Durham County

Durham activist who fought for restorative justice killed Monday

Durham community activist Umar Muhammad died Monday after being involved in a traffic collision.
Durham community activist Umar Muhammad died Monday after being involved in a traffic collision. courtesy of Rodrigo Dorfman

A man was charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle Monday after a crash that killed a Durham activist who worked to improve the lives of people who have been incarcerated.

Umar Muhammad, 30, the father of a 2-month-old girl, was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead after the 11:40 a.m. collision.

Muhammad was driving a Honda VT1300CX motorcycle south on South Alston Avenue when the motorcycle collided with the front left quarter of a 1996 Cadillac Seville driven by Rodney McLaurin, 45, of Durham, according to police. McLaurin was turning left from Massey Avenue onto Alston when the crash occurred.

Investigators charged McLaurin with misdemeanor death by vehicle, failure to yield right of way and driving while his license was revoked, police said.

He was also served with an outstanding warrant charging him with misdemeanor possession of Schedule III controlled substances. McLaurin was placed in the Durham County jail under a $10,000 bail.

Muhammad had worked as a community organizer for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice since 2013, according to his LinkedIn profile, but recently announced he planned to work with another organization.

“It is a profoundly sad day,” said Mark-Anthony Middleton, a senior pastor at Abundant Hope Christian Church.

Muhammad served five years and three months in a state prison after pleading guilty to a robbery with dangerous weapon charge.

When he returned to Durham, he became involved with various organizations on a quest to help the formerly incarcerated people find jobs and fight the stigma associated with prison records.

“His life taught us that we should not allow our past to hold our future hostage,” Middleton said.

Muhammad lobbied for ban the box initiatives in which employers remove the box on job applications asking about criminal records. He also coordinated and connected people with the Clean Slate Clinic, which provided free legal services to help individuals clean up their records.

City Councilman Charlie Reece wrote in a tweet that he was devastated.

“What a great man, a loving father, and a guy who wanted to lift up others,” he wrote. “What a loss for Durham.”

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges