Durham native recounts tale of wrongful arrest to NCCU students

Aug. 29, 2014 @ 06:11 PM

Charles Belk was just trying to avoid getting a parking ticket in Beverly Hills last week when he was stopped by the police.

Belk, a Durham native, had only a few minutes left on the meter. He was rushing to his car, but a text message slowed him down. He stopped to look at his phone. That’s when his plans that night would change dramatically.

He was stopped by a uniformed Beverly Hills police officer and asked to show identification and sit on the curb.

Belk complied. He told the police officers what he was doing on the street at that time, and where he was before he was stopped. Yet still, they made him wait on the curb because he matched the description of man who robbed a bank just blocks away.

He was arrested and detained for six hours under a $100,000 bond for armed bank robbery and accessory to robbery.

Belk had never set foot into the bank that police said he robbed.

That was Aug. 22. Now a week later, Belk has been speaking to anyone who will listen about his experience.

“All in one week, we’ve had the ability to be part of change, and we’ve turned ineptitude into an action,” he said to a group of North Carolina Central University students Friday morning over Skype.

Belk’s niece is a student at NCCU and after talking about the arrest in class with her professor, Brett Webb-Mitchell, she offered to try to get him to speak.

Webb-Mitchell jumped at the opportunity to have Belk talk to his ethics class because he’d been addressing the issues facing his students and felt having a first-hand account would add to their learning.

“Nothing beats first-person narratives,” Webb-Mitchell said. “It’s one thing for a white professor to talk about it. I think it’s another thing when it comes from the life of someone who’s just experienced it.”

Since his arrest Belk has been speaking out about the incident and raising awareness for the injustices that happen daily to African American men and women.

“I just want to create awareness, I just want to try and give a voice to the voiceless,” he said.

Belk was in Beverly Hills last week for pre-Emmy Awards celebrations. Belk, who lives in Los Angles, works in marketing with celebrities as well as producing television and award shows.

Belk said as he was sitting on the curb, he was handcuffed and then told that he matched the description of the bank robber.

“I got that I looked like somebody or some thing … but they were convinced I was the person,” he said.

Belk said when he was taken into custody they never told him the charges he faced nor read his Miranda Rights.

“I didn’t feel like anything official was going on,” he said. To him, it all just felt like a bad dream.

After meeting with investigators and asking if he was the person depicted in video footage from the bank robbery, he found out that none of the footage had been viewed by police.

“At that point, I was completely furious to the fact they had taken six hours of my life away before attempting to verify I was the person,” he said.

Since then the Beverly Hills Police Department has said that it would review procedures and has expressed regret for how Belk was treated.

Belk said he didn’t know if his arrest was racially motivated, because he wasn’t in the minds of the officers.

“What I do know is that a robbery took place, and what I do think is that there was a person that somewhat in some way that identified with me,” he said. “I appreciate them trying to determine or to catch a criminal,” he said. However how he was carrying himself that day should have helped disqualify him as a suspect almost immediately. He didn’t necessarily mind being stopped to be questioned, but when it escalated is when he felt his rights were violated.

“What I do know is that my rights were violated and I am a black male,” he said.

Since Aug. 22 Belk has taken the time to speak out about his experience to help educate the public on the treatment of black men by police forces.

“I’ve been given a stage,” he said. “There are a lot of folks like Mike Brown that didn’t get to tell their story.”  Brown was the unarmed black teenager fatally shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri earlier this month.

Belk wants to change law enforcement.

“I was pondering with the fact that there was absolutely nothing I could have done differently,” he said. “I’m going to be tall, bald and black, and I’m going to continue to walk down the street.”

For NCCU Dawanas King, hearing Belk’s story helped show that racism still exists.

“It’s basically history being brought back into modern day,” he said. “Racism does still exist, especially here in Durham … It really shows that there are people here that still care, but racism still goes on.”

For Webb-Mitchell, having students see Belk and talk about issues that face his students is important.

“I wanted them to know that this happens in the liberal bubbles,” he said. “This is Durham, North Carolina -- this happens in Raleigh … these are the liberal, well-educated places.”