‘Place where violence persists’

Jan. 27, 2013 @ 02:29 PM

Yes, ’n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows

That too many people have died?

                          -- Bob Dylan, “Blowin’ in the Wind”

It is both poignant and alarming that a regular ritual in Durham is the vigil to remember someone cut down by violence.

It is reassuring that many people in this community care enough to gather to honor the memory and comfort the friends and family of strangers who have died way too soon.  But it is distressing that it happens with such frequency.

The latest vigil, typical yet unique in that the life it commemorated and mourned was unique, was Saturday near Durham’s Central Park.  About 20 people gathered as dusk settled to remember Jelani Dandy, 24, who was shot multiple times on Driver Street in East Durham this past November.  Another vigil for yet another victim will be Sunday.

The Rev. Susan Dunlap, an adjunct professor at Duke Divinity School, captured the paradox of Durham that we have noted so often on these pages.

“Durham is a town of food trucks and farmers’ markets,’ she said, “but if you’ve been in Durham long enough, while it is an amazing and wonderful place to live, it also is a place where violence persists.”

Cathy Bridge, one of those at the vigil, spoke of the personal grief that underlies every violent death marked by a public vigil. “Jelani was one of our own,” Bridge said. “He was one of our children and one of our friends. He was a special person we will all miss for not being part of our community.”

There are, of course, no simple and easy answers to the too-pervasive culture of violence that haunts too many of our streets and neighborhoods. Efforts to combat it certainly are not wanting, from tireless work by the Durham Police Department, to attempts to at least diminish the poverty that can underlie some of a community’s tensions to those trying to provide alternatives to a gang life that might seem to some the only answer to social isolation.

Just this past week, The New York Times reported on a years-long strategy in New York City to put far less money into building and staffing prisons – and to put that money instead into more police and more strategic allocation of those police to thwart crime.  The get tough, throw-away-the-key polices of the 1980s and 1990s may have been persuasive politically, but studies in New York indicate that was the wrong approach, siphoning more and more resources into locking people up with no demonstrable decrease in crime.

That is an approach we hope state and local officials will take note of – and that they also will continue searching for ways to eliminate the need for vigils where speakers conclude, as Dunlap did Saturday, “he died too young. He died too soon.”