Separate march planned for Huerta demonstrators

Jan. 16, 2014 @ 07:29 PM

The people behind two marches about the Jesus “Chuy” Huerta case that turned disorderly are planning another march on Sunday, ahead of an “Interfaith Prayer Vigil of Peace, Unity and Reconciliation” co-sponsored by a Catholic church.

March organizer Rafael Estrada announced the plan via a Facebook posting echoed on the Web site of the Chapel Hill-based Prison Books Collective.

The Facebook posting called for a “peaceful march” and said it would end at the church. It also took issue at least one of the professed purposes of the vigil.

“There can’t be reconciliation without justice,” the posting said. “There can’t be reconciliation with an organized gang in blue that keeps our communities and children terrorized. There can’t be reconciliation with a Police Department that continues to criminalize the memory of Chuy Huerta and the lives of all his peers.”

The Prison Books Collective – an arm of Chapel Hill’s Internationalist Books & Community Center – called for would-be marchers to gather in the parking lot of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, 810 W. Chapel Hill St., at 5:30 p.m.

“Bring your anger, your solidarity, your fierceness and your passion,” it said.

Immaculate Conception is both co-sponsoring and hosting the separate prayer vigil, which begins Sunday at 7 p.m.

Its fellow vigil sponsors include an array of mainstream community groups, namely the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, El Centro Hispano, Durham Congregations in Action, and Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods.

The Huerta family is an announced co-sponsor of the prayer vigil, but Facebook postings suggested that two of the dead teen’s relatives, Jamie Huerta and Evelin Huerta, also will join the march.

A posting on the Facebook page of the prayer vigil purporting to be from Evelin Huerta took issue with the “reconciliation” aspect of the church’s event.

“This is not a reconciliation,” it said. “This is a vigil in memory of my brother[,] my blood. Not a reconciliation.”

The Huertas’ lawyer, Alex Charns, tried to deflect a question about the supposed Evelin Huerta posting. “I’d be careful about relying on Facebook,” he said.

It is possible to spoof Facebook pages and accounts, but when asked point-blank if the posting wasn’t Evelin Huerta’s, Charns hedged. “I cannot confirm or deny it,” he said. “I have no idea.”

Charns is in a potentially awkward position, as aside from being the Huertas’ lawyer he’s an Immaculate Conception parishioner and member of its pastoral council. Both he and the Huertas this week publicly have urged people to attend the vigil at the church.

At least one of the groups involved in the church prayer vigil quickly distanced itself from the planned march.

“We have not been invited to participate in the march – and we wouldn’t,” said Marcia Owen, spokeswoman for the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham. “The point of the vigil is really to have a time and a place that is safe and that affirms the peace within us. It’s a time of non-judgment in the midst of a lot of questions and concerns and frustrations.”

A spokeswoman for Immaculate Conception, Maryann Crea, couldn’t be reached for comment.

The previous marches have been anything but mainstream affairs, by the account of police and participants alike featuring the involvement of local anarchists.

The first, on Nov. 22, ended with the vandalism of police headquarters. The second, on Dec. 19, yielded a major confrontation between police and protestors, police using tear gas to break up the demonstration.

City officials on Thursday released the Police Department’s after-action report on the Dec. 19 protest.

In it, police commanders defended the department’s actions, saying it’d used “a minimal amount of force” given the resort by some protestors to throwing rocks and bottles.

The report was more interesting, however, for its portrayal of cops and protestors using elaborate tactics to confront each other.

It noted that Estrada has been active in the Occupy movement; he was arrested last year in Raleigh during one of its protests. Police also acknowledged using undercover officers to keep tabs on the early stages of Dec. 19 march.

The protestors in turn knew of the undercover surveillance and kept notes on which officers were doing it, the report said.

The use of tear gas enabled police to secure a tactical victory in dispersing the crowd. But the protestors won the night on the strategic level: City officials were deluged with criticism over the department’s actions, with even some prominent neighborhood leaders joining calls for the ouster of Police Chief Jose Lopez.

Now, “I do think the marchers, at least in their written material, are trying to deliberately provoke the police,” said City Councilman Steve Schewel. “And it’s important the police not rise to that provocation.”

The Facebook announcement of the latest march said it’s not just for Huerta but for others “affected by police violence.”

It named among others Tracy Bost, a felon and robbery suspect who died in a Sept. 25 gunfight with N.C. Central University campus police, and Derek Walker, who was shot and killed by Durham police on Sept. 17 following an armed standoff downtown.

The Walker incident was witnessed by dozens of people. He was photographed pointing a pistol at himself, at bystanders and at police. A posting on his Facebook page indicated that he’d expected to die and was distraught over a child-custody matter.

Jesus Huerta died on Nov. 19 while handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser. Lopez and other police commanders have said he suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound, from a pistol a rookie officer missed in a “cursory” search of the youth.

The Huerta family asked police to pick him up as a runaway, drug user and suicide risk. Police radio chatter indicates officers knew of the drugs angle but were unworried about the possibility of his having mental-health problems.

The teen was going to be detained on a trespassing charge; officers also suspected him of involvement in property crimes.