DURHAM — The Durham Human Relations Committee heard more public anger about police behavior Tuesday night during the latest in a series of meetings requested by city leaders.
More than 20 speakers complained about rudeness to racial profiling. Many made reference to Jesus Huerta, 17, who died in the back of a police cruiser in November, or to Derek Walker, who was shot to death by an officer during a standoff downtown in September.
East Durham resident Ernest Smith spoke of a “blue wall mentality” within the force “that (thinks) they can do no wrong” and said people are afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation
Community activist Aidil Hill said she noticed on police ride-alongs that officers used a different tone depending on what neighborhood they were in. Officers should respect everyone, she said.
Mayor Bill Bell and the City Council asked the Human Relations Commission to hold the meetings after a tide of complaints, including three fatal officer-involved shootings. The commission will then make recommendations for improving police-community affairs.
Speakers and signs at Tuesday’s meeting in City Hall called for Police Chief Jose Lopez’s job. Last month, police rebutted allegations that traffic stop, search and arrest statistics for blacks and Latinos indicated racal profiling.
“Durham needs a new police chief,” said Jackie Wagstaff, a former school board member and city councilwoman.
“Please stop this problem now,” speaker Bob Brown told the commissioners. “You have more power than you really know.”
Activist Dante Strobino of the FADE Coalition (Fostering Alternative Drug Enforcement) called for an independent review board that would conduct its own investigations into police complaints, instead of relying on evidence collected by the police department.
Victoria Peterson, a former city council candidate, said police harass motorists in her neighborhood of McDougald Terrace.
Steve Hopkins suggested some officers were selling drugs and engaging in other illegal activity from their cars. Paul Scott questioned the presence of undercover officers at marches protesting Huerta’s death from a gunshot wound police say was self-inflicted.
Some commission members challenged a speaker who said they didn’t look engaged with the public Tuesday.
“There are very few things that have been related to this board that I cannot relate to,” said commissioner Norris Wicker.
Commissioner Joy Morgan said she knew Walker, and that his death “hurt me to my core.”
“Just because we don’t look like we don’t have an issue doesn’t mean we don’t have an issue,” Morgan said. “Please don’t walk away assuming that nothing will be done. We’re here to do a job that we will do.”