by Ken Fine
on Mon, Nov 28, 2016 at 11:17 PM
It was five shots. Or was it four?
There was a struggle. Orwas he running away from police when he was gunned down?
He fired at officers. Or did a shot even ring out before bullets left the chamber of a Durham Police Department-issued gun?
Those who showed up to a community meeting at T.A. GradyRecreation Center this evening—a gathering designed to bring city police and residents of McDougald Terrance together in the aftermath of the fatal shooting, by the DPD, of Frank “Scooter Bug” Clark—did not get the answers to those questions.
Of course, we don’t know that because we heard theconversation, as media was barred from entering the facility, but several attendees—some who said they were instructed to avoid talking to the press about what unfolded during the session—spoke with the INDY as they left.
But why was the media prohibited from attending? And why were the residents in attendance told they could not record or take photographs?
“They said it was to protect our identity—to make sure we could speak our minds without putting our safety in jeopardy,” one resident said.
So that would explain why the DPD posted this on Twitter during the meeting ...
Engaging community. Building trust. Community policing. DPD holding conversations with McDougald Terrace residents. pic.twitter.com/Olz8oXypoI
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's start with how we got to the point where a meeting was necessary in the first place.
Last week, less than twenty-four hours after the Durham City Council voted 5-2 to spend $1.4 million dollars on hundreds of body cameras to be worn by its police officers, a member (or perhaps, members) of the DPD gunned down Clark in McDougald Terrace.
Eyewitnesses interviewed by the INDY shortly after the shooting said it started when an unmarked police car was seen “circling the block”—prompting “everyone who was out here to take to running.” But one man, Clark, remained—walking away slowly until he “locked eyes” with an officer he knew. The man, the witness said, fled and moments later, five gunshots rang out—one of them the headshot that she believes resulted in Clark’s death.
But that isn't the narrative police chief C.J. Davis provided to the press a few hours after the incident. Reading from a news release, she stated that officers “encountered a man on foot around 12:30 p.m. and stopped to speak with him. During the conversation, the man made a sudden movement toward his waistband and a struggle ensued. During the struggle, the officers heard a gunshot. In response, an officer fired his weapon.”
And when asked by the INDY if it was “common practice” for Durham police to “start firing if they hear a gunshot,” the chief said “if it’s relatively close or if I feel that that gunshot came from the individual I’m encountering." (She then said she didn't know if the officers on the scene felt that way or whether or not the shooting was justified)
Those who live in McDougald Terrace were less than satisfied with her explanation. A protest unfolded the following day outside police headquarters. Clark's family retained an attorney. And then, the "meeting" was announced—an event that angered many of those who converged on the rec center to be a part of it.
Umar Muhammad, a community organizer with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said it accomplished nothing.
“I believe that the Durham Police Department … has taken anopportunity to scratch our residents of Durham behind the ear. I feel like it was an opportunity to pretend that you care—to pretend that you were present. You did not listen. You gave speeches. … I was very offended," he said. “If the city was listening, they would have heard, ‘Stop giving us the help that you want us to have and give us the help that we’re asking for.' We are looked at by the sum of our worst mistakes by this police department.”
And Dorel Clayton characterized it as "damage control"—an attempt by the DPD to "gauge" whether or not the city's black community was still enraged by what unfolded last Tuesday.
A man who asked to remain anonymous was shocked not just by the format of the meeting, but by the fact that only one member of the City Council, Steve Schewel, attended. And as for the majority of the police officers who were present—some greeted with cries of "murderer" and "fuck the police"—he said, "This is the first and last time we’ll see them over here. And the same thing gonna happen next week.”
In response to an INDY tweet about the lack of council members present, Jillian Johnson, a councilwoman who was lauded by many interviewed this evening for "reaching out to the community and the family" in the aftermath of the shooting, said she believed the meeting was closed to members of the board.
@indyweek My understanding was that this mtg was just for residents. A few of us hope to meet with residents this weekend.
But Mel Clairborne wasn't concerned about who was or wasn't at the meeting. She was focused on the plight of blacks living inside the city limits—and the police department's shortcomings.
“How long is it gonna take for us to be comfortable in ourcommunity? How long is it gonna take for us to be safe to walk the streets? I just believe that it’s time for them to weed through their officers. They have to find out who’s good and who’s bad," she said. “This might be a wakeup call to say, ‘Control your officers.Find a better solution other than pullin’ out your gun. You have a taser, a baton and pepper spray. Lethal force is not needed. There is only so much we can do as a community. It’s up to the officers if they want a change.”
Travis Mason isn't counting on the fact that change is coming. The forty-one-year-old said the same narrative plays out time and time again.
“For you to step back and see ain’t no guns raised andnobody’s pointing a gun at nobody and you just start shootin’, come on man. Where is the safety and the protection?" he said. "We’re targeted. We’re targeted as a people."
And when an unmarked car rolls onto the block, it's terrifying. And that, he said, is what led to Clark fleeing and being shot.
“It scares me. I become afraid immediately. … They’re comingto do something. They comin’ to bring harm. I’m gonna turn around. I’m gonna run. I’m gonna get away from the situation. … It scares the hell out of me.”