On Monday, the Durham City Council was debating spending more than $1 million to add eighty cars to the police department's fleet—on the face of it, a seemingly mundane agenda item.
But Umar Muhammad didn't see it that way. To Muhammad, an organizer with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who spoke during the council meeting's public comment period, it was a "slap to the face" that the board was considering such a move in the aftermath of the controversial November 22 police shooting that left thirty-four-year-old Frank Clark dead. (The INDY obtained a postmortem photograph that appears to show that Clark had a bullet wound in the back of his head, though an autopsy has not yet been released.) What's more, Muhammad charged, the city has remained silent on the fate of the officer who fired the fatal shots, Charles Barkley, a man Muhammad said "we told you" about.
"The police officers can do whatever they want to do, and you're gonna reward them with police cars?" Muhammad asked. "The cars that were sitting in McDougald [Terrace] when Frank Clark was killed, there's nothing wrong with those cars."
He was also angry at council member Eddie Davis, who last week told The News & Observer, "Since there hasn't been an outcry, it doesn't appear to me that the public confidence has been compromised at all."
Muhammad read those words back to the council, then said, "The family of Frank Clark is in the room today, and I don't know where you've been listening. We've been crying. This is a slap to the face. We've been crying about Barkley. The community deserves an apology for your comments."
Later, the council went into a closed session, during which coucil members discussed incidents previously reported by the INDY ["The Cop Who Killed Frank Clark," December 7; "Disorderly Conduct," December 14] involving Barkley and two other officers present at Clark's death. The council will ask Governor-elect Roy Cooper to expedite the state's investigation into Clark's shooting and is considering making public the officers' personnel records. Council member Steve Schewel says the council has also requested a detailed explanation from the District Attorney's Office once it determines whether to charge Barkley with a crime.
The board also unanimously approved a letter of support for the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project, despite skepticism that the funding gap created by the legislature—which set a state funding cap of 10 percent of the total project cost, when the original plan called for 25 percent—can be closed. Just where Durham will come up with the money isn't immediately clear.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Slap to the Face."