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Posts tagged as “police reform”

As Martin Luther King Jr Day approaches, a new city councilman reflects on race and more

Leonardo Williams, co-owner of the Durham restaurant Zweli’s Kitchen and former educator, was sworn into office as a Durham City Council member in December. As he begins his work representing Ward 3, COVID-19 is exacerbating racial inequalities in Durham. Looking ahead to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, The 9th Street Journal asked Williams about some of the complex challenges facing Durham, including wealth disparities, police reform and more. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

9th Street JournalDurham has obviously had prosperity in the last decade, but there’s a disparity: Roughly 18% of Durham’s Black residents and nearly a third of Hispanics live under the poverty line, while far fewer white people do. How can we heal these wounds?

Leonardo Williams: I’m a Black small business owner. I didn’t give up my job to run for office; we are still running our business. It’s important to have that perspective on the council. Folks naturally govern and analyze situations from their own perspective, their own lived experiences. And with Omicron being as transmissible as it is, when we shut the city down, you lose businesses, you’re going to lose jobs, and poverty is going to smack you harder than ever before. 

In regards to race and racial equity, the city made a significant move in establishing the Racial Equity Task Force. They’ve done their work and we have to follow through on those things. But also, it’s very important to ensure that we create equity. We can all do this together. We can fight for more equitable pay, pay transparency, pay worth and all of those things. And also, ask questions: Who has access to what jobs? We can be conscious of that. We can have a body of government say, “You may have a criminal record, but you can still work for the city, to a limit.” We have to shape the government to be more agile.

9th Street: The Racial Equity Task Force released some suggestions about how to deal with the wealth gap: for instance, a local reparations program, guaranteed basic income and raising the minimum wage. Do you think those are likely to take shape this year? 

LW: Those programs are great. They’re good ideas, and they’re in the right direction. But I think when we incorporate the community and partner with the private sector, we can go a lot further and can be a lot more sustainable and accountable. About reparations—for me, I do not think the most effective way to adhere to reparations is to have a one-time payout. Because our history and our disenfranchisement is so much more valuable than one payout. Generations have been taken away, I want generations back.

9th Street: The gun violence uptick has been central to the experience of Durham youth recently, including recent deaths of children. And, again, there are significant racial disparities in who is affected. What can the city do going forward on this issue?

LW: What is the most direct gateway to our youth? Education. So first of all, the city has to get more involved in  education. We can’t be disconnected from our youth because we don’t fund the education system. Teaching and learning is beyond the classroom—it’s everywhere. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has funding for afterschool programs that they are looking to disperse—additional funding that came in due to COVID. So I’ll be looking to see how we can get some of that funding in Durham. 

Our youth do not have enough to do. That’s why we find them going where they’re accepted, and that’s on the streets. I’m a Black male, a professional, I need to be spending time with other young Black men in this community. I start with my son, and just being present with him. And I have to do that for young boys in my neighborhood as well. It’s going to take engagement, basically. And I think the city can play some very formal roles in that.

9th Street: In terms of criminal justice reform, there’s the Community Safety and Wellness Task force, as well as the new Community Safety Department here in Durham. Is Durham looking towards more community-led initiatives to de-center policing?

LW: Those task forces are necessary, because if we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t have those ideas to build on. Ultimately, we do want to grow ourselves to be less reliant on policing the way we know it. 

We need good policing. And we have to make bad police officers feel very uncomfortable and unwelcome. You have to build a culture of policing internally where they are calling out their own. You also have to have the community doing its part. And I think that’s what the Community Safety and Wellness Taskforce does and I think that’s what the Racial Equity Task Force does. 

We’re gonna need institutional policing. I want us to rely on community policing more, but that’s the long game. 

9th Street: Housing in Durham has obviously been a huge issue that falls along racial divides, for instance when you look at who is evicted most often. And, this has been exacerbated by COVID. What can the city council do to more intentionally hit this issue? 

LW: Yeah, that’s a loaded one. I literally just got off a call with one of the residents at Braswell apartments—gosh, just emotional. I’m calling to the table property owners, residential and commercial. I’m passionate about this. First of all, housing stability is the basic foundation of doing anything that you need to do such as a jobs and transportation. 

You know, this woman I was speaking to is supposed to be looking for an apartment, but she can’t because she’s in her apartment right now with COVID. I can go on and on about these stories. So what I’m doing right now is I’m pulling together a few [leaders]. I want the government to be a partner with the private sector in  economic development. Yes, we’re gonna make money. We’re gonna be strong economically. But we’re not leaving anyone behind. We’re not pushing anybody out. And that’s what I’ll be working on. If I don’t get anything else done on city council in these four years, you will see that happen.

And what that looks like is developing a small, robust business support apparatus, where we’re not only providing technical assistance, but we’re actually going out finding business and building businesses. We’re going to honor risk-takers, we’re going to identify talent here locally, and invest in it. We’re going to bring venture capital firms here that invest in ideas here locally.

We have all of what it takes to be a beautiful, economically strong city without leaving anyone behind.

9th Street: Obviously, there’s a lot of pain there. Where is there hope for the future? 

LW: You know, COVID has provided us somewhat of a reset. And while it’s, yes, survival of the fittest, it’s also a time where the playing field gets even, is leveling out, where it’s hard for everybody.—where you can take a chance and better yourself. Because it’s hard for everybody. So I think that’s a reason for everybody to be hopeful, just creating more access to opportunity. That’s what we’re gonna focus on.

Meet the Ward III Durham City Council candidates

Without an incumbent or primary results to signal a frontrunner, the Ward III Durham City Council race is the one to watch in the upcoming Nov. 2 election.

AJ Williams and Leonardo Williams are vying to fill the seat that will soon be vacated by Pierce Freelon, who was appointed in Aug. 2020 and decided not to seek another term. They didn’t face off in October’s primary because the top two vote-getters advanced to the general election, and there are only two candidates in the Ward III race.

Freelon endorsed AJ to replace him, but the candidates split the other major endorsements: AJ is backed by the People’s Alliance PAC, the Durham Association for Educators, and Durham For All while Leonardo is backed by the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and Friends of Durham. 

The candidates who earned the support of the same groups as Leonardo — including Elaine O’Neal for mayor, DeDreana Freeman in Ward I, and Mark Anthony Middleton in Ward II —  emerged as clear frontrunners after the primary. Both Freeman and Middleton are incumbents. In the Ward III race, the odds are much less clear. 

Leonardo Williams, co-owner of the Durham restaurant Zweli’s, announced that he would be running for City Council in June, one day after Pierce Freelon said he would not run. Leonardo is a former chair of the NC Foundation for Public School Children and a former executive board member of the Durham Association of Educators.

AJ Williams joined the race later, on Aug. 3. He is a grassroots organizer in Durham, director of incubation and ideation labs for Southern Vision Alliance, and a member of Durham Beyond Policing and other abolitionist organizations.

In the Durham primary election earlier this month, voter turnout was relatively low, with only 10.18% of Durham’s registered voters going to the polls. Some residents said they saw very little difference between the candidates.  But the same can’t be said for AJ Willimas and Leonardo Williams. 

They differ not only in their policy ideas, but also in the lenses through which they see governing. Leonardo is an educator and a businessman at his core, so these are the lenses through which he understands community engagement. 

He said that small businesses’ struggles during the pandemic motivated him to run for City Council. Over the pandemic, though large companies were still drawn to downtown Durham, small businesses struggled. Leonardo helped establish the Durham Small Business Coalition, which raised $3 million for the Small Business Fund, and organized a citywide job fair that required participating employers to offer $15 per hour. 

“I said to myself, where is the small business representation in our government? Small businesses collectively are the city’s largest employer. How can we have a city full of small, locally-owned businesses, and not a single representation of them in any leadership or decision making capacity?” he said.

If elected, Leonardo hopes to establish a robust Small Business Sustainability and Success Program and expand the Office of Economic & Workforce Development to reflect Durham’s small business sector. He also plans to facilitate better wages and conditions for workers.

As a former teacher and school administrator, Leonardo also is focused on education in the city. He said that while the county funds education, the city shares responsibility for educating and engaging youth.

“It will be my job as a city councilman to ensure that we are engaging our youth at a much broader age and a much more inclusive way,” Leonardo said. “We can utilize sectors such as education and parks and rec and the local corporate scene, maybe even working with the chamber to establish a citywide apprenticeship program for juniors and seniors in high school.”

He said he views education as a public safety issue, too. He hopes that young men in Durham who are engaged in education and economic opportunities will be less likely to turn to gun violence. 

In September, Leonardo stood outside the Hayti Heritage Center with Councilmember Middleton and the group he co-founded, One Thousand Black Men. Its goal is to curb gun violence and change the trajectory of young Black men through mentorship by challenging 1,000 Black men in Durham to spend one hour each week with a young boy in their neighborhood. These are the kinds of initiatives he hopes to uplift if elected to City Council.

“I know that if I spend an hour a week with a young Black boy, as a professional Black man, I can have a positive impact on his life. And so if I asked 1000 Black men to join me, to step up and step in, let’s take this together, take accountability for what’s happening with our young brothers,” Leonardo said.  

AJ Williams approaches governing as a fourth-generation Durhamite with deep roots in the city — from his father’s journalism career, to his grandma’s work as a small business owner, to his participation in little league.  

In addition to working with Durham Beyond Policing, AJ was appointed to Durham’s Participatory Budgeting Steering Committee and collaborated with delegates across gender, age, class, race, and ability as well as staff from the Transportation Department and Budget and Management Services Department. He also has served financial roles on multiple BIPOC-led nonprofits.

AJ is genderqueer, and if-elected, would be Durham’s first transgender councilmember. He said he sees governing and organizing through a queer, Black, feminist, trans lens. He wants to listen to not just cisgender, heterosexual people in Durham.

“The Black queer feminist praxis is a part of so much of the work that I’ve done. And it basically tells us that we actually cannot have Black liberation unless we have liberation for all Black people,” AJ said. “So that has also heavily informed the way that I want to show up as an elected official. Really centering the voices of the most marginalized people in our communities who have been left out of the conversation is the way to do that.”

He said it was a natural progression to move from community organizing to running for City Council. If elected, he hopes to maintain the wins that the organizers achieved in the past few years, especially around community safety. As a member of Durham Beyond Policing, AJ was part of the push for Durham’s new Community Safety Department, which is working to address non-violent 911 calls with mental health services instead of police presence. 

“With organizing, particularly for things within our municipal budget, you need to know that you have the support of your elected,” AJ said. “Durham is shifting and changing in new ways, so it felt like a natural next step to be on the Council and get input from community members.”

AJ supports diverting funds away from law enforcement; creating new public safety institutions, such as Bull City Violence Interrupters, a community-led Safety & Wellness Task Force; and supporting other community-led abolitionist movements. He said he is determined to listen to what residents want, something he learned from his work with Durham Beyond Policing.

“We’ve had a budget hearing where we invited over 300 residents to come and participate and share their personal testimonies and stories — the ways that they were impacted by over policing. So, holding the spaces to hear folks has been something that’s always been really important to me as an organizer, and I think that that’s a transferable skill,” AJ said.

 After living in Durham his whole life and watching demographics shift as gentrification has risen in the city, AJ is concerned about affordable housing. He supports land trusts, protections for historically Black neighborhoods, and an eviction moratorium.

“We need to make sure that folks who are in the market to rent are able to live here, affordably, as well as those who are pursuing homeownership. We need to also support an expansion of the Long-time Homeowners Tax Assistance Program to protect people who have been here not just for decades, but generations,” he said.

AJ shares a background in filmmaking and art like his predecessor Pierce Freelon, who endorsed him. Freelon said the most important advice he ever got was from former mayor Bill Bell: to answer every email that he receives. It’s engagement in the community, Freelon said, that changes lives, whether it’s enacting historic city policies, or just responding to a resident about their broken door. 

This level of engagement is especially important to Freelon when interacting with gun violence victims in the community, and it will be necessary for his successor.

“That means something to me: being present in the community. The day after a shooting, you need to be there: knocking on doors and talking to residents in the communities that are experiencing the violence,” Freelon said. “If you’re going to be advocating for anything that impacts that community: the people closest to the pain should be closest to the power.”

He said that when he does engage with community members, they are often surprised that he took the time to reach out and respond to their issues.

“This seat is different. You know, there’s something special in Ward III, and so whoever wins the seat will need to listen to residents,” Freelon said. “Whoever it is, they will be there to listen.”

***

Correction: This story was updated to correct that Leonardo Williams was a former chair of the NC Foundation for Public School Children and a former executive board member of the Durham Association of Educators.

Correction: This story was updated to correct the voter turnout rate in Durham’s primary election.

The 9th Street Journal will continue to cover the city elections. Check with us Election Day for updates and results. You can submit questions and news tips to our staff by emailing jacob.sheridan@duke.edu or julianna.rennie@duke.edu.

At top: From left, candidates for Ward III Leonardo Williams (left) and AJ Williams – Photos by Josie Vonk, The 9th Street Journal.

Meet the seven candidates running for Durham mayor, including Bree Davis, Daryl Quick, and Jahnmaud Lane

By Julianna Rennie and Jake Sheridan

There’s one week left for Durham voters to cast their ballots before the primary election on Oct. 5. The outcome will determine the two finalists in each of the four City Council races. 

There are seven candidates vying for the mayor’s seat. Durham’s current mayor, Steve Schewel, is not seeking reelection. 

The 9th Street Journal recently profiled some of the candidates. Check out our stories on City Council member Javiera Caballero, former judge Elaine O’Neal, housing advocate Charlitta Burruss, and youth minister Rebecca Harvard Barnes

Here’s what you need to know about the remaining three candidates: Bree Davis, Daryl Quick and Jahnmaud Lane.

Bree Davis

Born in sunny South Florida, Bree Davis comes from a family of changemakers. Her father worked as a Baptist minister and coordinated outreach for Haitian and Cuban refugees. 

“This is kind of my legacy,” she told the 9th Street Journal.  

After moving to Durham 12 years ago, Davis experienced houselessness, food insecurity, and underemployment. As a single mom and bisexual Black woman, Davis says she knows what it feels like to fall through the cracks.

If elected, Davis promises to make sure that all Durham residents benefit from the city’s recent economic boom. 

“The goal has been achieved, but now we have to pick up the folks that have been left behind,” she said.

Her other policy priorities include affordable housing and community safety. In her INDY Week candidate questionnaire, Davis wrote that she would fully fund the Durham Police Department while exploring alternatives to policing through Durham’s new Community Safety Department. 

Davis currently works as a research coordinator for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She started her own social media consulting company, Social Media Phobia Solutions, in 2011. She’s also a collage artist and filmmaker

Daryl Quick

Daryl Quick is pledging to “make a better Durham by getting back to the basics.”

Throughout the campaign, Quick has talked openly about his experiences growing up in public housing with family members who struggled with drug addiction. 

A native Durhamite, Quick hopes to inspire children experiencing poverty to dream of running for public office.

His platform addresses violent crime, social services, and infrastructure.

Quick promotes his campaign heavily on his Facebook page. In a Sept. 8 post, he wrote, “No more status quo! No more gentrification! No more low wage paying jobs! No more kids can’t play! No more walking past a homeless person downtown!”

Jahnmaud Lane

Jahnmaud Lane isn’t just a rare Durham Republican: He’s a highly followed conservative commentator. 

His Facebook page, “Mind of Jamal,” has over 300,000 followers. The clips regularly stretch over an hour. 

In his videos, the adamant Trump supporter pours over a range of far-right topics. He recently criticized coronavirus vaccines and workers’ unions, decried calls for national political unity, and urged his followers to “break out the Old Dixie” because “this union stuff aint working.” Lane often speaks in front of a Confederate flag. 

He streams videos on YouTube, too, but the apparently associated “MindofJamal” Twitter account has been suspended. 

Lane did not reply to a call requesting an interview. He described himself as a former “no-good, piece-of-trash drug dealer” in an interview with The News & Observer

The article noted that he was charged in 2001 with a misdemeanor for resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. Two years later, he spent over a year in a state corrections facility for assaulting and seriously injuring another person, the article added. 

In the News & Observer piece, Lane also acknowledged that he attended the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol, though he said he didn’t enter the Capitol building. 

On Lane’s campaign website, his platform focuses on addressing a rise in violent crime. He would like to pay police officers more. His other policy ideas include building more affordable housing and more intensely inspecting public housing facilities for tenant damage.

***

For more information on when and how to vote in the 2021 Durham city elections, check out our article on important dates and voting rules

The 9th Street Journal will continue to cover the city elections. Check in with us for more candidates profiles, campaign coverage and other important updates. You can submit questions and news tips to our staff by emailing jacob.sheridan@duke.edu or julianna.rennie@duke.edu.

At top: Bree Davis is one of seven candidates running to be Durham’s next mayor. Photo provided by Bree Davis.

Burruss banks on ‘boots on the ground’ experience in her mayoral campaign

As mayoral candidate Charlitta Burruss showed us around her neighborhood, Edgemont Elms, she stopped at the road in front of her house and pointed to the ground where bullet shells had strewn the street the night before. 

“I picked up 15 shells from this parking lot,” said Burruss, shaking her head. 

Having served on the resident councils of several Durham Housing Authority communities – she previously lived in Calvert Place – Burruss is familiar with the gun violence and affordable housing crises facing the city. 

Through her campaign, Burruss hopes to encourage others from low-income neighborhoods to run for political office. She said people like her, who have relationships with residents of Durham’s often-overlooked communities, have an important perspective to share. 

“We don’t consider people who are actually boots on the ground, that are actually in the community and making a big impact,” Burruss told the 9th Street Journal. 

In June this year, after hearing gunfire every night from her home in Edgemont Elms, Burruss organized a community barbecue, inviting district police and local families to spend time together and build relationships. In addition to her resident council responsibilities, Burruss is a member of the Residential Advisory Board of DHA and chairperson for the Consumer Family Advisory Committee of Durham.

In 2018, she received a Neighborhood Spotlight Award for her community outreach effort in Durham, which included organizing food and toy donations and community events. 

This campaign marks Burruss’s fourth attempt at running for political office in North Carolina. She was a candidate for mayor of Monroe in 2007; town council in Marshville in 2011; and city council in Durham in 2019, receiving 1,258 votes. 

Born in Washington, D.C., in 1959, Burruss comes from a family of preachers. After working many different jobs to support her son, Burruss decided to pursue higher education in her late 40’s, receiving an associate’s degree in Human Services from South Piedmont Community College in 2004 and a Bachelor of Sciences in social work from Gardner-Webb University in 2006. 

Though she has never held a political office, Burruss is an experienced community leader; she said her roots in the community give her an advantage over other candidates. For example, Burruss has become frustrated by what sees as broken communication channels between DHA residents and local government officials. In her experience, the local government makes a dangerous presumption that all DHA residents have access to  computers and internet required to find information about affordable housing and employment opportunities.

“Durham officials don’t realize not everybody can afford internet access, and older people are not using computers,” said Burruss. 

Alternative methods of communication, such as electronic billboards and posters containing updates from the local government, could be a better way to reach those without internet access, she said. 

Patching the communication gaps between low-income residents and the Durham mayor’s office, Burruss said, is a vital prerequisite to addressing the issues she is most passionate about — crime, affordable housing, and employment. 

Addressing crime and poverty would be Burruss’s main priority as mayor. She believes investment in education and parental support in communities with high crime rates can help break this cycle. 

Burruss does not support defunding the police in Durham. Rather, she believes police officers should be retrained to better communicate with residents and those with mental health conditions. She also supports paying police officers more so they don’t leave to find work in counties offering higher salaries.

She says her experience as a liaison between local residents, police, and the Housing Authority positions her well to improve city relations as mayor. If elected, Burruss plans to spend time in Durham, speaking to people “on the ground” to inform her policy decisions. 

“If I were in the mayor’s chair, you’d be able to put your hands on me,” said Burruss. 

At the top: Mayoral candidate Charlitta Burruss serves on the resident council for her neighborhood, Edgemont Elms. 9th Street Journal photo by Josie Vonk.

‘He’ll push back’: T. Greg Doucette’s crusade against hypocrisy, police violence, and big government

It was five days after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, and T. Greg Doucette was mad. 

Doucette, a criminal defense and small business attorney in Durham, was angry with the way police were treating protesters: beating them, pepper-spraying them, and, in one case, even trampling them with a horse. And so, around noon on May 30, Doucette did what he often does when he wants to gripe: he tweeted, creating a thread of 10 videos showing instances of police brutality toward protesters. 

His thread went viral, retweeted by Trevor Noah and John Cusack and scores of others. Twitter analytics showed it reached millions of users. Suddenly people started sending him thousands of videos of police violence, and Doucette kept adding to the thread, with a counter so people could keep track. He gained 100,000 followers (on top of his previous 30,000). Soon, the “Police Brutality Mega-Thread” had ballooned to hundreds of clips. 

“It was like, holy shit, this has gone beyond what I expected,” he said in an interview with The 9th Street Journal. “And I got to figure out how to manage it.” 

Doucette’s sudden Twitter fame was partly a reflection of the moment — a nation waking up to the pervasive problem of police violence — and partly a product of his Twitter addiction (he’ll often tweet 100 times a day). 

But though the 100,000 Twitter followers were new, the blistering honesty of the thread was not. 

Whether he’s insulting Jeff Sessions (“human gutter trash”) or skewering the UNC Board of Governors, Doucette will give you his unvarnished opinion. Since 2017, he has hosted a podcast called “#Fsck ‘Em All,” in which he rails against corruption and abuse in the justice system as well as what he calls “political f*ckery.”  

Recently, he’s taken to YouTube to challenge Van Jones, a news commentator who gave a TED Talk titled “What if a U.S. presidential candidate refuses to concede after an election?” In the video, Van Jones explains how a president could exploit “legal loopholes” in the Constitution to stay in office. 

“Van Jones is WRONG,” Doucette contends in his 50-minute YouTube video. It is quintessential Doucette — funny, thorough, nerdy and crass. 

“There is no profanity in the presentation, but I do tend to cuss a lot,” he says, hovering at the bottom left of the screen and wearing a t-shirt from North Carolina Central University School of Law. Thirty seconds later, he calls his video “boring as shit.” 

The video has attracted over 130,000 views — and some controversy. When someone in the comments section disputed one of his claims, Doucette weighed in: “Basically every comment and reply you’ve made here is wrong, it’s actually impressive! Enjoy the Biden administration.” 

He’s a rascal and a reformer, a crusader for justice, or — if you’re on the receiving end of his Twitter onslaught — a pain in the neck. 

“If you’re being a dick, he’ll push back,” said Kahran Myers-Davis, a former attorney at Doucette’s firm. “He’ll push back on you on Twitter, he’ll push back on you in public. He’ll push back on people in his real life who aren’t living their values or who are being unethical or condescending or rude. That’s just who he is.” 

* * *

Both times I interviewed Doucette, he appeared on my screen wearing black headphones and a gray shirt that said “NCCU Trial Advocacy Board” (does he only wear NCCU shirts?). Bald and 39 years old, he’s a self-described “full-time curmudgeon, part-time Twitter celebrity, occasional attorney.”

Doucette talks like he tweets: non-stop, unfiltered, his words laced with zingers and occasional f-bombs, his face lit with an impish smile. 

Unlike most advocates for criminal justice reform, who come from the left, he’s a conservative, though he abandoned the Republican party after President Trump’s election in 2016 (he’s now registered as unaffiliated). His watchdog mentality reflects his skepticism about the state. 

“I don’t trust the government,” he said. “If you allow the government to steamroll people that don’t have power, they’re gonna steamroll the people that do, the first chance they get.” 

His strategy is simple. “You have to keep the government in its little box. And if it ever steps out of the box, you smack it in the face and you put it back in the box.” 

Doucette grew up in Virginia Beach in a home where his mother and stepfather fought a lot. 

 I grew up in the type of home many would consider ‘white trash,’” Doucette wrote on the website for his state Senate campaign in 2016. “Poor, frequent substance abuse, more frequent domestic violence (something so ‘normal’ in my life I didn’t even know it was called ‘domestic violence’ until law school).

In high school, he was recruited by Massachusetts Institute of Technology for its computer engineering program, but he decided on attending North Carolina State University because tuition was cheaper.

Then, a setback: his parents refused to provide him with tax information, so Doucette couldn’t qualify for financial aid. He dropped out, worked odd jobs, lived out of his truck and used his girlfriend’s dorm room to shower. 

When he finally got enough money to enroll, he became president of the UNC Association of Student Governments, a group that includes student representatives from schools across North Carolina, including NC State. He eventually graduated with a degree in computer science. 

Doucette was fun but in a “nerdy” kind of way, said Ashley Yopp, who met him through the Association of Student Governments. At parties, instead of playing beer pong, Doucette would be deep in conversation with someone about a new idea. 

“He talks big, but he doesn’t put on airs,” Yopp said. “He is who he is.”

In August 2009, Doucette enrolled in NCCU’s School of Law, a historically Black college in Durham. He picked NCCU because it was cheaper than UNC. After graduating, he wanted to start a nonprofit called “NC SPICE” that would be an incubator for other attorneys trying to set up their practices. 

“The logo was a pepper grinder with the scales of justice, really slick, man,” he said, rummaging through his computer for a picture. 

But Doucette hit a speed bump when the IRS stopped processing applications for nonprofit groups. So Doucette started his own firm “kind of by accident.” He chose Durham because of the resources and connections at NCCU. He was sworn in as an attorney in 2012. (He eventually founded the nonprofit and now works as its executive director.) 

He started out focusing on business litigation and higher education law. He fell into criminal law by happenstance. 

“For whatever reason,” he said, “I still had this old-school Republican notion that criminal defense lawyers are just icky creatures.” 

* * *

In November 2013, Doucette took on a client who was a student at NCCU and had been caught selling weed. It became a turning point in his legal career.  

During their first conversation, according to Doucette, the student said he wanted to be “Durham’s weed man.” The student had brought a business plan on how to sell weed, complete with marketing projections and a color-coded map of everywhere in the country it was legal. 

“You know how you watch movies, and you hear the record-scratch moment, and everyone freezes? That’s how it was during the client interview,” Doucette recalled.  

Though he thought it would be impossible to help the student receive a lenient sentence, Doucette took on the case.

In February 2014, Doucette defended the student in court by arguing that the evidence for the case be suppressed. To his surprise, the court accepted his argument and dismissed the case. 

Later, in the hallway of the Durham courthouse, the client grabbed Doucette’s arm. 

“Bro, you are a white Jesus,” Doucette remembers him saying. “That was a miracle. Give me your business cards. I’m going to send all of my customers to you.” 

Sure enough, Doucette soon got a call. “[The student] said you’re a miracle worker. I caught a charge. I need your help,” the caller told him. The next day, Doucette got two more calls. Then, in March, on his birthday, Doucette received an email announcing someone had bought him a domain: www.durhamweedlawyer.com. The client had put his marketing skills to work. 

“So it ended up, by the middle of 2015, most of the people in Durham who were selling weed in a given part of town, I was their defense attorney,” Doucette said. 

To this day, many of his clients are still charged with drug-related crimes. He also represents protesters, whether from Moral Monday or Black Lives Matter — a part of his practice he describes as his “ministry.” 

“I do stuff on Twitter, but I also like being in the courtroom and being able to defend people who are being oppressed by their government,” he said. 

At its peak, his law firm, which is located on 311 East Main Street, had multiple attorneys, interns and a receptionist. Then, in 2016, he made a longshot bid for state Senate in a district that includes Durham County. Though he won more votes than any Republican to run for the seat and got an endorsement from INDY Week, he still lost badly to incumbent Mike Woodard. 

It was an “incredibly stupid” decision, he said — and it almost bankrupted his firm. 

Immersing himself in his campaign meant less time for marketing and finding new clients. His business crumpled. His attorneys left. The next year was dreadful for Doucette. 

“I’ve fallen into this rat race of churning through cases at the law firm to make rent each month,” he wrote in a blog post in April 2017. “But don’t really feel like I’m moving forward toward any given objective beyond rent-paying (which is a fantastically low goal in life). It’s terribly frustrating, especially for someone who’s climbed up from how far down I was back in 2000. And the way forward is a complete mystery to me.” 

Today, Doucette is the only employee at his firm. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, he works most days from home, where he lives with his wife, Jeanne Chen, an optometrist he married in October, and with his “kids”: a dog (Chance) and two cats (Biscuit and Oliver). When he goes into the office two times a week, it’s very quiet, and he keeps iTunes playing in the background. 

Beneath the cocky exterior, Doucette feels for others. Since 2015, he has organized an annual fundraiser to provide groceries for underprivileged elementary school kids in Durham. This year, he raised over $55,000. Lowes lent him an 18-wheeler to transport the 3,642 bags of groceries. 

“He had that truly human ability to put himself into people’s situations and to care for them as individuals,” recalled Myers-Davis, Doucette’s former attorney. “Many of his clients of the firm, even folks that I’ve worked with, have come back and said, ‘You know, I’m doing this and this because Greg gave me advice, not as my attorney, but as a person who really cared about me.’”

* * *

His strong feelings against police violence aren’t new. He says he has been sharing videos of police misconduct for the past 13 years.

Select your membership level and you can be part of Doucette’s #FSCK community.

“Do I hate police?” he wrote in one of his tweets. “No. I hate raging incompetent cowboys w/ badges financed by my tax money who clearly haven’t had an eye exam recently.”

Doucette has also been ranting about police misconduct on his “#Fsck ‘Em All” podcast. Like its creator, the podcast is a little geeky. “Fsck” is the name of a computer software tool for checking the consistency of a file system; Doucette describes his podcast as “your weekly consistency check on America’s political and legal filesystems.” It’s also a source of income: for $3 to $25 per month, fans can gain exclusive access to bonus episodes and “Become part of the #Fsck community!”

In his slight southern drawl, Doucette calls out cops from across the country: a North Carolina sex crimes detective who committed sex crimes, a Florida deputy who framed motorists for drug offenses, Texas cops who beat a domestic violence victim. 

“He is showing that you don’t have to be Black to call out social injustice,” said Deyaska Sweatman, one of Doucette’s law school classmates. “His megaphone is loud, not just because he’s really good in the Twitterverse. But his megaphone is loud because he really, really cares. He really has been fighting this fight from the beginning.”

In photo above, Doucette in front of the Durham County courthouse. Photo courtesy of T. Greg Doucette. 

‘I feel like nothing’s changed’: Black voters seek change through Triad congressional race

The Woolworth’s store on South Elm Street marks the start of downtown Greensboro. Its lunch counters, the catalyst of a national wave of sit-ins in 1960, are part of civil rights history that pulses through the city.

Sixty years later, there are new signs in downtown Greensboro that the movement for racial justice is still underway — and unfinished. The words “Black Lives Matter” are everywhere, including South Elm Street, painted onto the asphalt between February One Place and Washington Street.

In North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District, which includes Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point, some voters will be carrying those words to the polls this year. The recently redrawn district is predicted to vote overwhelmingly blue — Kathy Manning, the Democratic candidate, is highly favored — but for some of its Black residents, whose desires are neither monolithic nor zeroed on police, words are not enough. Wary of sweeping campaign commitments, they are seeking material improvements for their communities.

“I feel like nothing’s changed. I feel like it’s just more in the spotlight,” V. R. Baker, who has lived in Greensboro for 23 years, said. But national protests following the police killing of George Floyd have shifted her perspective. “Demonstrating was beautiful because it woke people up. It was like an earthquake that woke people up.” 

“When the George Floyd situation came through, it just opened up old wounds,” said Jaye Webb, chair of the Greensboro Criminal Justice Advisory Commission. 

For the Triad area, the wounds are deep and many: the 1979 killings of five residents by the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party during a march supporting Black textile workers where police failed to intervene, the 2018 police killing of Marcus Deon Smith, the 2019 killing of John Neville in Forsyth County Detention Center in Winston-Salem, long-unmet needs for basic community care and investment.

“Politicians, they say a lot of things, but they don’t necessarily act on them,” Ryan Upton, a junior at North Carolina A&T State University, said. “You can say it in front of us, but then when we’re going back to work and living our everyday busy lives, it’s like, okay, who really is doing it?”

The candidates have staked out distinct positions on the Black Lives Matter movement.

In a statement after Floyd’s killing, Manning wrote: “Too often, too many act as if black lives don’t matter. They do.”

Her campaign has neither discussed race further on its website, nor run Facebook or Google ads about race, according to online databases. 

During an interview with The 9th Street Journal, Lee Haywood, the Republican candidate, said: “I’m for ‘all lives matter.’ Yes, Black lives are included in there as well, but all lives matter.”

His campaign has not discussed race further on its website, though his first “issue” is public safety. His campaign has run one Facebook ad about the Black Lives Matter movement, which reads: “I belong to the oldest Black Lives Matter group in the nation: the Republican Party!” 

The candidates have not made clear what actions they plan to take in office against structural racism and police brutality.

Manning supports a ban on hogtying, the police practice that killed Smith and Neville, and she endorses the Justice in Policing Act, the House Democrats’ police reform bill, which she called “an important first step” in a statement without enumerating subsequent steps.

Haywood does not have a public plan. “The Republican Party, we’re not promising the Black people anything,” he said. “We’re not promising any checks. We’re not promising any freebies. We’re going to leave you alone as much as possible.”

In this moment of racial reckoning, though, Black voters say that they are not asking for “checks” or “freebies,” but for the government to repair systemic problems and tangibly serve communities in need.

“The problem is so deep-rooted. I would say, focus on mental health, expanding public education and the resources that it has, and also trying to secure these families that may not even have a place to live,” said Demetri Banks, a senior at A&T, referencing the low-income neighborhoods surrounding the university. “If we focus on that, everything will trickle down.”

Black voters interviewed by The 9th Street Journal said that when defunding the police is mentioned, it is about a need to realign budget priorities and redistribute funding to properly address social gaps.

“‘Defund the police,’ I feel like, is a stretch because they’re still needed, but I feel like if you’re going to give the money and resources to one emergency field, you should give it to the other,” said Christopher Slade, who has lived in Greensboro for 19 years. “If you have the resources to invest in police, tear gas, rubber bullets, then I feel like you should be able to invest in hospitals and help COVID research.”

Joy Kirk, who has lived near High Point for three years, has worried as much about her children’s interactions with the police as she has about her children’s safety after a recent rash of shootings in Greensboro and High Point.

“If the system wasn’t set up the way it was and designed for us to fail to begin with, there would be less Black-on-Black crime. But that justifies someone else, that’s held to a higher stature, to shoot and kill us?” she said.

In Webb’s work with the advisory commission, community members have urged broader investment in employment opportunities, healthcare, and crime prevention programs such as midnight basketball. 

“I don’t think we can allow police to police the police. I think if we don’t make moves on that, we could see the next Minneapolis,” he said.

For Webb and the commission, those moves involve increased transparency: repealing laws that could conceal police misconduct, establishing nationwide police decertification records, and making records about police personnel and correctional facilities widely accessible.

“It’s not in the matter of defunding the police from existence. I think it is reappropriating funds into other opportunities that would allow for communities to have resources,” he said. “Hopefully, our elected officials will understand not only that this is the right time, and that it’s not going away no time soon.”

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

Durham police confronting kids with guns sparks more demands for change

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.

Durham resident Travis Jones spoke Friday to the crowd outside of city hall. “Until these cops lose their badge or their paycheck, it’s going to be a problem for me,” he said. Photo by Henry Haggart

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. 

City Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton spoke to the families of children who police approached with guns drawn at Friday’s protest. Photo by Henry Haggart

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. 

City Council member Charlie Reese also addressed the protestors and urged them to push city leaders to address their concerns. Photo by Henry Haggart

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.

With Jaylin Harris at left, Zakarryya Cornelius thanked people for showing support Friday. The boy’s mother, Makeba Hoffler, stood behind him, to the right. Photo by Henry Haggart

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 henry.haggart@duke.edu

Top photo: After Friday’s protest finished, a child studied a sign protesters brought to Durham City Hall. Photo by Henry Haggart