Durham Activists Urge Citizens to Get More Involved in Addressing Police Violence Against Blacks | News

Durham Activists Urge Citizens to Get More Involved in Addressing Police Violence Against Blacks

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Assata Goff, 15, of Durham, holds a candle during a downtown vigil Friday evening, in solidarity with Alton Sterling and Philando Castille. "It's really hard to grieve and move forward at the same time," says Goff. - ALEX BOERNER
  • Alex Boerner
  • Assata Goff, 15, of Durham, holds a candle during a downtown vigil Friday evening, in solidarity with Alton Sterling and Philando Castille. "It's really hard to grieve and move forward at the same time," says Goff.
All over the U.S., protesters marched over the weekend to call for an end to unwarranted police violence against black people.

It was an awful week that ended with the deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana; Philando Castile in Minneapolis; and five police officers in Dallas, victims of senseless retaliation by a lone gunman, according to investigators. 

In Durham, where mutual distrust between police and   communities of color led to a police chief's early retirement last year, young activists separately organized two vigils downtown in response to the recent violence. They called for citizens to participate in more than just marches whenever a similar tragedy occurs.

"Join an organization," said Tesfaye Mohamed, to a  small, mostly black crowd that gathered on what began as a hot, muggy Friday evening on CCB Plaza downtown. "Join the NAACP. Join the Urban League. Join the Nation of Islam, if you have to."

Mohamed, a law student at North Carolina University, was there with fellow NCCU law students leading the vigil. As he spoke, two classmates held a banner behind him that read BLACK LIVES MATTER. A sign-up sheet on a clipboard was passed around. Organizers say that signers will receive links for organizations they can join.

"The purpose of this is not just to march, or to sign this and then go home," Mohamed continued. "What's gonna happen after you go home? If you care enough about something, do something!" 

From the crowd, a young African-American woman asked Mohamed what "doing something" would even look like.

"What actual things are we gonna do?" she asked. "Are we going to support black businesses, and businesses that support us? Are we going to take our dollars out? I mean, I want to know, what are the steps?"

Mohamed replied that joining an organization that addresses institutional racism is the first step. The young woman left before the conversation could go any further.

NCCU law student Jake Edwards, an organizer of the event, said it sprang from he and classmates contacting each other and "sharing our pain over what happened."

"We want people to know that there are voices right beside them that are wanting to say the same thing," he told The INDY.

Umar Salute Muhammad of Southern Coalition for Social Justice is also a local leader of All of Us or None, a national organization that advocates for people swept into the criminal justice system. He spoke at Friday's vigil.

"For my people feeling this pain, for my people that are upset, we have to be the ones at the forefront of this fight," he told the diverse crowd. "White people — I appreciate this support. And we need you all white people to support us. But allow us to be the voice of our own fight."

The lighting of candles at the end of the roughly hourlong vigil was made difficult by a dramatic gust of wind, heralding a rainstorm that started trickling as the crowd dispersed. But the candles got lit, and names of some of the best-known and most recent black victims of deadly police violence — including Castile and Sterling— were read aloud in unison.

Sunday's candlelight vigil on Market Street was organized by local high school students Zoe Thompson and Tabitha Radaker. The weather was calmer, and as WTVD reports, the attendance was "in the hundreds."

From WTVD:
Durham's new police chief Cerelyn "CJ" Davis watched the event unfold; it was her third vigil in one day.

She said her engagement is an effort to be visible, to build relationships, and to let neighbors know she hears their concerns and fears over racial profiling and police brutality.

"We plan to have training for our officers on deescalation, we also plan to help young people better understand how they can have safe encounters with officers."

Davis said the tragedy in Dallas weighed very heavily on her team. For her, it was a reminder that it's a different day in law enforcement. Officers have to extend themselves more and be a part of the community they serve.
Here's video from WTVD of Sunday's event on Market Street:




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