Two ways of remembering

Jan. 20, 2014 @ 06:55 PM

Many in this city felt they could finally exhale late Sunday evening as two related but unaffiliated events to remember Jesus Huerta went off relatively smoothly.

A sometimes raucous protest rally and march zigzagged through downtown streets before finally ending with a few participants damaging police vehicles and a police substation on Rigsbee Avenue.

Meanwhile, a far more solemn vigil organized by the Religious Coalition for a Non-Violent Durham, the host Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and several other high-profile groups honored the memory the young man who died of what apparently was a self-inflicted gunshot in the back of a police cruiser.

The march’s end was far less tumultuous than that of a protest broken up in December by police firing teargas into the crowd – teargas that wafted through the center of downtown and startled many dining or strolling in the area. Sunday night, the police presence, at least initially, was far more discreet than in December, and it was clear officials were taking pains to avoid provoking marchers. 

Police kept tabs on the march with unmarked cars, motorcycles and bicycle-mounted officers who could nimbly and quickly shadow the protestors. Only as the march reached downtown did a restrained line of police in riot gear halt it.

For the most part, the marchers, too, seemed to want to avoid confrontation. “Fall back, FALL BACK,” The Herald-Sun’s Ray Gronberg observed one marcher shouting at others who started to approach the police line. “No reason to freak out,” another told her companions as police appeared.

The protestors originally planned to end their march at Immaculate Conception Church as the vigil was to begin. Church officials quickly nixed that last week, and while the march began with a rally near the church, there was no interference with the church event.

There, a racially diverse crowd heard Jesus Huerta’s sister Evelyn ask, “I beg of you, let his memory rest in peace.” Although the Huertas are Hispanic, few Hispanics appeared to have joined the mostly white marchers.

Father Bill McIntyre urged people to remember Huerta -- who had been picked up on a trespassing warrant – as “a child of God” and “not just a statistic.”

McIntyre acknowledged the passions Huerta’s death has aroused. “There is sadness, hurt and even anger,” McIntyre said. “He is loved by his family and those who knew him and those who don’t know him but feel a connection because of when someone dies tragically.”

The message was more nuanced, certainly, than that of the marchers who not far away had been chanting “no justice, no peace.”  But the vigil underscored the breadth of concern and dismay over the circumstances of Huerta’s death, concern and dismay the city has yet to allay.