I spent last night researching all of the people murdered in Durham this year: rivals killing rivals, robbers killing store clerks, boyfriends killing girlfriends, boyfriends killing boyfriends, wives killing husbands, daughters killing mothers, mothers killing daughters, grandsons killing grandfathers, and others whose relationships with their perpetrators are unclear.
There are 34 of them, plus three people killed in acts determined to be self-defense, and a suicidal man who died in an officer-involved shooting.
This is the situation that the next police chief will have to grapple with. When Police Chief Jose Lopez, whose retirement was forced, leaves his post on Dec. 31, this will still be a city where violent crime is up and trust in the police is down, way down, and in many communities of color, non-existent. It will be tough to find the right person willing and able to mend these relationships not only with minorities, but also within the department and the entire city.
About 25 people, most of them African-American, attended community feedback session last week sponsored by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The purpose of the session was to gather information in preparation for two more community meetings about the police chief search:
- Monday, Dec. 14 at 6 p.m. at the Holton Career and Resource Center, 401 N. Driver St.
- A second one, conducted in Spanish, will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 15, at El Centro Hispano, 600 E. Main St.
You can also comment online, via Developmental Associates, the Durham company leading the candidate search. (Former County Manager Mike Ruffin is on DA's staff; the head is a Duke University graduate.)
At the feedback session, a member of the FADE Coalition, a citizens’ group instrumental in exposing Durham police abuses and misconduct, noted the “systematic and institutional problems” within DPD. “That’s why we didn’t call for Lopez to be fired,” he said. “Because he will be replaced by another Lopez.”
African-Americans differed on whether the mistrust results from over-policing or under-policing, but there was one consistent theme: They feel the police do not see them as human beings. Residents are a problem to be managed, a situation to be thwarted, an irritant to be eliminated.
“There is a focus on criminal activity rather than education,” said a minister who has lived in Durham 65 years. “’We’ve herded you, and you will live under these conditions regardless of whether we change.’”
The minister then described an incident emblematic of the problem:
“I went into a restaurant and there was a white woman and a white officer. The white woman said, ‘Thanks for keeping streets safe.’ The officer said, ‘Thank you. We do what we can.’
I said the same thing to the officer. The only comment I got was, ‘I betcha.” That’s a subliminal message that you didn’t receive a message. It was offensive. With this kind of involvement we can’t communicate with police unless it’s at gunpoint.”
Clearly, this is not just a Durham problem, but one afflicting many cities. The FBI announced yesterday it would expand its tracking not only of police shootings but of other uses of force that seriously injure someone: stun guns, pepper spray, even fists. The data also will be collected and shared with the public in “near real-time,” according to the Washington Post.
(NACOLE, the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, also collects data and publishes a digest of incidents, responses and conversations about police misconduct.)
These conversations are also ongoing within police departments. Police trade magazines and online sites are a good way to gauge what's happening internally:
At a recent meeting of U.S. police chiefs, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Chuck Ramsey said,
“We cannot ignore the fact that we have not achieved legitimacy in some of our more challenged neighborhoods. … We can pat ourselves on the back and talk about how far we have come in reducing crime and establishing community policing, but we haven’t come far enough.
“Ferguson isn’t just about the shooting. It is about the tension and the issues that have been in existence for decades and the reality of things that have happened to people over the years, some of which police have been very much responsible for.”
The minister at last week's feedback session that the tension between police and communities of color results from "a lack of communication and understanding about what the relationship should be between the police and a neighborhood."
“It’s a communication breakdown," he said. "When we face the police it’s a serious and stern condition, never friendly."
A police chief and his or her department bears great responsibility in a city, but not all of it. Mass incarceration, arrests for minor offenses, long sentences for nonviolent offenders, the lack of rehabilitation in prison: These policies and laws, enacted by punitive legislatures and Congress, heighten the economic, health and educational inequalities that lead people at acts of hatred, acts of desperation.
Here is the list of people whose deaths have been ruled homicides this year:
Dwight Grayer, Mark Antwan Peaks, Charles Ellis Hinnant, Lensy Arnett Gill III, Betty Tice Turner, Trinity James Wilkins, Anthony Martin, Jonathan McClain, Tierra Hall, JeJuan Taylor Jr., Thomas Docher, Fred Edgerton, Javaun Graves, Warren Grace, William Evans, Anthony Glenn, Franklin Martinez, Amer Mahmood, Arthur Holeman Taylor Jr., Dymond Patrice Fowler, Gregory Devonta Little, Erick Valencia Diaz, Raluca Iosif, Cheardi Lynch, Briseida Abrade, Kenneth Mitchell III, Demario Lucas, Santonio Rodriguez Rochelle, Ricardo DeJesus Uribe Padilla, Jermaine Bennett, Paul Jones, Sanna Manneh, Shawn Cade-Oree, Raiford Matthews Jr.
There 22 days left in 2015. Durham, let's spend the last three weeks of the year in peace.