Durham coalition airs concerns about racial profiling
Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham is interested in having a facilitated discussion with the Durham Police Department about racial profiling and other community issues.
They also want to reach out separately to youth who have been protesting over the death of Jesus Huerta.
Those two things were among several ideas floated during a special meeting of the Religious Coalition, which usually gathers just once a month. They met Thursday at Shepherds House United Methodist Church in Northeast Central Durham. At its January meeting, the Coalition talked about its values that include justice, compassion and healing. This week they talked about taking action.
“There is no ‘they,’” said Marcia Owen, who leads RCND. “How may we be God’s peace in Durham?”
Huerta died last November in the back of a police car at Durham Police headquarters from what has been deemed a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Subsequent marches and protests ended with incidents of vandalism to the police department and, in December, police using tear gas on the crowd downtown.
A January protest came the same evening as a vigil held at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church that was sponsored by the Religious Coalition. Owen and others in the Coalition agreed that there have been misunderstandings between people in the community and that the Coalition should reach out to the youth protestors.
Maryann Crea of Immaculate Conception Catholic said that she too would like to see RCND have conversations with the protestors.
Owen said the vandalism was heartbreaking “because this is my police department, my city. …The police department is ours.”
Wilma Liverpool disagreed, and said that in her community, “it is police versus us when you’re being followed.”
Owen said they’d like to build a bridge through conversations between the police department and those who feel victimized by the police.
“It is the Durham Police Department. It is ours,” Owen said.
Steven Hopkins, who lives in Northeast Central Durham, said the neighborhood has asked the police for random roadblocks and to stop groups of people.
“I disagree with those saying racial profiling in a black neighborhood when I’m black and people committing crimes against me are black,” Hopkins said.
Jennifer Snyder, the Project Safe Neighborhoods coordinator for the police department, said that she works alongside officers who do things like have basketball games in the community and buy Christmas presents for those in need.
Snyder, who has attended RCND roundtables for five years, said they could have a facilitated conversation with the police. She suggested taking the “faith-filled networking session” of RCND meetings and using its power to have a conversation about police and the community working together.
Gwyn Silver spent four years as a community-engagement coordinator for District 1, which includes Liberty Street and areas with high rates of crime and high school dropouts.
She said residents would ask her what she could do about the police, and she would tell them to file complaints if they had them. Silver still supports Durham police officers, she said, even after something that happened last March.
Silver said she was racially profiled after accidently running a stop sign. She pulled over and apologized, she said. She described the incident as the officer demanding, with a raised voice, if she owned her car and where she was going. She wrote a letter to the department the next day about how she was treated. Police told her that officers ask everyone the same questions, she said.
“I support our police, but I do not support this procedure,” Silver said. “You cannot victimize innocent people because you’re looking for a drug dealer.”
She said she is still mad about the situation, and has shared her experience with the city’s Human Relations Commission.
Coalition member Minister Annette Love said that the Religious Coalition needs to become united.
“I see a whole lot of people at lunch, but not at prayer vigils. We have to unite, not sit around and talk,” Love said. “We’ve got to show up in numbers to show we are about our Father’s business, and this violence needs to stop.”
Love also called for more sensitivity training for police dealing with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
The next roundtable meeting of RCND is at noon Feb. 27 at Shepherds House UMC, 107 N. Driver St., Durham. Lunch is included. For information, visit www.nonviolentdurham.org.