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- Photo by York Wilson
- Batalá Durham in performance in front of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
On June 26, police shut down Batalá Durham for the first time because of a noise complaint from a resident at Liberty Warehouse Apartments. Afterward, Batalá Durham members Justin Anderson-Pomeroy and Mavis Gragg researched the noise ordinance in Durham and found out that noise under 60 decibels was permitted until 11 p.m. They then got in touch with central district police, speaking with Lieutenant Jerry Yount over the phone and Captain George Zeipekkis over email. They were told that they were not breaking any laws, but it would be up to the officer on call how to handle future complaints.
Gragg and Anderson-Pomeroy also talked to the board of Durham Central Park and were told that they were allowed to use the space on a first-come, first-served basis. Additionally, they contacted Liberty Warehouse Apartments, which offered to incorporate Batalá's practice schedule into its community calendar so residents would be notified.
On July 10, Batalá held its usual practice in the park, but it wasn't long before a police officer showed up to tell them that a resident had called to complain about the noise. The police officer left after band members showed him documentation of their correspondence with Captain Zeipekkis and the noise ordinance. But another officer showed up later on during the practice and, after visiting with the resident at Liberty Warehouse Apartments, asked them to stop playing. He warned them another violation could prevent them from practicing again in the park. The Durham Police Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
According to Anderson-Pomeroy, who handled most of the group's communication with the police, the anonymous resident claimed she was expecting to hear noise on weekends from the park, but not on weeknights.
"We're not doing anything illegal, we're not doing anything against the ordinance," Anderson-Pomeroy says. "We're doing something against one person's interpretation of what their neighborhood should be like."
Liberty Warehouse Apartments did not return requests for comment.
Catherine Edgerton, a Durham native and Batalá member, says that the members of Batalá Durham are subjected to the effects of gentrification not just through noise complaints by nearby residents but also through their own struggles to remain in an increasingly unaffordable Durham.
"My property taxes doubled this year," Edgerton says, adding that everyone in Batalá has been affected, especially those who rent. Many members of the group also emphasize that their decision to stay in Durham, despite increasing rents, is largely due to its vibrant arts and culture scene—a scene that Batalá Durham is worried about being priced out of.
"We have this amazing opportunity as a city to really cultivate and grow and expand the things that make this city magical," Edgerton said. "But Durham is in danger of becoming a Disney version of itself."
To the members of Batalá Durham, the private interests of wealthy Liberty Warehouse residents seem poised to determine the group's future, which remains unclear. They just hope that those private interests won't win out in the long run.
"At our last practice, some of the residents of Liberty Warehouse Apartments came down and danced, so I know some of them are supportive and that gives me hope," Vidal says. "But if they shut us down, I don't know where we'll go."
On its website, Liberty Warehouse Apartments advertises, "Live DCP [Durham Central Park]. Live Liberty." But as it stands for Batalá, a representative of a Durham-for-all spirit, that living Liberty resonates with hollow irony.