officials painting streets distracts from protesters’ demands for systemic change.

“Cities are co-opting language we’re using but not actually making change or making Black folks safer,” said Hartsfield, from Durham Beyond Policing. 

The Durham street art was created by protesters who did not seek the city’s approval to make it. It highlights a central question: whether communities should fund police and prison reforms or give more money to programs that help people rather than punish them.

Organizers have circulated a striking top-down view of the two murals, produced by a camera mounted to a participant’s drone. Though the words are difficult to make out at street level, the paint remains bright and visible from above.

Marcella Camara, a Durham-based artist who helped organizers plan the pavement art, said using artistic expression as an anti-racist protest was keeping with the spirit of Juneteenth.

“Juneteenth is a day of mourning, but it’s also a celebratory day for Black people to get together,” she said, noting that the rally also featured music, free food, and dancing.

Camara said she saw the art project as an opportunity for community members to come out and learn about the concept of police abolition and Durham Beyond Policing’s proposals.

“This may be their first time engaging with the sociopolitical issues of our time,” she said. “Art makes that more accessible.”

9th Street Journal reporter Charlie Zong can be reached at charlie.zong@duke.edu

At top: While hard to read from the street, the meaning of the protest street art is crystal clear from above. Photo used with permission

Despite calls for radical change, City Council funds the police department

For the second time this month, frustration and outrage over police misconduct against Black people dominated a Durham City Council meeting on Monday.

Council members reported receiving thousands of emails demanding that they defund the police department. Dozens of community members spoke at their virtual meeting urging the same thing.

Despite repeating their support for reforming the city’s police department, city council members unanimously passed the city’s $502 million 2020-2021 budget, which includes $70 million for the police department, a 5% increase from last year.

That doesn’t mean change isn’t coming, they stressed.

Before that vote, council members passed the Durham City Council Statement on Community Health and Safety, which commits the city council to continue the process to “transform policing” in Durham.

Written primarily by Mayor Steve Schewel and Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson, the statement calls for reforming the Durham Police Department’s use-of-force policies.  It also requires an analysis of 911 calls to identify police activities, such as responding to mental health crises, that other city departments could handle.

The statement pledges $1 million to fund a Community Safety and Wellness Task Force. Johnson championed the body last year as a means to research and present proposals for alternative community safety measures.

Schewel and Johnson emphasized that $1 million was not the only amount elected officials will commit to new community safety measures. 

“A million dollars is a down-payment on the work we need to do to be transforming community safety in Durham,” Schewel said.

That amount was too low, argued two council members, Mark-Anthony Middleton, who represents Ward 2, and DeDreana Freeman, who represents Ward 1.

“I think the million, even as an initial down payment, the pure power of the symbolism of it is just not enough,” Middleton said.

He criticized what he felt was the council’s reluctance to commit at least $2 million to exploring measures, such as universal basic income, which he says would help reduce crime by addressing poverty, a root cause.

“I think we have an opportunity to literally transform the budgetary culture of our city and be a beacon for the rest of the world,” he added. “Do you want to put police out of business? Let’s start spending real money on those things that will put them out of business.”

Middleton noted that the city council spent $2.4 million in 2018 on the Durham Participatory Budgeting initiative spearheaded by Johnson.

“Some of us fought like hell for $2 million for participatory budgeting, and 60% of the voters were white,” Middleton said. “We need to fight like hell now to send the right message for the folk that are dying right now.”

Council member Freeman said she would have preferred a figure closer to $11 million.

“It’s almost like we’re saying that these Black lives are worth a million dollars,” she said. “It just doesn’t feel right.”

Johnson, Reece, and Caballero campaigned last fall on a joint platform that included addressing police brutality and developing new community safety institutions. They have favored decreasing the police budget and reducing the number of officers while supporting community-led task forces to create proposals for community safety. 

While Freeman and Middleton have also supported calls for police reform, on Monday they emphasized the continuing need for policing due to what they say are unacceptable levels of violent crime affecting lower-income neighborhoods in Durham.

Freeman and Middleton also questioned the need for a task force to investigate solutions that they said the city council and community already understand. 

“I don’t need the task force to tell me that mentally ill people don’t need people with guns being the primary responder,” Middleton said. “We can move on that now. And we can start preparing the groundwork now for a budgetary revolution.”

Freeman emphasized that some in Durham are alarmed by campaigns to defund the police.

“The people I speak to in the community have a very different understanding of what that means and how it’s going to impact their lives,” Freeman said. “There’s a whole lot of folks that we are scaring this evening, and we have to be mindful of the fact that they are still residents in this community, and they deserve to be represented.”

Approval of the statement passed 4 to 2, with Middleton and Freeman voting no.

The passionate discussion took place immediately after a heated public commenting session where almost 50 people addressed the council about the city’s proposed budget.

Noting that a large number of people wanted to speak, Schewel limited comments to those who pre-registered, giving each one minute. That angered several community members who criticized the council during their remarks. Others voiced their complaints in a virtual chatroom.

Of those able to make comments, 35 spoke against the budget, demanding that the city council defund the city’s police department. That is something included in an alternative budget proposed by Durham Beyond Policing, a coalition of local activist groups.

Some speakers expressed outrage that council members were considering any increase in police funding at a time people are protesting across the county against police violence directed at Black people.

“How dare you — at a time like this — give $70 million, a 5% increase, to cops when cities are burning in rage and mourning across the country,” said Erin Carson, a member of the city’s Human Relations Commission. “Our city workers’ wages and our vital programs are frozen, but the police never miss a cent while delivering nothing.”

Others emphasized what they felt was the community’s desire to have police funding redistributed to other services. “To say defund the police, we’re just saying give the people back our money, and that’s what we’re asking for now,” said Mabelle Segrest, a resident.

Four people spoke in favor of passing the budget as it was drafted. Sheila Huggins, who represented Friends of Durham, a moderate political action group focused on public safety, asked council members to commit to working with residents on a “comprehensive plan for community policing”.

Middleton stressed that approving the budget did not preclude advancing police reforms.

“This budget is increasing the police budget, full stop. It’s not buying tanks, it’s not buying tear gas, it’s not hiring more officers to be on the street. But it is going up,” said Middleton. “Because inflation happens. Things happen.”

This year’s budget, rewritten after considerable revenue losses during the coronavirus pandemic, canceled raises for city employees. Reece explained that he supported the budget because he says it avoids further layoffs, preserves essential city services, and safeguards city finances in case revenues continue to decrease.

Reece noted that the thousands of emails he received asking to transform public safety and policing was the most he had ever gotten for any city council matter. Still, he said he felt more dialogue and understanding were needed. “There are lots of folks in Durham who have a hard time imagining a Durham beyond policing,” he said.

With the budget issues seemingly settled, the city council meeting moved onto seemingly less contentious topics such as community development grants. But a public hearing on that matter provided another opportunity for comment from audience members.

“You don’t have the moral courage to take a very small step toward addressing the centuries-old damage that’s been done to our community at the hands of government,” said Donald Hughes, who had earlier spoken in favor of the Durham Renewal Project, a budget proposal by activist group Other America Movement Durham calling for more spending on community services. 

“Before there was COVID-19, I want to remind you again, there was COVID-1619,” he said, referring to the date frequently linked to the start of slavery in North America.

At top: Members of the Other America Movement have set up camp in front of the city police headquarters downtown. Photo by Henry Haggart

Durham activist group holds invitation-only meeting with officials about police violence


After a week of protests against police killings of black people, Durham activist Skip Gibbs and several other members of the grassroots organization Other America Movement (OAM) met with city officials including Durham Police Chief C. J. Davis, Sheriff Clarence Birkhead and Mayor Steve Schewel. 

Gibbs said the two-hour meeting was about getting city officials to offer concrete solutions to address systemic racism, police reform and poverty. 

“We’re saying: If you guys end systematic racism, if you guys give us resources in our community so we can have better schools, more grocery stores, better-resourced community centers, then we won’t need police in our neighborhoods because we have everything that we need to be functioning people,” he said.

The meeting, held at event space The Fruit (formerly called Durham Fruit and Produce Company), was closed to representatives from several other community groups who wanted to join the conversation, as well as most members of the press.

OAM organized a protest on Monday that blocked traffic briefly on the Durham Freeway at South Alston Avenue. The group demanded police leaders agree to a conversation to discuss solutions to police violence and poverty.

They succeeded in getting the meeting, but it was invitation-only — a restriction Gibbs said was necessary because of limited space. Tim Walter, owner of The Fruit, told 9th Street Journal only 15 people could attend with proper social distancing. About 15 people waited outside, including reporters and activists from other groups.

At first, OAM livestreamed the talk from its Facebook and Instagram pages. But the organization later shut the livestream down. 

Gibbs told reporters and activists he cut the feed because “people have a hard time being honest when there’s cameras around.” 

The decision to hold the meeting behind closed doors frustrated several community members who gathered outside on the sidewalk. 

Michael Taylor, who formed the community group Restoring The Foundation, said that when residents of public housing complex McDougald Terrace — the majority of whom are black — were displaced earlier this year because of natural gas leaks, they went to a city council meeting and were allowed inside to voice their complaints.

“So, when this happened, the same issues, why is it private now?” he asked.

Reporters and members of Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) waited outside The Fruit, attempting to listen to a livestream of the meeting. Photo by Charlie Zong

Andréa “Muffin” Hudson, who serves on the Durham Human Relations Commission and directs the North Carolina Community Bail Fund, arrived about an hour into the meeting. She said she came after receiving a call about community members not being allowed inside.

She expressed her concerns to Gibbs when he came outside to speak with activists.

“When you have community members asking can they come in, community members should never be turned away from anything,” she said. “Anytime you shut the community out and you say you’re speaking for the community, the community will turn on you really fast.”

Hudson said she wanted to tell Sheriff Birkhead that public resources should be given to “community-based organizations” such as community kitchens, rather than the police. 

“I want them to defund the police and decarcerate Durham county detention [facility],” she said. 

Gibbs said he wanted to take a different approach. “If we try to go in and say, oh we’re just going to defund all the police, it’s not going to work,” he said. 

After the meeting ended, Gibbs announced that officials agreed to form a committee so community organizers could have a direct channel to discuss problems they faced and work with officials toward solutions.

Gibbs called for unity among organizers and asked those present to appoint a liaison from their groups. 

“What’s going to work is us having a unified, solid voice,” he said. “What’s going to work is expressing peacefully to our government officials what we need.”

But some activists expressed skepticism about the process. Taylor, a longtime acquaintance of Gibbs, asked him about the livestream being shut down while city officials stood in silence. 

“You don’t think the dishonesty should have been seen?” Taylor said. “These are people who take our taxpayer dollars.”

After the meeting, Sheriff Birkhead released a statement vowing to listen. 

“We stand here, right now, to say we are here to help.” he said. “As Sheriff, I am committed to criminal justice reform. As a fellow Durham resident, I pledge to work together to change the status quo in order to level the playing field for everyone.”

Top photo: Andréa “Muffin” Hudson (right) talks with Skip Gibbs (left) and another OAM organizer during an invitation-only meeting with city officials. Photo by Charlie Zong

Durham leaders share pain, hope as protests grow

The agenda for Monday’s Durham City Council virtual meeting listed 27 items, but the topic that weighed most heavily on everyone present did not appear by name.

On the screen, five faces stared straight ahead, elected leaders of a city relieved that a weekend of national protests had been peaceful within Durham, but also troubled by the violent confrontations between police and participants in nearby Raleigh and across the country.

Council and community members took turns sharing stories of pain and hope in the wake of the death of George Floyd, transforming a virtual meeting into a space where their collective emotional toll surfaced and was acknowledged.

“I just wanted to say a few words tonight about the experience that we’re having this past week, in our country,” began Jillian Johnson, mayor pro-tem and co-founder of Durham For All, a multiracial political organizing group.

“As a child in the 1980s, my mother warned my younger brother not to play with toy guns so the police wouldn’t think he had a real gun and shoot him,” she said. “Decades later, the only thing that’s really changed is that the ubiquity of phone cameras and live streaming technologies brought the reality of this experience to a new and broader audience.”

Durham needs to come together to push for change as a community, she said, listing what she views as critical problems: an expanding city police budget, racial disparities in traffic stops and a civilian oversight board she said lacked authority to enforce changes in policing practices.

Johnson urged redirecting the city’s spending priorities to community safety approaches “outside of policing,” though she said that “I want to appreciate the work of our police chief C.J. Davis and her staff in avoiding needless conflicts with demonstrators over the last few days.”

Unlike the police response in Raleigh, which used tear gas, rubber bullets, and riot gear in confrontations with protestors over the weekend, Durham officers did not confront people protesting downtown. Instead they closed traffic on nearby streets and kept a distance.

Not that protests were over in Durham. At 2 pm Monday, a group of over 50 people led by local artist Skip Gibbs had blocked Highway 147 near downtown, at South Alston Avenue. The group demanded a meeting with the Durham Police Chief and Durham County Sheriff about preventing police brutality. Within an hour, both public officials had called the organizers and agreed to a meeting on Friday, and the group moved off the highway.

An hour before the council meeting was set to start at 7 pm, a crowd of several hundred, including students and families with children, started assembling in front of the Carolina Theater downtown. The “#DefundThePolice” demonstration, organized by the Durham chapter of Black Youth Project 100, a youth-led group, walked through downtown toward the Durham County Detention Facility. City police followed, closing off streets to traffic around the crowd, which stretched for several blocks.

With a wavering voice, council member DeDreana Freeman explained that she would likely be off camera at points due to her emotions after the killing of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin, which medical examiners have labeled a homicide.

“I do want to uplift just how hard it is to come face to face with this … uninvited mental health trauma,” Freeman said. “There are no words. I can feel it in my bones, I can feel it all throughout my body. The trauma I’m carrying, it’s, it’s just, in my DNA, and it is the reason I do what I do, how I do it.” 

Johnson warned about “paramilitaries and provocateurs” potentially entering Durham and other cities to provoke conflicts with the police. Mark-Anthony Middleton, a council member and pastor, urged city residents to be vigilant and to “keep our eyes open for those who don’t really love us, who don’t care about the Floyd family, who don’t share our tears, but are here to co-opt and preempt us.” 

“This is Durham,” Middleton added. “We know the difference between a confederate monument and a mom-and-pop store. We don’t need anyone bringing any more bull to the Bull City.” 

Council member Charlie Reese pointed to what he said is the foundation of the police violence being protested across the country.

“This is an epidemic that is, of course, the natural outgrowth of America’s original sins of racism and white supremacy,” he said. “It’s the result of a rampaging, out of control flavor of capitalism that enlists police violence as a means to protect private property, all too often punishing small acts like attempted forgery with the death of those alleged to have committed it.”

Council member Javiera Caballero concurred. “We have seen the response in cities across this country due to the militarization of the police. In Durham, we have tried to take a different approach,” Caballero said. 

Caballero also praised Police Chief Davis. “She’s done a remarkable job changing the culture of Durham’s police department,” she said.

However, two of the three community members who spoke during the meeting had called in to voice opposition to increasing funding for the police department. Danielle Purifoy spoke on behalf of Durham Beyond Policing, a local network of activists opposed to policing. In opposing a 5% increase in the $70 million budget for the police, she pointed to the costly evacuation of McDougald Terrace, a public housing complex plagued by unsafe conditions, as well as the high number of evictions in Durham and the $9 million budget shortfall the city faces due to the pandemic.

“My question is what else needs to happen for us to prioritize serving people over punishing people?” she said. 

After council members spoke, Mayor Steve Schewel commended their “fantastic, fantastic words” and read the North Carolina Mayors’ Statement on the Murder of George Floyd, which he wrote. “The words are important, and we know we need to do the work along with it,” he added.

As the city council meeting stretched on past 8 pm, the #DefundThePolice demonstration had gathered outside the detention facility, chanting up to inmates who knocked on the windows in response. “Same story every time. Being black is not a crime,” they chanted in unison. 

In the setting sun, sounds of cheering, yelling, and clapping filled the evening air.

Above: A screenshot of a moment during Durham City Council’s virtual meeting Monday when council member DeDreana Freeman spoke.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Skip Gibbs’ last name.