Anything that could be thrown had to be removed.
In anticipation of a sizable citizen protest against Durham police on May Day, workers spent part of a stormy afternoon downtown picking up bricks. There were stacks of them on several corners, saved for streetscaping projects. But given the tense and often combative relationship between Durham Police and many citizens, particularly in communities of color, the streets needed swept of potential projectiles, apparently.
However, as if on cue, the storm clouds parted, the sun came out and the three-hour demonstration and march, held in solidarity with Baltimore protesters over police brutality, was peaceful. But if past is prologue, somewhere in America, any day now there will be another Freddie Gray.
Shortly before Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez lowered the boom by delivering the city's troubling first-quarter crime report Monday night, City Councilman Eddie Davis praised the 250 demonstrators and officers for keeping a cool head.
"I'm hoping that in 2015, the city council, school board, county commissioners, and the business community can sit down and discuss some of those issues to come up with solutions to prevent Durham from becoming involved in a situation like Baltimore," Davis said.
While not as dire as Baltimore, the situation in Durham is distressing. Besides officer-related shootings in 2013 and 2014, a man recently sued DPD over allegations of racial profiling. The INDY reported last fall that officers had used a bogus 911 call to gain access to a suspect's home, and most recently, a patrolman botched a search that allowed a man with heroin in his car to go free.
Beyond the anecdotes, the numbers unveiled Monday night are also dismal. Lopez reported that from January to March, violent crime in Durham rose 22 percent over the same period last year, driven by an increase in homicides (67 percent) and aggravated assaults (28 percent). In fact, in January, the monthly total of aggravated assaults reached a 13-year high.
As a result of the increase in violent crime, DPD launched a 90-day program, targeting the hardest-hit areas — East Weaver Street, South Roxboro, East Cornwallis Road, McDougald Terrace and Liberty Street, to flush the suspects out of the brush. Twenty-five people were arrested. (In an unrelated bust, DPD broke up a robbery ring.)
"I appreciate the proactive steps you took in the 90-day plan," said Councilman Steve Schewel. "You involved so many citizens in the neighborhoods for walk and talks. It makes a big difference. It's a good step."
OK, great. Officers are doing their jobs. Still, overall DPD cleared just half of its cases—arresting, issuing a warrant for or charging a suspect—down from 68 percent last year.
Among the goals that emerged from nearly a year of public and private meetings about improving DPD's trust and transparency was hiring more officers who live in Durham. Just 42 percent are city residents, according to a report issued last fall.
Finding qualified applicants appears to be a major problem. Of the 65 people who applied to become police recruits in the first quarter, 16 were from Durham.
The pool of successful Durhamites gets smaller when you consider the number of applicants who failed either the written or physical test. Of the 14 failures, half were from Durham.
Citizens will have opportunities to comment on several important police-related matters in May and June.
Six public forums will be held this month on the use of body cameras. Although dates have not yet been set, Durhamites can expect a report on written consent searches and a response to the Justice Department's recent findings about gun crime in the city.
The rate of African-American boys and men ages 15–34 being killed by a gun in Durham is 41.6 per 100,000 people, about eight times the national rate. By contrast, the rate is 38 for Hispanics, and just 7.2 for whites.
That's what protesters here, in Baltimore and in other U.S. cities are getting at: Behind the statistics, there are people.
Durham Police Department is hosting several feedback sessions for the public to comment on the potential use of body cameras. Issues may include privacy, release of video footage, costs, video storage and access and recording protocol.
WHEN AND WHERE
This article appeared in print with the headline "The age of violence"