HUD rules, intended for good, impede Durham Housing Authority development plans in Northeast-Central Durham
Before the community forums on Durham Police Chief search, a time for reflection

Cops and Cocoa Cinnamon: C'mon, folks, let's give credit when the D.P.D. does something right for a change

I've been trying to make sense of this odd story emerging about Cocoa Cinnamon's recent, and quickly regretted, partnership with the Durham Police Department to reward folks obeying crosswalk rules.

Dpd_crosswalkAs part of the operation, bike officers gave a coupon for a free coffee from the popular Durham business for those it spotted obeying the law -- a positive reward, instead of the usual warning or citation.

The response was... swift. On Instagram, for instance, many of the comments to Cocoa Cinnamon's partnership announcement were apoplectic.

"This post is problematic," said one. "Disturbing, insensitive, and harmful," said another. "The police are terrifying," said a third. "Get woke. This is supremacy," said a fourth.

Which led to a Herald-Sun article capturing the backpedaling of Cocoa Cinnamon in the wake of the criticism, and to this post from a Cocoa Cinnamon barista/brand-new Clarion Content editor.

And, most unfortunately, a tweet from an Indy Week writer, which manages to use a popular, problematic porcine pejorative in referring to Durham's police, a line I'm surprised to see crossed.

So let me be direct. It really seems worth stepping back a bit from the rhetorical extreme to put this campaign in context.

The Durham community has been extraordinarily vocal, and effective, in expressing its disdain for the D.P.D.'s leadership and behavior in recent cases -- disdain that's driven the City to turn out its police chief, and which is driving moves towards reform in drug enforcement prioritization and conditions for those incarcerated.

And more voices than ever have been calling for genuine community policing and engagement, criticizing outgoing Chief Jose Lopez for the department's failures on this front.

All of which makes the seeming notion that there can be, should be, no collaboration with police -- when the police are doing exactly what the community seems to be asking for -- naive at best, antisocial at its worst imagined extreme.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There's plenty of understandable reasons to criticize the Durham police, of course. And indeed, those have been the source of plenty of stories in recent years, finally culminating with Lopez's resignation.

Questionable use of force? Check. A teenager dying in custody of a supposedly self-inflicted gunshot wound? Affirmative. Racial biases in traffic stop and arrest patterns? Sure.

Falling crime rates despite these controversies? Well, er. No. Actually, the opposite.

So all told, it's hard not to be cynical and frustrated with police-community relations.

But seeing Durham Police Department officers -- the District 5 bike squad, no less -- getting out and about to encourage pedestrian and bike safety?

That's exactly the kind of policing we say we want, and say we need.

But it seems to me we're having a hard time separating the logical rationale and benefits of the program from the current, highly-charged emotions around the police.

Let's not forget that it wasn't so many years ago that you couldn't get the D.P.D. to care one whit about pedestrian and bike safety.

I sat in a City Hall office not so many years back with fellow neighbors, meeting with City transportation chief Mark Ahrendsen and since-fired D.P.D. senior officer B.J. Council.

We were there to talk about pedestrian safety on Duke St., where an African-American woman was killed by a speeding car and dragged along the roadway in a gruesome hit-and-run I'm not sure was ever solved.

Witnessing Council barely able to restrain her amusement at the case -- literally, it looked like she found that particular case funny, perhaps due to some knowledge of or assumptions about the deceased's position at the margins of society -- are forever seared into my memory. (Ahrendsen, a civil servant I greatly respect, had a marked discomfort on his face.) 

And I remember my own frustration at a Trinity Park neighborhood meeting when another D.P.D. senior officer intimated that targeting speeders in urban neighborhoods was less of a priority than assigning officers for funeral procession duty, with an intimation that that resonated with a broader segment of Durham's population.

Never mind the drumbeat of students, adults, seniors and others killed or maimed as pedestrians in a very pedestrian-unsafe community.

Or the dangers bicyclists -- including one now-deceased Durham friend of mine -- face in just trying to use the roads they're entitled to.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Yet we have to give credit where credit's due: the whole point of the D.P.D.'s crosswalk campaign, part of the broader Watch For Me NC effort, is to address exactly this problem.

As the most recent (2014) report from the statewide program reminds us, this kind of outreach campaign wasn't foisted on us, but is exactly something our community asked for:

It is important to consider ways of institutionalizing pedestrian and bicycle safety actions and priorities. For example, in Durham, the Inter‐Neighborhood Council (INC) called upon the city’s police department to focus more on pedestrian and bicycle safety enforcement. In response, the police department developed a strategic plan that directly relates to the INC’s petition and explains how the department will continue supporting the Watch for Me NC program.

Digging further, this program seems to hit exactly the kinds of community-oriented policing notes that we're roundly criticizing D.P.D. for not doing:

  • The program seems focused on education, not punitive outcomes. Drivers received warnings for failure-to-yield about as often as pedestrians and bicycles received warnings; yet actual citations were given only to drivers (96% of all citations), and even then only one-tenth as often as warnings were issued. (Adam Haile adds an important qualifier to this in the comments.)
  • The campaign includes extensive education for police officers on the rules that apply to drivers, pedestrians and bikers, with police showing much greater knowledge/awareness of ped/bike rights, and a statistically-significant increase in their appreciation for and prioritization of focusing on pedestrian safety.
  • The effort also focuses on raising citizen awareness of bike and pedestrian safety -- from posters, to earned and paid media, to bumper stickers and informational cards.

In short, this is a case where police are doing exactly what we, as a community, have asked them to do: focus on keeping our very vulnerable non-motorist population safer by changing driver and bike/ped behaviors alike.

And doing it in an area, as the H-S notes, where there's heavy bike/ped activity, the perfect place for focused enforcement and educational efforts like this one.

When we hold police to account for not meeting our community's norms of equity, safety and justice, as so many in this community have done in recent years, I assume that we're doing so in opposition to current practices, not in opposition to the general concept of policing.

It is quite impossible to imagine a community where police do not exist. Law enforcement is a necessary part of society, full stop, and I would challenge the liberals among us (a number within which I count myself) to find any conceptualization of mainstream Western political thought that excludes the use of force by the state for the common good.

(I'm partial to the Lockean expansion on Hobbesian philosophy -- that life is less nasty, brutish and short when we give up any interest in a supposed natural right to self-defense and, with our fellow men and women, imbue that right in a state and its absorption of the use of mortal force. But the concept exists by definition in any state.)

We can, and should, debate and advocate for better policing that reflects our community values.

But the explicit messaging coming out of the activists who've criticized Cocoa Cinnamon in this case are, to me, unrealistic and lacking grounding in civic life.

A categorical claim that all police, and policing, are inherently racist, prejudiced and violent, and should somehow be kept out of "safe spaces" where those suspicious of police may exist, is a bridge too far.

Those activists who have so personally, so loudly, called the D.P.D. to account deserve credit for changing the community conversation on policing.

But when a subset of those voices seemingly call for a negation of the police's role in Durham life, it's a protest we cannot, must not, countenance or accept.

Comments

Adam Haile

Kevin, one factual point that I think is important. You write that, "drivers received warnings for failure-to-yield about as often as pedestrians and bicycles received warnings." That's true of the state as a whole but not of Durham. The DPD chose to only target pedestrians for warnings, not drivers. Check the breakdown on p. 23 of the PDF you linked: DPD issued 150 pedestrian warnings, 0 to drivers (and no citations to anyone). In fact, the DPD was the only organization in the state that chose to target only pedestrians.

I applaud the DPD's wish to become more educated on bike/ped issues, but I find it troubling that they appear to feel pedestrians are the problem exclusively. If I remember correctly, when the TPNA conducted a "walk audit" in 2012 on Buchanan, Duke and Gregson, they found that >90% of drivers failed to yield at crosswalks.

This, incidentally, was why the recent event was held at the Cocoa Cinnamon intersection. The DPD is holding these at the (few) intersections that have walk/don't walk signals, like Geer/Foster, because they're looking to warn pedestrians who don't obey the signal. None of the events have been held at the far more common non-signaled crosswalks, where the problem is drivers failing to yield.

Jenny

Well, something that I am thinking about here, trying to put myself in other peoples' shoes, is that the area the police targeted is really really white and really for well-off people. It's probably the whitest part of the city, except for 27713. So out of context, it's GREAT that the police are doing this particular event. It's positive! It's community policing!

But the distrust and the oppressive effects of the DPD with black and other minority Durhamites runs both wide and deep. So this initiative is tone deaf. I think a better effort would be to engage the black community and ask THEM what will help gain back trust.

A pedestrian and cyclist safety program that hands out vouchers for fancy coffees in an area of town frequented almost entirely by wealthier, white residents really has bad optics.

Kevin Davis

@Adam: I'm glad you raised this data point, which I missed in the document and certainly is unfortunate.

I would note that this year, I'm seeing a marked increase in pedestrian safety/crossing enforcement with cars pulled over on a daily basis at Lamond and Gregson. DSA parents have pressed hard for more enforcement there, after a student was hit by a car (fortunately not killed) near campus a few years back. I've seen a "priority pedestrian enforcement" sign at the crosswalk and DPD cruisers stationed at the heirlooms store, frequently pulling folks over.

My hope is, the DPD is adding more vehicular enforcement this year than in the past. (The Watch For Me NC report goes on to note that the 2014 DPD strategic plan adds in the department's ongoing interest in Watch For Me, and "places a new emphasis on traffic enforcement to enhance bicycle and pedestrian safety" -- I wonder if the Lamond/Gregson enforcement this year is indeed a sign of changing behaviors. Indeed, the 2014 report states that DPD stepped up speed enforcement near schools as part of the program, so perhaps those car data aren't included by DPD in the numbers provided on p. 23.)

Even excepting this, a program that "rewards" or recognizes safe pedestrian behavior (e.g., in the current environment of smartphone-distracted pedestrians) is, I would argue, still a step towards more positive community engagement. Though absolutely, to your point, DPD needs to be addressing unsafe/ped unfriendly drivers just as much, if they indeed aren't doing that.

Just another commenter

"I've been trying to make sense of this odd story"

There is nothing odd about this. Your first clue is that the outrage was not directed at DPD. Your second clue is the tactic used: online intimidation.

(Side note: For a chuckle, read the "threats" against Cocoa Cinnamon on the instagram page. Apparently Dunkin Donuts is the new choice of choosy anarchist coffee drinkers everywhere. Who knew??)

If you're interested to learn more, these were big eye openers to me:

https://medium.com/@aristoNYC/social-justice-bullies-the-authoritarianism-of-millennial-social-justice-6bdb5ad3c9d3#.1j3onald4

https://www.ted.com/talks/jon_ronson_what_happens_when_online_shaming_spirals_out_of_control?language=en

Watch the Monica Lewinsky TED talk if you'd like a more emotional take on it. Yes. That Monica Lewinsky did a TED on the internet shame cycle.

Or, perhaps you'd like something closer to home? Talk to Gray Brooks:

https://www.bullcityrising.com/2015/09/res-ipsa-locavore.html

Get thyself woken indeed.

Jeremy

I first read about this "story" in the Herald-Sun, which is still technically an actual newspaper. I considered writing about it, but when I went to check social media I noticed how few comments there really were. The H-S turned a couple of stray posts into a "story." The complaints were levied by a tiny, tiny group of people, and their voices were amplified by the way we consume media.

People like to *feel* like they're doing something, and it's certainly far easier to post an angry comment on Instagram or FaceBook than it is to *actually* do something. It's arguably a good sign that this is the worst thing people can find to be Internet Outraged over in Durham this week.

I don't know what to really say about Cocoa Cinnamon's response. It's a difficult line to walk as a small business owner; you definitely don't want to alienate anybody on political grounds, but showing any sympathy to the anti-cop stance is itself taking a political stand with equal risks. I would have ignored the complaints myself, but then I'm just posting an Internet Comment and not running an actual coffee shop where people gotta get paid.

John

How do I like Jeremy's post? :>

Cycling 4 Civics

"We can, and should, debate and advocate for better policing that reflects our community values. But the explicit messaging coming out of the activists who've criticized Cocoa Cinnamon in this case are, to me, unrealistic and lacking grounding in civic life.
A categorical claim that all police, and policing, are inherently racist, prejudiced and violent, and should somehow be kept out of "safe spaces" where those suspicious of police may exist, is a bridge too far."

Yep, well said. If the core message of the activists is "all police are racist, period" then that is a non-starter as far as community engagement goes and reflects poorly on the credibility of the protesters (if we're all gonna do the "guilt-by-association" thing).

I was really disappointed with the Clarion piece by the new editor. Thanks to BCR, I have come to expect a higher bar of objectivity and credibility in my local blogging sources.

Rann

@Jenny: thank you, for being one of the few white folks who actually get why this is really quite bad. Tiny, incremental 'improvements' meant to satisfy privileged people in this town who can afford $5 coffee and who can call the cops without fear of being abused (full disclosure: I'm very much one of those privileged people), do nothing but increase class and racial divides. Cocoa Cinnamon doesn't really need community policing. Nor does Trinity Park, or Old West, where friendly cops communicate nicely and politely on the neighborhood listserv and cycle around on bikes...

Rann

As for 'all cops are racist': anyone who thinks that is the core message is living in fantasy land of fear. The police in the US _AS AN INSTITUTION_ is a racist one. This directly affects the culture of policing and thus individual cops. Law enforcement throughout the country consistently targets minorities and low income folks, while giving more privileged people the impression that all is fine, because their neighborhoods are 'safe'. Many people believe all cops are racist because that is all they encounter: violent, heavy handed tactics in their neighborhoods. Again, appeasing a population that doesn't really understand why the institution of policing in this country is highly problematic solves absolutely nothing, and further alienates vulnerable populations.

For All Beings

To me, it's not that there's anything fundamentally bad about the police offering free coffee. It's that many of us as a community are still waiting to see meaningful steps from the DPD towards the true and deep healing needed after the murder of unarmed citizens and the continuation of racist policing. This isn't that, and we can't act like things are OK.

If someone in my neighborhood was ripped out of the web of life by a member of an organization, I would have trouble smiling because that organization then turned around and offered me a coupon.

True healing begins with listening, and being willing to understand that our actions and systems have caused suffering. This has not begun to happen with the depth needed to address the unacceptable deaths and consequences of racist policing that ruin entire lives.

It is the responsibility of the organization whose actions and weapons have caused the suffering to begin this process for our communities. Well intentioned as a coupon may be, this isn't a step towards real reconciliation.

A 21st century police force needs to ask what it is to really serve all citizens. A goal of a 21st century police force should be to see not one life ruined by their actions - not one. I dream of a cooperative police force that grieves with the community when any life is taken and that thinks deeply and honestly about the effects of law enforcement on a life and a community. I dream of a police force that is dedicated not to safety, but to peace, and one where the police become an ally to citizens in the work of healing and restoring the web of connections in neighborhoods shattered by violence and inequality - where the first question asked of someone on the street corner of a poor neighborhood isn't "What are you doing out here?" but "How can I serve you?"

Cooperation is possible, but listening and healing has to come first.

Brian Hawkins

I think Rann alludes to a point that deserves emphasis: the statements "all cops are racists" and "the institution of policing in the US is inherently racist" are not equivalent. The former is clearly untrue. The latter is at the very least up for discussion.

People of all perspectives on policing would do well to be very clear what they mean when they talk about this.

As for the giving out "tickets" for free coffee thing...I don't see the harm in it, but I'm hard pressed to see how it helps. It's a bit like a band-aid on a compound fracture.

Joshua Allen

To vilify all police because some are racist is completely and utterly discriminatory and stupid. Some folks are treating the police as evil and the ones we need to be afraid of. This is utter non-sense. The police put their own lives at risk to protect us. There are some bad seeds and there is even great opportunity to better educate police as a whole. However to treat all police as the enemy is both dangerous and downright the worst thing we could do for the folks who put their lives on the line everyday to protect us all.

The Mgmt.

These crosswalk trolls are a signal to qualified prospective police chiefs: Do not come here, because Durham is a place where cops are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

Carol Henderson

I was surprised by people's reaction too. Don't you want the police to encourage safety? Two years ago the police stopped at my shop at Brightleaf Square with leaflets regarding pedestrian safety. Doug, the officer said they would be enforcing correct behavior (no jay walking, etc). in the downtown area. It makes sense to me. I'm amazed at the number of drivers who pass another car at pedestrian crossings. Where is the civility? When it comes to oblivious pedestrians Whole Foods takes the prize. 1)Make sure you are engrossed with your cellphone, 2)don't make eye contact with the driver and 3)just walk out.

Hurrah for the police! Let's prevent accidents, not wait until someone is killed or injured. I did see what looked like a bike/car collision at the Cocoa/King's intersection quite awhile back.

Carol Henderson

I missed the comments about targeting this area because its "really really white and really well off people." There is definitely a mix of people in this area. People living further down Geer walk from the neighborhood. King's and Stone Bros. have customers from all walks of life. I don't frequent the coffee shop, but it looks like mainly young people who want to hang out with friends and not spend a lot of money on dinner. By the way, I consider myself middle class, middle aged and white, but not really well off.

Adam Haile

Kevin, I'm also hopeful that the DPD is now addressing driver behavior as well. I believe I heard Sarvis is presenting to BPAC at the February meeting, so maybe we'll get an update.

There's been a lot of progress on bike/ped stuff this last year, which is great, but as inevitably happens, some of these victories end up revealing the next battle. (Yay, DPD is in WatchForMeNC! Oh ... they think pedestrians are the problem. Or: Yay, Council has funded another bike/ped planner! Oh ... Bonfield is unconvinced and is rejecting it anyway. And so on. Bonfield did come around, by the way).

I suspect bike/ped issues are the sideshow in this story, so back to the main thread.

Ram Neta

Thank you, Kevin, for this excellent post. I'm also impressed by the excellent comments above, which point to the complexity of the issues raised by this seemingly tiny story. But there's one thing I'd like to add. While there's plenty of evidence of systemic racism in police practices (not just in many municipalities in the United States, but in many other countries as well), there's also plenty of evidence of systemic racism in educational practices. (See, for instance, Jason Stanley's recent book "How Propaganda Works" for a compendium of some of the very extensive data on this point.) I assume that no one thinks that the systemic racism in education should lead us to criticize every effort that teachers make to do what their constituents demand of them. If people are unwilling to extend the same courtesy to police officers, is that just because police racism can result in immediate death, whereas the damage that educational racism is capable of doing is much less sudden and obvious?

Danielle

Finally catching up after a very busy close of Q4 at work and time off for the holidays...I was rather surprised by this. I'm significantly connected to local activism and didn't hear even a whisper of this one.

What I've learned about police is that there pretty much aren't good ones as such; the best you can hope for is neutral. Those neutral officers may even be a majority, but they're not going to do anything to reign-in bad ones, and that is what knocks them down from good. There is the a significant demand within departments to support officers regardless what they do, and those who blow the whistle on problems are well known to receive retribution for it. Until that is addressed the view that they are bad as a whole will stand, and when it comes to individual officers it is rather like that situation women face when dealing with men: there's no good way to know which will be okay and which will turn out to be an assailant until the moment the latter happens.

While not having particularly bad experiences I had several of the questioning because I was walking down the street and very aggressive responses when I stated "I am exercising my right to not answer questions." One traffic stop (in the Triangle but not Durham) started off with the officer approaching with his gun drawn, and the officer's demeanor obviously changed before speaking. Presumably, the officer decided that a middle-age white woman with a BMW (motorcycle, so the badge couldn't be seen from behind) was not the person to do that with.

Will Wilson

Do you know if the officer that stopped you had a report of armed folks in a BMW? If so, wouldn't approaching the vehicle with gun drawn be appropriate? Gosh, these officers are people with spouses, children, and parents that work in an extremely dangerous job approaching people that fire guns at them. How about thanking them for their service?

Jeff Bakalchuck

@Will Well said my friend, well said indeed.

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