Protest decries Durham, N.C., police brutality

Durham, N.C. — On Sept. 16, the Durham community organization FADE (Fostering Alternatives to Drug Enforcement) organized a protest against the racist profiling and brutality of the Durham Police Department. FADE was joined by the Durham branch of Workers World Party, along with Liberty and Justice for Carlos Riley Jr. Chanting and raising signs to denounce these crimes, more than 100 protesters marched from the Police Department to Durham City Hall.

Recent attacks by the Durham police include the fatal shooting of Jose Ocampo, a beloved Honduran father, as well as unwarranted, brutal assaults on both Stephanie Nickerson, a young African-American Navy veteran, and Carlos Riley Jr., a young African-American member of the Durham community. Moreover, on Sept. 14, another young African-American man, Jonathan Ferrell, a former Florida A&M football player, was shot 10 times and killed by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Randall Kerrick. Then on Sept. 17, Durham police shot and killed 26-year old African-American Derek Walker.

Speakers at the event included Nia Wilson, an organizer with FADE, and David Hall, an attorney who was struck by a stray bullet during one of the police shootings.

The racist bias of the Durham Police Department is evidenced by the offensive public statements made by Police Chief Jose Lopez Sr. In response to allegations of brutality, Lopez was quoted as saying that Hall “deserved to be shot because he was a public defender” and the other victims were criminals. (wral.com, Sept. 4) These statements were made despite the fact that there was no proof the victims were guilty of any crime.

The protest, however, did not just concern individual events or the bad behavior of individual officers. Rather, the problem is much more systemic. Racist profiling in Durham is alarmingly common. Although 252 complaints of misconduct were leveled against the police department over the last five years, only five of them were reviewed, and all of them were dismissed.

According to a study by University of North Carolina professor Dr. Frank Baumgartner, African-American drivers are more than 200 percent likely to be stopped by the police than white motorists. Statistics like these show that the problem is not just a “few bad apples” or the misbehavior of individual officers. The problem lies, rather, in the systematic way in which the Durham Police Department behaves as a whole.

“It’s not about one person,” said David Hall. “Removing one element will not change anything. We have to really examine the culture.” (tinyurl.com/msukvba)

Members of FADE distributed a manifesto at the event, which demanded that members of the police department be held accountable for their behavior and that, within the next 30 days, Chief Lopez, along with the city manager, the head of the civilian review board, and at least one city council member attend Phase-1 Foundation Training in Historical and Institutional Racism.