Waiting for answers

Dec. 10, 2013 @ 02:56 PM

“I am outraged by the mysterious death of Jesus Huerta while he was in the custody of the Durham Police Department.” So begins the message in a petition to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that Presente.org has posted on its website. The petition calls for the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the Durham Police Department over the 17-year-old’s death, as well as two officer-involved shootings that occurred earlier this year, one involving a black man and one involving a Hispanic man.

The petition also raises concerns – as have community members in different forums – about racial profiling by the department.
On Tuesday, Presente.org delivered the petition, which amassed 15,000 signatures, to the FBI’s Raleigh office.
While it’s highly questionable that the Justice Department will be moved to action by the organization’s petition, the fact remains that the Huerta family and the Durham community need answers.
We have plowed this ground before, but the longer questions linger, the greater the need to shine a spotlight.
We still do not know how the Riverside High School student died Nov. 19 in the back of a police cruiser. The officer driving the cruiser, Samuel Duncan, said he heard a loud noise and jumped from the car, which then hit another vehicle in the Police Department parking lot. The Office of the Medical Examiner has completed its autopsy, but still has not released results on what caused Huerta’s death.
While we want the State Bureau of Investigation, which is the agency brought in to investigate officer-involved shootings, to be thorough, it seems that there should have been some information forthcoming not just in Huerta’s case but in the other shootings as well that would not jeopardize any investigation. The SBI has been probing the death of Jose Adan Cruz Ocampo, who was shot by a Durham police officer almost five months ago. It is also looking into the death of Derek Deandre Walker who died in September after waving a gun in downtown Durham during a standoff with police. And our own department has remained silent.
The Justice Department is not noted for its lightning speed in dispensing with cases, either, but if the federal government did decide to take a closer look at the Durham Police Deaprtment, it would at least provide the community with assurance that there are more eyes on what is happening here. Absent resolution of the cases, that is some comfort.
As the petition sent to Attorney General Holder said, “The community of Durham wants answers in Jesus’ death,” as well as in the deaths of Walker and Ocampo and on the issue of whether the police are engaging in racial profiling. Any avenues that will take us to those answers more quickly are ones worth exploring.