Durham County

Five candidates walk into a bar. Will one of them be next Durham mayor?

Pierce Freelon raps from his album during Durham mayor forum

Mayoral candidate Pierce Freelon raps a response during a forum at The Pinhook in downtown Durham. He is one of several candidates that discussed the issue of policing in Durham Wednesday Sept. 6.
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Mayoral candidate Pierce Freelon raps a response during a forum at The Pinhook in downtown Durham. He is one of several candidates that discussed the issue of policing in Durham Wednesday Sept. 6.

Durham’s mayoral candidates took the stage this week for a forum on policing that included a minute-long performance from one of the candidates, hip hop artist Pierce Freelon.

Freelon, Steve Schewel, Farad Ali, Shea Ramirez, the Rev. Sylvester Williams and Tracy Drinker all want to succeed Mayor Bill Bell, who is not seeking another term.

Candidates have already participated in forums and interviews with political action committees like the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the People’s Alliance to garner endorsements. On Wednesday night, five of the six candidates talked to a crowd at The Pinhook bar on Main Street.

Freelon said he’d performed on The Pinhook stage multiple times. He’s part of the hip-hop jazz group The Beast, and the line he rapped during the forum was from the song “Captain America” on their new album, “Woke.” The forum was moderated by Aaron Mandel of the Durham website Clarion Content.

The next big forum to include candidates for both mayor and council is at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13 at the Hayti Heritage Center. It’s being presented by the National Domestic Workers Alliance-We Dream in Black Durham Chapter, Raise Up-Fight for 15, Durham for All, UE-150, and N.C. Black Women’s Roundtable.

On Monday, Sept. 18, the Coalition for Affordable Housing & Transit will host a Q&A at First Presbyterian Church. That begins at 11:30 a.m. with a brown bag lunch followed by questions for candidates at noon at the church, 305 E. Main St.

The municipal primary election on Oct. 10 will narrow down the races to two candidates each before the general election Nov. 7. Early voting for the primary begins Sept. 21.

At the Pinhook forum on policing, Ali, who has previously served on the City Council, talked about community building and addressing “distrust in our communities.”

“It’s not them against us,” Ali said. “The police are part of our department.”

None of the candidates – Schewel, Ali, Freelon, Ramirez or Williams – wanted to defund the police department, a question posed by The Pinhook.

Schewel said as the only white person on the stage, he did not know what it’s like to be stopped by police for “driving while black.” The other candidates, including Drinker, who was not at the forum, are African-American.

Freelon said policing and public safety are not the same thing. Ramirez said crime is her number one issue, and that she’s a National Night Out sponsor.

It’s really hard to build up trust between police and the community, Ramirez said.

“It’s difficult because certain communities don’t want police there, but when something happens, they call the police,” she said.

Schewel said supporting police trust-building measures is critically important.

Ali said there shouldn’t be over- or under-policing.

The 90-minute forum also veered into affordable housing and gentrification.

Freelon said the city’s budget should be looked at as “a reflection of our morals.”

The audience included Mayor Bell as well as the Rev. Curtis Gatewood, a former N.C. NAACP leader who asked how the candidates how they’d address racism, particularly in the wake of Charlottesville.

Ali said if racism and fascism is found in the community, they’ll address it and have no tolerance for it “particularly in our progressive community here.”

Schewel agreed with Ali, adding that “if the Klan wants to march in Durham, we meet them massively and peacefully.” Indeed, Durham residents did just that when a rumored Klan visit to the city never transpired but an anti-Klan protest did.

Freelon’s rapped line from The Beast song “Captain America,” referenced police arrests of African-Americans and the prison industry.

“Captain America, look what we saved Americans. Billions in cheap labor is a slave’s inheritance. This is what it is to be black in America. It feels like any minute I’ll be capped in America,” Freelon said.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan