Durham City Council delays vote on police HQ because there may be a better idea
Today's agenda: an epic City Council meeting that includes the dog poop ordinance

The deafening silence of gunfire (politically speaking, that is)

At last Wednesday's citizens-against-crime meeting called by anti-violence nonprofit founder Rodney Williams -- and covered in good depth by both the Herald-Sun and the N&O -- there were a number of regular citizens in attendance, but the room at the north Durham Golden Corral was overwhelmingly filled with Durhamites already fully-engaged in efforts to quell violent crime.

Besides Williams and Kitora Mason of the Walk For Life group, attendees included Pat James, of Durham's Long Ball Program - Durham's Triple Play, a group that uses baseball as a learning and belonging opportunity for at-risk youth; Walter Jackson, of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People; and DeWarren Langley, who's long been involved in anti-crime initiatives and frequently honored for community activism.

There was Diana Powell, a jail instructor-cum-minister and a man who works to help youth become unentangled from gangs; a single City Council candidate (Charlie Reece); Larry Thomas, founder of the Thomas Mentor Leadership Academy, which engages young men to provide a male role model and leadership inspiration. There was former County Commission candidate and bail bondsman Omar Beasley, too.

And from the Durham Police Department, we had Assistant Chief Ed Sarvis and Chief Jose Lopez.

Still, the turnout was relatively small; 30 or 40 in attendance, perhaps, and most already engaged in anti-crime efforts, largely through civic groups that seek to provide alternative paths to at-risk youth -- or to encourage residents, when that fails, to partner with the police to report criminal activities in their neighborhoods.

That the group was so well-connected already to the fight against crime seemed to suggest to Lopez that those who could most benefit from the conversation weren't there.

"Quite frankly, sometimes I think I’m preaching to the choir, and I don’t need a choir," Lopez said after acknowledging that he knew many of those in attendance that night. He wished instead that the room had more parents who were leaving their children unattended and at risk for gang involvement, or those whose children or neighbors were turning to violence.

Lopez did acknowledge his thanks towards those who did show up -- "Lately most of these meetings I’ve been to, it hasn’t been about solutions.  It’s been about problems, about accusations," Lopez said, a clear reference to the very public protests and scrutiny on the Durham P.D. thanks to the Carlos Riley and Jesus Huerta cases, among others.

The focus of the crowd last Wednesday was clearly not on those well-publicized cases, but instead on the rash of shootings that have plagued Durham in recent weeks, and which have continued since: gunfire near Trinity Park late last week, and an armed home invasion in eastern Durham over the weekend. And, sadly, yet another homicide between the time I started writing this story and the time I finished it.

Which must lead one to wonder: why do we have more turnout to meetings on downtown preservation, transit, and, God help us all, a freakin' new grocery store, than we do on an issue that continues to plague our city -- and which, by all metrics, has grown worse in the last few years after more than a decade of declines?

And more troubling still, in an election where so many candidates (and, we suspect, endorsing PACs, too) have had a timely but singular focus on addressing D.P.D.'s well-scrutinized faults, why are few if any speaking out on what they see as the challenge of crime?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

First things first. I certainly consider myself a liberal -- as most of my readership is. Not that I've divined that from some great readership poll; simply put, in a community where three-quarters of our voting base pulled the "blue" lever over the "red" one in the last couple of Presidential elections, it's just a fair assumption.

And I find that liberals, including me, seem uncomfortable talking about crime, when it comes to the actual topic of senseless violent acts in the community.

Perhaps it's because the American right wing has co-opted the idea of law and order. Going back to the dark days of Strom Thurmond, George Wallace, and other Southern white segregationists, talking about crime has practically become dog-whistle language -- a way of separating the fas from the nefas, the "good people" from the implied (and, it's insinuated, dark-skinned) menace.

The unseemly side of everything from WRAL and WTVD comment threads ("why won't The Media tell us what the attacker was?"), to the code-words seemingly pervading every Fox News story on sensational crimes, to that arch-conservative relative we have who posts on Facebook -- we see that continuing to this day.

And of course, I tend to find that liberals are more interested in finding policy solutions to issues rather than engaging in the emotion-rich populism that pervades the right's discussion of crime.

When rising crime rates go up, we tend to want to talk about whether we have enough programs and resources to prevent the scourge. And, there's a lot of focus on important policy issues around the disproportionate and unfair systems in place for those caught up in a crime.

White and suburban, caught with a joint? Community service or a diversion program for you. Found with something harder in a different neighborhood, on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks? More likely to face consequences -- and the future stigmatization in jobs, education, even marriage that follows.

And the school-to-prison pipeline, and the high rates of incarceration that mark America's minority communities in particular, are a national shame.

Indeed, we're making some small progress locally on this, such as the announcement last week of expanded diversion programs for young first-time non-violent offenders -- those found to have shoplifted or to possess drugs. Getting these youth help, not a prison sentence, is a great alternative and the right thing to do.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Yet there is, and must be, discussion not just of the policy actions that can bend the shape and tenor of our future -- that can divert youth from turning to crime -- but also of the need for immediate action to stop the level of violence in too many of Durham's communities.

To the voices in the room last Wednesday, there are real and immediate alternatives and solutions out there, and I fear they don't always get the same attention that the more policy-wonk issues do.

Williams, the event's organizer, has for several years held his Walk For Life events in communities struck by violence -- the next event comes up on September 19 -- told of the warnings he had heard from some that he or his marchers could be targeted by gangs for trying to bring community members out in a take-back-our-streets show of solidarity.

But Williams described as essential the need to encourage residents to speak up to the police when crime is being committed.

“Say you've got a bad problem in this neighborhood but you know its only two people in that neighborhood” who are reporting issues to the police, Williams posited. “You got to organize to get fifteen in the neighborhood” to make an impact and reduce the impact of pressure and fear on those who would call crimes in. “We’re going to have to do something different.”

Yet Williams also described, achingly, the immediate pain that leads so many to choose the wrong path.

He talked about the hot dogs he provides during events in communities, as a way of enticing residents (especially kids) to come up and talk about crime and peace. In one event in Braggtown, a young boy was peeking out from behind the truck; when the boy was comfortable coming up, he wolfed down hot dogs heartbreakingly quickly, having not eaten in three days. According to the boy, his parents were selling their public food benefits to get money for drugs.

"You got to go through the parents to get to the kids," said Williams. "You're not seeing what I'm seeing."

The idea of active citizens stepping in, almost in loco parentis, was a common refrain from members of the group.

Juanita Johnson -- the property manager of a house targeted during an August shooting, who was at the house fixing the pilot light on the stove so that the residents could resume cooking for a birthday party (the event was erroneously reported, it seems, as a cookout) -- noted that the Long Ball baseball program gets 120 kids off the street, but it's impossible to get Durham residents or even the kids' own parents to give the children attention.

"The only time we've got a full house is on opening day" when the mayor and other luminaries are present, she noted, adding that many parents drop their kids off and don't stay to watch them play.

Johnson spoke passionately about her own willingness to step up and help, and encouraged others to do the same.

“If everybody would stop when they see a child on the street late at night,” Johnson said, it would make a difference. “If they're hungry, I'm going to feed them; if they need a ride, I’m going to give them a ride.”

“If I can take the time out and give up my precious time with my precious children, if everybody in Durham would do the same thing, we wouldn't have any problems,” Johnson said.

To DeWarren Langley, the question is not one of there being enough resources, but of community members being aware of the resources -- and, just as importantly, being motivated to make use of them.

"We don’t need to talk about the problem anymore.  We hear about children that are in need, parents that are in need.  Durham has a wealth of organizations that service these needs," Langley said.

"Too many people are not being connected with the resources they need," he added. "All of us know people in our neighborhood doing things they have no business doing." Langley encouraged those present to work within "our sphere of influence" to connect them to programs, activities and alternatives.

Diana Powell talked of the ache in watching a young man in prison try to go on the straight-and-narrow path, only to be murdered by his own cousin after he dropped his gang "flag." 

“Change is a monster, especially when they’ve been out there all there life, age twelve on up, gang banging,” she said. “A man can change if we show them how.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was interesting to hear the range of perspectives offered at the meeting. And candidly, the discussions often talked about subjects that are uncomfortable for liberals -- particularly the absence of parents in the lives of at-risk children, and the need for community to step in and intercede to help these kids, either through introduction to programs that can help or by direct involvement in the children's lives.

To many of my friends who join me on the left, we're in the midst of a several-years' long rise in concern over the role of agency, and self-determination, and respect for the journeys of others, and reminders of our own privilege and the inappropriateness for us to share thoughts on how others should behave.

And the autonomy of parents with their children, in contexts ranging from public behavior to school discipline to home life, is typically sacrosanct.

But is the key to crime, indeed, centered in the concept that there is a community interest in the success of all our youth -- and the need for government, civic groups, and even citizens to step up when youth are at risk?

This is not a comfortable topic to raise, and it's not as familiar and safe as ideas around public policy interventions, solutions, programs and resources.

Yet it is ultimately the human-to-human relationships that will make all the difference.

The Thomas Mentor Leadership Academy holds its events behind my house at a local church. At first, the group's outdoor activities -- quasi-military, drill sergeant-style activities out in the parking lot -- felt alien to me, and even perhaps a bit quaint.

Yet when you sit in your back yard and listen to Thomas work with these young men, it's quickly obvious that the discipline of these activities is mixed with love, and with a challenge for them to behave according to a community standard we've always expected for youth as they become adults. 

And when you hear that voice turn to encouragement, and respect, and camaraderie, you quickly realize that Thomas is making a breakthrough with young lives in that parking lot.

But these aren't topics that are in our public discourse.

Indeed, the crime events that have dominated the headlines in recent weeks -- and the kind of community based solutions that Williams and others raised last week -- haven't been very evident in the campaigns of any of our candidates for office.

Charlie Reece has had perhaps the most to say on the issue, relatively speaking; he was present at last week's event, calling it a "powerful experience" and noting that "so often, we don't have a human response" to issues in the community, just a public policy debate.

Reece's Twitter feed also includes a link to a NY Times article on the again-rising rates of gun violence happening in many cities, not just Durham.

The article is an interesting read, and points out that rates of gun violence were rising before Ferguson -- casting some doubt on the warring theories that either less-aggressive policing since those Missouri events or emboldened gangs and criminals more willing to use violence since could be to blame. (And, across the board, repeat offenders seem to be the folks most likely to reach for a gun, and to use guns to settle what seem to be everyday disputes between people who know each other.)

Still, outside these examples, we haven't heard Reece speak out publicly on the recent spate of violence.

Jillian Johnson's Twitter feed reminds us of some of the public policy initiatives that can help -- Ban the Box, addressing disproportionate school suspension rates -- along with progressive topics like contractor pay at the Residence Inn, pay raises for classified DPS staff and the like. But there's not a single mention of the gun violence in recent weeks, or on communities coming together to work with law enforcement.

Philip Azar has a Tweet pointing folks to the N&O's coverage of the meeting and to the misdemeanor diversion program, but there's probably more talk of new restaurants and development than the question of crime -- and no reference, again, to recent weeks' events.

Robert Stephens' Twitter feed reminds us of the cause that energizes his run for office -- concern over police brutality and "systemic oppression from the inside." But, again, no mention of the dozen-plus shot and injured, or the several killed, in recent weeks.

I don't want to pick on just these candidates -- others running in this race don't have nearly the social media or web presence that these four do. But we haven't heard much on this topic from them, either. 

It's heartening and important that our leaders, and particularly our many candidates for local elected offices, are talking about much-needed improvements in our police department, and about the necessity of having strong accountability and responsibility for our police.

And clearly, many of our candidates feel most strongly about the need for a more hopeful future for the disconnected youth of today who are at greatest risk to turn to crime tomorrow. Better job prospects for their parents, strong neighborhoods, and effective outlets like parks and rec centers are all part of that solution, as are judicial reforms.

But why is the level of violence, and the need to combat it, getting so little attention from those who would sit on the dais?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Rodney Wiliams closed last week's meeting by issuing a challenge for the small assembly.

“Don’t leave here and not have had the change in your heart, that you want to do something about it. Think about if it was your child going through this right here,” Williams said.

“These young men nowadays, their minds are being manipulated by some grown folks. Some grown folks making some decisions in their life. It ain’t somebody with some good common sense telling them to go shoot somebody, it’s somebody with no common sense.”

Acknowledging his own past brushes in the law -- and the experiences others shared during the meeting, of the real danger and threat to life itself if a young man tries to leave gang life -- Williams seemed to worry that the risks of a young man becoming enmeshed in crime are so much greater than they were a generation ago.

“What kind of refuge is he going to have? Where is he going to go?” Williams asked. “You’re going to die going out [of the gang]."

Williams' words are powerful, and they carried deep weight with those in the room.

The question is, will they resonate more deeply in our community, or fall on deaf ears -- or ears that, just maybe, don't want to hear this particular tune?

It's possible to be a liberal who wants to see policing and judiciary reforms, and to want to see youth connected with resources and programs that will make a difference -- while at the same time to be a liberal who cares deeply about the impact violent crime has on communities, and the need to maintain effective, ongoing enforcement when the basic premise of public safety is challenged.

I wonder if we will see any of this year's candidates or our incumbent officials take up that question.


Sallie V

Thank you for challenging liberals (myself included) to think critically about violent crime in our neighborhoods and implicitly pointing out that efforts for institutional reform may not achieve the intended end.


Thank you so much for saying all this, BCR. I think somebody needs to say it. It's kind of like Durham's elephant in the room, IMO.


Kevin, that is a wonderful piece.

"Which must lead one to wonder: why do we have more turnout to meetings on downtown preservation, transit, and, God help us all, a freakin' new grocery store, than we do on an issue that continues to plague our city -- and which, by all metrics, has grown worse in the last few years after more than a decade of declines?"

No need to wonder. The plague, like most of our problems isn't evenly distributed across the city. So it's easy for white liberals to sit in their living rooms and watch(or not watch) the crime on the other side of the, proverbial, railroad tracks and say "Please leave me alone in my renovated craftsman bungalow with my Keurig, kale chips and organic produce" They aren't mad enough to do or say something because it isn't impacting their lives.

"And more troubling still, in an election where so many candidates (and, we suspect, endorsing PACs, too) have had a timely but singular focus on addressing D.P.D.'s well-scrutinized faults, why are few if any speaking out on what they see as the challenge of crime?"

They are afraid of alienating the kale chip munching dwellers of said craftsman bungalows.

Michael Bacon

I'll write more later (shock, I know!) but I have to disagree with the premise of Kevin's piece here. Lopez is complaining that people are just talking about problems at the police department when we should be talking about shooting deaths. But here's the thing -- there's a theory that some (not all) criminologist think is really important that links the two. That is, it says that the Juerta and Riley cases are explicitly linked to an uptick in violence.

It's called "legitimacy," and I think it's something DPD has in declining quantities since Lopez took over. Very briefly, we don't follow laws just out of fear of the police. We follow laws because we see the police and the laws as something worth abiding by.

If, instead, we start to see the police and the laws as not looking out for us and just out to get us, the whole notion of law starts to break down -- in other words, the law is no longer legitimate -- so if we're wronged by someone, we don't go to the police, we settle it ourselves. And that's when the shooting starts.

Lopez's repeated, intransigent tone-deafness to those who are trying to get the police department to act in a more legitimate manner aren't just a small problem on Jillian Johnson's twitter feed. To my eye, it's the reason we have increasing violent crime despite Lopez playing the boyhood version of "cops and robbers" with the Durham police force.

I've lost all hope that Lopez can turn this around. He needs to go before things get worse.


Damnit Michael why did you write this before me.


First, thank you for writing this piece. It's thoughtful, requires guts and is probably the most important thing any of us have read on the internet today. I hope it will inspire others to join in the conversation.

Second, I'm grateful for the 30-40 people in this community who have been or are at least willing to face a truly difficult problem. Perhaps simply "showing up" is 70 percent of the solution. I imagine that the "regulars" may feel isolated in their efforts, but they keep the faith, they keep showing up. And yet, I hope they know, that they are not alone. Yes, Durham needs more people to show up, but it's important to acknowledge that there are MANY amazing human beings in our community who "showed up" tonight alone, parents of children participating in programs through the East Durham Children's Initiative, volunteers at the Durham Literacy Center teaching reading lessons to adults, tutors at El Centro Hispano working with elementary students who need extra support in reading and math skills, young mentors playing basketball with kids in the gym at the John Avery Boys and Girls Club, congregations, associations and neighborhoods working to address social justice issues in the community, to name just a very few. Among those volunteers, you will find everyone - a junior in college, an elderly retired gentleman, an organic kale eating craftsman homeowner, a teacher, someone's mom, a community citizen, a RTP researcher, a nurse, a guy who drives a pickup and the list goes on. They have all different types of life circumstances, but they show up. Why? Well, we should ask them certainly. But, I would imagine they'd tell you the story of one particular kid, or one particular mom or dad or teenager, or perhaps they'd tell you the their own story, that they find meaning in paying it forward and that's enough. It's purpose-filled living in a society of heads bent over smart phones. That's not to knock technology, it's just to say, we're all too easily lured into pursuing connection from places that can't truly satisfy, gang members included. The solution lies in relationships and no one wants to hear it because it involves putting your heart out there, and that is scary, but it's the truth and deep down we all know it.

It would be nice if we could just stroke a check or vote in the perfect politician to solve all our problems, but the kind of investment that Durham requires lies in human relationships. You can have all the money and the nonprofit programs and schools in the world, but if the people in these systems aren't connecting, they call each other "stranger," instead of, "my friend." It takes time, genuine conversation, looking a person in the eye, and relating to earn one another's trust. Developing trust this way, I imagine, will always be requirement of the human condition and it does not differ because a person is poor or a gang member, or white, or black, or non-English speaking, or kale eating. Gangs are a difficult beast because a gang provides the illusion of meeting the needs of its members (safety, belonging/love, esteem) however it's just that, an illusion. I don't know how to "cure" gang activity and crime. But, developing relationships and trust, can only help.

We have the resources we need in this community - the minds, the talent, the nonprofit organizations, the institutions, the universities, the money and the heart to face this. Durhamites already care, already want to help, already know there's a problem, are already volunteering. It's does not serve the conversation well to make assumptions about anyone, including the police chief. We cannot even begin to imagine what his experience has been and for as long as he's in this role, it only behooves us to say, "How can we help you?" I believe the same about politicians. They are one person and we are "the people." Asking "how can we help?" will get us all farther, faster.

But, who organizes us, Durham? Every movement needs leadership. Who leads the effort with purpose and accountability? This is where we get stuck. Everyone can't show up to these meetings, but representatives from specific organizations can be invited and encouraged to attend. Everyone can't volunteer tonight, but there are many who can. Each person can't solve all of these problems, but show they how the parts make the whole, and folks will feel more encouraged and inspired to be part of the solution. I firmly believe that it's not lack of money or apathy or inaction or politics or hate that's holding us back, it's our belief that they do.


Thanks so much for publishing this thoughtful and honest piece on the problem of crime in Durham, and the way many of us who identify as progressive talk about it (or don't).

There is no issue facing Durham that I take more seriously than how to address the growing problem of crime. In every conversation I have with voters as I go door-to-door across this city, I talk about our need to respond to the recent surge in violent crime in Durham. By way of explanation, most of my legal career has been spent within the criminal justice system -- first as a prosecutor, then as an assistant attorney general in the North Carolina Department of Justice, then as a pro bono lawyer for Moral Mondays arrestees. This is an issue about which I have a real passion and a lifelong commitment.

I have proposed a series of policies that would have a long term impact on the problem of crime in Durham -- economic development that doesn't leave struggling communities behind, investments in infrastructure in neighborhoods which have suffered from decades and generations of disinvestment and neglect, and ensuring that housing remains affordable for working families. Generally speaking, people with jobs that pay a living wage and who have a decent place to live by and large don't commit violent crimes. In addition, as Rodney Williams told us at the Golden Corral last week, gang members who have spoken with him have pointed to the recent surge in development downtown and said "What about my neighborhood?" In addition to making the kind of policy choices described above, our city must do a better job of making the case that investments in one part of Durham yield benefits that are broadly shared by all of Durham and result in a prosperity that is broadly shared across Durham.

In addition to these longer term policy initiatives, we must grapple with the broken relationship between the Durham Police Department and many Durham residents. Until we restore public trust and confidence in our police, this city will continue to suffer. While I respect and appreciate the fact that the hiring and firing of the chief of police is within the purview of Durham's city manager, I have come to believe that the Durham Police Department needs new leadership if we are to begin rebuilding the relationship between the police and our city. We must also commit to a policing model that focuses on direct community engagement by patrol officers built on daily interactions between the police and the Durham residents they seek to protect and serve. We should also reallocate scarce law enforcement resources away from arrests for some non-violent misdemeanor offenses and toward preventing and investigating violent crime (which is up sharply from last year). I believe these steps would begin to heal the rift between our police and our community.

Last summer, I was proud to lead the work of the Durham People's Alliance in support of the policy recommendations of the FADE Coalition to reduce the racial disparities in the drug enforcement practices of our police department. That effort is still a work in progress, but the broad coalition of community organizations that FADE was able to put together is a model for how we can achieve real change in Durham. The key: we all focused on boosting the underlying message of the FADE Coalition and their policy recommendations, with no single organization caring who got the credit for our ultimate success. If we can put together a similar coalition to address the problem of crime in Durham -- on both the long term answers outlined above as well as some of the issues dealing directly with the Durham Police Department -- I believe we can begin to make real progress.

Building this sort of coalition won't be easy, and it won't happen overnight. But if we are to be successful in this work, we must begin by sitting together and talking honestly about the problems facing Durham. That's why I was at the Golden Corral last week. And that's how I intend to serve this city on the Durham City Council.

Brian Hawkins

Kevin, thank you for a well-written and thought-provoking piece.

I think that for a lot of people, the focus on policy (and lately, policing specifically) derives from a sense (right or wrong) of in what arena(s) one realistically has a chance of effecting change. I have no idea how (say) to get parents more invested in their kids' well-being. But I do think there are some very specific and actionable things that can be done on the policy side to improve trust between the police and the communities that they serve (Mr. Reese mentions a few of them above.)

Michael Bacon

Since I wrote yesterday, two of the posts above have wondered about how we organize to make a difference.

But I must point out, there are already groups who HAVE organized around very specific crime concerns, including the now-defunct Durham Crime Council, Durham CAN, and FADE. What happens when they take their concerns to the Chief of Police? He throws a public temper tantrum.

Lack of organization is not the problem. If you want to be part of the organizing, there are people you can work with right now who are meeting and discussing and acting on these things. The problem is that Durham has backslid at the government level. 10 years ago we were making annual strides against violent crime, and the Partners Against Crime initiatives were at the core of it. Community-oriented policing was the order of the day, and police officers were being put in regular contact with community members. The PAC mailing lists are still there -- I'm on two of them -- but there's next to nothing happening on them, and I can't remember the last time I saw an ad for a PAC meeting.


Don't forget that the Chief of Police publicly denigrates a shooting victim because of his chosen profession ( criminal defense attorney) and says he deserved what he got. When called to the carpet on it, he denies saying it.

Lopez is the problem. Officers take their attitude and approach from the top - they model what their leaders are modeling. It's time Lopez was fired.

My hope is that he is replaced before too many more people are injured or killed.


Interesting to me--and reflective of our particular American gun-sickness--that nowhere in the article or in the comments is any suggestion that our (lack of) reasonable gun control laws and the easy access to ever more deadly guns and the absolute craven, NRA-fearing, gun-lobby-bought-and-owned politicians, especially at the state & national levels, are a huge part of the problem. If every other thing in reported in this article and the comments remained the same--poverty, absent parents, disconnection, opportunity, gentrification--if none of those issues changed one whit, and guns were not a factor, the scale and threat and body count of our violence problem would be greatly diminished. Babies are not shot dead sitting on their porch stoops by drive-by knifings. People are not shot dead in the streets and in their back yards except in drive-by SHOOTINGS. Committed by hot-headed young men with ready access to deadly weapons. Our national crime problem will not be solved until we change gun laws, challenge the perverse arguments of the NRA and gun-fetishists and return sanity to our attitudes toward gun control measures like banning assault weapon possession & sales, banning enormous ammo clips that serve no purpose but mass slaughter, strict requirements on gun licensing, safety class requirements and requiring gun owners to buy insurance to cover the costs of gun violence. American gun sickness is the elephant in the room, the log in our own eye, the trees that keep us from seeing the forest on how to reduce the blood in our streets and the growing violence in our communities.


As much as I wholeheartedly agree with the great points about gun control in the culture-at-large, I don't see A) how we will see those reforms come about in the near or not-so-near future, and B) how that specifically addresses our own local problem of gang violence that BCR is talking about here.

At least as see it, the point is the lack of involvement and interest among otherwise involved white liberals in African-American gun violence happening within our own community. As someone stated earlier, the gun violence affecting African-American neighborhoods "isn't their problem". And for now, that is more or less accurate I guess. But it's only not their problem until it *is* their problem. The Walk for Life group talked about neighbors and folks getting more involved, "getting nosy", in the business of the unattended kids on the street. There's the idea that lack of parent involvement is playing a large role in kids choosing the gang life. Yes, there are lots of larger, cultural things going on there, but lack of parental involvement is an immediate problem affecting people on a personal level. Chief Lopez is not individually making these kids go out and commit violent crimes, nor are the crimes being committed in protest of him or the DPD. Chief Lopez is only carrying out his role as a law enforcement officer. If he is not doing that properly, or is contributing to the negative relationship between DPD and citizens, then that is up for debate but it is an entirely separate issue.

I think that some questions coming out of this article are:
How does the otherwise-community-involved white liberal community engage with the very real problem of gun violence among black youth?
How to be engaged *without* being the "white savior"/wagging fingers at the less-privileged people/blaming victims, etc.?
Does the community directly affected by and living with this violence even want the involvement and engagement of whites on this issue?

I would love to hear more constructive thoughts on this.


Kelly: The inability of our political system (state and federal) to pass common sense gun safety measures is clearly a contributing factor to the gun violence we're seeing in Durham right now. No other industrialized nation is as awash in guns as ours, and our high rates of gun violence are the price we pay for the ready availability of firearms in this country. It's deplorable, and it must change, but the Durham City Council has a limited role in that debate.

BCR4Life: Excellent points. I'd just add that there are no easy answers, but the work has to begin with listening to those who are directly impacted by the recent surge in violent crime. That's why I was at the meeting at the Golden Corral. It was my intent only to listen and learn, but Rodney asked me to share my thoughts near the end of the meeting and so I did. But white progressives need to listen more, leave behind our preconceptions about what is needed by people in communities disproportionately impacted by crime, and be ready to deploy our time and money in support of grassroots efforts led by folks in such communities. That's harder than it ought to be for progressive whites like me because we're used to being in charge. But it's time for us to listen, to learn, and to boost the signal and the work of movements that are rising organically out of these neighborhoods. That's why I'll be at the next Walk For Life event on September 19th.

Michael Bacon

Here's the thing -- you can dismiss the abstract talk about "cultural issues" like legitimacy, but if you go and actually talk to people who live northeast-central Durham, Lyon Park, Southside, Oxford Manor, and other places where residents experience much higher levels of violent crime, they have some very specific things they ask for. Youth programs, jobs, and more often than anything else in my experience, changes in policing.

Further, this isn't a problem that has seen no change over the last two decades. From highs in the mid-1990s, Durham's crime rate fell steadily year over year for 15 years, before recently reversing that trend. This has been on Lopez's tenure. When you have a police chief who has two horrific instances happen on his watch, horribly bungles the response to that, has rising violent crime, berates civic leaders in public, says that a shooting victim deserves what he gets because he's a public defender, and on and on, I'm honestly at the end of my rope to figure out what it's going to take for him to get fired.

Here are things you can get involved in RIGHT NOW that engage with the residents who suffer most from this:
The Coalition for a Non-Violent Durham

Fostering Alternatives to Drug Enforcement

Durham CAN's public safety efforts:

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