Durham County

Boy’s death highlights Durham’s ongoing battle against violent crime

The shooting of 7-year-old Kamari Munerlyn marks a tragic moment in Durham’s ongoing battle against violent crime. It also fell two days before Police Chief C.J.Davis’ one-year anniversary as the Bull City’s top cop.

Kamari is at least the second child to be harmed by gunfire this year, but the first to die from his injuries.

In May, police responded to an early morning call at Oak Creek Village Apartments, where they found a 10-year-old girl shot in her abdomen. The girl was treated at the hospital and released.

A firearm was discharged in the apartment on the second floor of the apartment complex, above the one occupied by the 10-year-old girl. James Scott Berish, 23, of Durham was charged with assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury and possession of a stolen .45-caliber handgun.

Those high-profile incidents are on top of 2016 figures that marked a 36-year high for killings in the city.

Three of the 43 killings in 2016 were classified as self-defense and one was the fatal police shooting of Frank Nathaniel Clark in the McDougald Terrace housing complex.

Six of the deaths have been classified as domestic violence.

Thirty-six involved guns. In two of the 43 cases, the victim died from a shooting in a prior year: 2010 and 2014.

But the violence goes beyond homicides.

Last year, at least 193 people had been hurt by gunfire, according to Project Safe Neighborhoods statistics, about the same as the 198 people in 2015.

From 2014 to 2015, Durham’s homicides nearly doubled and those injured by gunshots increased by 108 percent.

The Police Department has taken a number of steps to address the violent crime under Davis, who marks her one-year anniversary Tuesday, June 6.

Some of Davis’ steps to address violent crime over the past year include restructuring the police department, improving community relations and setting up task forces to address certain crimes. Police have also set up targeted operations in problem areas and held weekly crime abatement meetings.

City Manager Tom Bonfield said it’s too early to tell whether Davis’ efforts are making progress.

Homicides dropped to seven in the first three months of the year compared to 11 during the same period in 2016. You could look at that drop and say it’s working, Bonfield said, or look at the fatal shooting of Kamari and say it’s not.

“I just don’t think you can be conclusive either way,” Bonfield said, adding that his inclination is that Davis’ efforts are making a difference.

Regardless, it’s hard to say how the community fights the issue of an individual who thinks it’s a good idea to fire a weapon into an SUV filled with children and adults.

“I am not sure we can ever design programs that are ever going to fix mentality,” Bonfield said.

Mayor Bill Bell said there is always a concern when you have some level of violent crime.

“You reach out to the families, and you grieve for them,” Bell said. The little comfort you can give to the public, he said, is that it doesn’t appear that it was random.

The overall response has to go beyond law enforcement, Bell said.

“It is a community issue,” Bell said.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges