Durham County

Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Durham policing to come to head at City Council meeting

Demilitarize from Durham2Palestine celebrated outside Durham City Hall on April 5 after a Durham City Council work session. The group submitted a petition to the council calling for the city not to engage in police training exchanges with Israel. The council issued a statement in response, but will not pass a resolution that Demilitarize called for.
Demilitarize from Durham2Palestine celebrated outside Durham City Hall on April 5 after a Durham City Council work session. The group submitted a petition to the council calling for the city not to engage in police training exchanges with Israel. The council issued a statement in response, but will not pass a resolution that Demilitarize called for. Submitted photo

The group calling for the Durham City Council to oppose police-training partnerships with Israel, Demilitarize from Durham2Palestine, will hold a rally at City Hall before the council meets tonight.

A majority of the City Council is expected to endorse a statement written by Mayor Steve Schewel on behalf of the council issued on April 5 that said: "The council opposes international exchanges with any country in which Durham officers receive military-style training since such exchanges do not support the kind of policing we want here in the City of Durham."

A memo from Police Chief Cerelyn "C.J." Davis referenced in the statement says, "There has been no effort while I have served as chief of police to initiate or participate in any exchange to Israel, nor do I have any intention to do so."

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Durham Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis City of Durham

A petition from Demilitarize from Durham2Palestine asks the City Council to pass a resolution.

"We are members of Durham’s community committed to peace and justice from Durham to Palestine," it states. "We want to live in a Durham that ensures true collective safety for all, and so we demand that the City of Durham immediately halt any partnerships that the Durham Police Department has or might enter into with the Israeli Defense Forces and/or the Israel Police."

The petition is supported by Jewish Voice for Peace, Durham for All, Abrahamic Initiative on the Middle East, Black Youth Project 100 - Durham Chapter, Inside Outside Alliance, Muslim American Public Affairs Council, Muslims for Social Justice, SpiritHouse, Students for Justice in Palestine at Duke University and Students for Justice in Palestine at UNC Chapel Hill.

But the council is not scheduled to vote on the petition, according to Monday night's agenda. The public can comment at the meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in Durham City Hall downtown.

And at the April 5 meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson said: "It’s important to note that Mayor Schewel’s statement is significantly different from the original petition we received on this issue, which I signed. The original petition from the “Demilitarize Durham to Palestine” campaign included language linking violent policing in the U.S. to tactics of the Israeli police and military."

Johnson said she does not believe that "it is inherently anti-Semitic to criticize Israeli policies and practice, just as I don’t believe it’s anti-American to criticize the practices of the U.S. military and police, which I do often."

Anti-Defamation League, rabbis, police group response

Seven Triangle rabbis have told the council they oppose the petition, calling it biased and bad policy. It was signed by Rabbi Larry Bach of Judea Reform Congregation; Rabbi Zalman Bluming of Chabad of Durham and Chapel Hill; Rabbi Daniel Greyber, Rabbi Jerry Fox and Rabbi Steven Sager of Beth El Synagogue; Rabbi Lucy Dinner of Temple Beth Or and Rabbi Eric Solomon of Beth Meyer Synagogue.

After the April 5 statement, the council received a letter from the Anti-Defamation League's Washington, D.C., Regional Director Doron F. Ezickson who calls Jewish Voice for Peace "a small and unrepresentative group whose fiercely anti-Israel organizational views are overwhelmingly rejected by the larger Jewish community, its institutions, and leaders."

The letter also questions the petition's language.

"Far from training that 'helps the police terrorize black and brown communities,' ADL's law enforcement programs, including those in Israel, are designed to equip officers with the knowledge, understanding, and sense of accountability necessary to help safeguard all of our communities and ensure that our civil rights and liberties are rigorously protected," Ezickson wrote.

The Fraternal Order of Police Durham County Lodge #2 also wrote to the council stating its "profound opposition" to the petition, saying it serves "to push their anti-police agenda."

What council members say

Council members Vernetta Alston, Mark-Anthony Middleton and Javiera Caballero all said they plan to endorse the council statement at tonight's meeting.

Council member DeDreana Freeman said the statement is "very symbolic in a Black Lives Matter sort of way."

Council member Charlie Reece, in an email to a resident, said he agrees with Schewel 'that sending our police officers overseas to receive military-style training does not make Durham safer, no matter what country hosts such training." Reece also said that "contrary to what you may have heard, the city of Durham has no program for sending our police officers overseas to train with the military of any foreign country."

Also on Monday, the People's Alliance, which has a political action committee that endorsed Schewel, Reece, Johnson, Alston, Freeman and Caballero, sent a letter to the council supporting "the campaign led by Triangle Jewish Voice for Peace to preclude any collaboration between the Durham Police Department and the Israeli Defense Forces."

"We strongly support the message in Mayor Schewel’s statement that 'The council opposes international exchanges with any country in which Durham officers receive military-style training since such exchanges do not support the kind of policing we want here in the City of Durham," the letter said.

The letter from the People's Alliance goes on to "ask the City Council to act on that message and pass a resolution that clearly expresses the city’s commitment to pursue community safety without resort to the kind of military tactics used by Israeli police against Palestinians."

The rally at 6 p.m. at City Hall, called "The People Demand: Demilitarize the Police! from Durham to Gaza," precedes the council meeting at 7 p.m. The meeting will also include recognition of the N.C. Central University men's basketball team and public hearings on the agenda.

Look for a report from the Durham City Council meeting Monday night at heraldsun.com.

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