Here's what we know: shortly before noon on Monday, February 29, while attempting to serve a felony drug warrant, white Raleigh police officer Daniel Clay Twiddy shot and killed a twenty-four-year-old African-American man named Akiel Denkins near the corner of Bragg and East streets in Southeast Raleigh.
Beyond that, the details are hazy.
Many community members—most hearing the story second-, third-, or even fourthhand—say it went something like this: Twiddy chased Denkins; Denkins hopped a fence; Twiddy tried to hop that fence but fell down; onlookers started laughing at Twiddy; then, as one witness told The News & Observer, Twiddy "pulled his gun out and started shooting. [Denkins] got shot in the back."
Twiddy's version is quite different. In his telling, as reported in the preliminary "five-day report" the Raleigh Police Department presented to the city manager last week, Twiddy—a former high school wrestler and CrossFit enthusiast—caught up to the fleeing Denkins. They wrestled. "As the struggle continued, Officer Twiddy observed Mr. Denkins start to pull a handgun from the front of his waistband and begin to move it toward Officer Twiddy," the report says.
So Twiddy pulled out his gun and fired "multiple" shots, the report says. "After the first shots were fired, Officer Twiddy felt Mr. Denkins' hand or arm make contact with his duty weapon. Officer Twiddy, fearing that Mr. Denkins was either going to shoot him or attempt to take his duty weapon, stepped back and fired additional shots at Mr. Denkins," the report continues, "who still had the firearm in his hand. Mr. Denkins collapsed to the ground, dropping the firearm in the process."
A preliminary autopsy found that Denkins was shot four times.
"We were sitting outside, having a nice day," recalls neighbor Brenda Jackson. "The next thing I know, I hear bam! bam! bam! And I said, 'Oh Lord, I'm going in the house.'"
Gunshots aren't unusual in this section of Southeast Raleigh, a generally friendly but often underserved neighborhood where some houses sit in disrepair. Nor is it unusual to see a heavy police presence—usually white cops patrolling an almost entirely black neighborhood—to combat drug trafficking, the scourge of a community full of young people with little opportunity.
But drug dealers aren't the cops' only targets, people who live on Bragg Street say.
"They ride up and down this strip, they see what's going on, and all they want to do is harass people—not only drug dealers, but innocent people," says resident Al Hall. "And they expect people to respect them for that. Nobody's going to respect someone for taking an old man who can't even walk, and because he's drinking a little bit, let's go and rough him up. Nobody's going to respect that."
So it's no surprise that, in the wake of Denkins's death, many residents don't believe the developing official narrative. They also don't believe Twiddy will be indicted or otherwise held accountable. Instead, they see this incident as of a piece with the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Tamir Rice in Cleveland—cases where young black lives were snuffed out by the police.
"Even if [Denkins] ran or had drugs on him, you didn't have to do all that to the man," says neighbor Willie Alston. "The police could be a whole lot better than what they are, really."
"I have a seven-year old grandson that I see every day," adds Geraldine Alshamy, a member of the Police Accountability Community Taskforce (PACT), a volunteer group that formed last year. "He always asks me, 'GiGi, will the police shoot me?'"
Justified or not, that distrust, and all the issues underlying it, is something the city will have to grapple with in the weeks and months—and years and decades—to come.
"When you have an issue like this, if you have alienated and excluded people and didn't respect their culture, when you get a crisis, that comes back," says Octavia Rainey, a longtime Raleigh activist. "It is all about creating trust. [City officials] are so caught up in change that they forgot about trust. Trust will always give you the benefit of the doubt, and [the police] need the benefit of the doubt right now."