Bishop Dixon (center) says his community is not a dangerous place.
In the aftermath of Akiel Denkins’s death in Southeast Raleigh Monday
, Bishop Darnell Dixon Sr. of the Bible Way Temple has been at the forefront of the response from the community. On Wednesday morning, he sat down with the INDY
to talk about the unfair perceptions of Southeast Raleigh, the aftermath of Akiel Denkins’s death, and where the community can go from here.
INDY: When did you first hear about this happening?
Bishop Darnell Dixon Sr.:
I heard about this about thirty minutes after it happened. I was working out, and my wife told me it happened up the street from my church. Of course I know where Bragg and East Street is, and I immediately got dressed and came out.
What is the community’s relationship like with the police?
I can only speak relative to our church and this particular area, but I’ve been in this area since 1978, and I haven’t seen any harassment by the police. I have seen police activity. Relative to the community as a whole, I personally—in terms of being a pastor—haven’t had any harassment from the police, but that isn’t to suggest that there hasn’t been police harassment in the area.
What’s your sense of the police’s response to Denkins’s death?
Thirty minutes after the fact—not during the event, and not speaking about the actions of the officer who shot him—I can appreciate the police stepping back while people mourn and gather in peaceful protest. We haven’t had any incidents out here in terms of looting, fires, or fights. People are articulating their emotions and feelings, but orderly. … [The media] somehow looks for the sensation rather than a peaceful gathering. The cameras don’t see looting or tanks or canisters being shot. There’s none of that. The police allowing us to march yesterday was very commendable; we had police escorts, so we appreciate the police for their cooperation.
This is a very tight-knit and friendly neighborhood, but a few community members have told us that there’s some violence. Has the police presence increased around here in the past few years?
I don’t see that being motivated by violence. The police patrol North Raleigh, but when you talk about a police presence in North Raleigh, they don’t underline it with violence. But in Southeast Raleigh, it’s underlined by violence. … In the city of Raleigh, crime happens where reporters say, “We never thought it would happen here.” Anywhere where you have human reality, anything can happen. But the expectation is for it to happen in Southeast Raleigh and not North Raleigh … that’s a misconception.
You spoke yesterday about Southeast Raleigh and how it’s a great place to live. What do you want people to see about Southeast Raleigh that isn’t defined by this incident?
I want you to see Southeast Raleigh like you see North Raleigh, East Raleigh, and West Raleigh. It’s the perception. When a man rehearses something over and over again, it can start out as a lie, but becomes truth to him. At our church, we have people from all over city who come to this church. We’ve never had an incident. …It was the people who protected this site.
So when I hear the reporting now that we stopped the traffic during rush hour, the police stopped the traffic. “They’re upset, they’re angry …” No. This is peaceful protest. Nobody’s been arrested. In terms of what is said about Southeast Raleigh, it’s not true.
There was a young man in South Carolina, in Charleston, that went into a church and killed nine people, and he had the privilege of being arrested after a chase. After he fled and went across state lines. He had the chance to be arrested, but [Denkins] didn’t have an opportunity to be arrested. He killed nobody. He shot up no church. You can call it what you want, but I wonder why one man can get the privilege of being arrested, and another man gets shot in his back. I don’t believe that anyone should be shot, but when you look at the comparison of it, that’s privilege.
How is Denkins’s mother doing?
She’s a very cordial and intelligent person. She’s accepting those who are trying to help her. She’s given us her information. She’s dependent on us and answers our calls. This mother just wanted to see her son.
I’m sure that you know the Raleigh City Council took body cameras off its agenda shortly after this happened. Do you think they would have helped in this situation?
The last part is where I have a problem. Would it have helped in this situation. What does history say?
Right, and that’s the only barometer we have. In certain instances, it may, but in others … to be honest, I think they should have cameras, we just need to see what the response is with the cameras.
And I don’t think body cameras are for “gotcha” moments. We need the police, but I’m concerned to what the degree the police understand the community needs them. It’s not a warfare with the police. I’ve looked at the statistics at how many black people are in Raleigh, what the percentages are, and how many black police officers are in Raleigh compared to white police officers, and what’s their assignment. I’ve talked to police departments around the country. How many police forces do you think majority black police officers patrol white areas?
Very few, I would imagine.
And how many majority-white officers do you think patrol black areas?
I would guess most of those areas.
Right. So what I’m saying is that you feel comfortable in your community seeing people patrolling who look like you. Someone you went to school with, went to church with, and know the family. We don’t get that privilege. We have people come in with preconceived notion that Southeast Raleigh is a bad area. I had a friend who as a D.C. police officer, and he said that whenever they had instances like this, with people running, they’d say, “Oh I know him, I went to school with him, I knew his mama, I’ll get him tomorrow.” But when you get policemen who don’t know who they’re policing, they come in with preconceived ideas.
These people don’t bother the police. It’s just a preconceived idea of the treatment that they get, and the expectation from what they’ve seen. So, harassment? I don’t know. But I think the remedy is—I’m not saying all black and all white—we just need to see a number of policemen who look like us so the black community can have the same amount of confidence as other communities.
Akiel Denkins’s body was released by the medical examiner yesterday. Rolanda Byrd, his mother, has set up a GoFundMe to help pay for her son’s burial. If you are so inclined, you can donate here.