In Durham, King Day brings call to 'join fight for justice'

jwise@newsobserver.comJanuary 22, 2013 

Several hundred people at a Martin Luther King Day rally Monday heard state NAACP Vice President Curtis Gatewood call for a return to the streets.

“It is great to have King Day programs, but it is time for us to get out of the comfort zone and get back into the streets and join the fight for justice,” Gatewood said, drawing loud applause.

Specifically, Gatewood urged the crowd to join a “Hundred Thousand on Jones Street” demonstration Feb. 9 in Raleigh, but he also called for a rally Thursday morning in support of Stephanie Nickerson at the Durham County Judicial Building.

Nickerson faces misdemeanor charges of resisting and assaulting a police officer, but claims an officer beat her when police responded to a noise complaint Oct. 28. Thursday morning is her court date.

“Brutality is still alive and well. ... right here in your neighborhood,” Gatewood said.

The Raleigh march is aimed at the General Assembly which, he said, in the last hours of its 2012 session passed laws “detrimental to the very things Dr. King died for.

“The General Assembly is your house, and unforunately your house has been pest infected,” Gatewood said. “We need you there to clean the house.”

The rally where Gatewood spoke, at First Presbyterian Church, followed a march through downtown Durham from the N.C. Mutual Building on Chapel Hill Street. It is an annual event, organized by the Durham Martin Luther King Day Steering Committee, and in the sunny morning a large crowd of blacks and whites, from infants in strollers to the elderly, marched with several elected officials and Gatewood in the front rank.

“We’re here to recognize our freedom that we have because of Martin Luther King,” said Kayla McNeil, who came with several youths from First Calvary Baptist Church.

“To let him know that we’re there for him, even though he’s not here,” said her companion Tavia Hawley.

The Rev. Warren Herndon, who led the march, said healing divisions in the nation and ending violence were particular concerns of the Unity March’s steering committee.

“Dr. King called on us to become peacemakers,” Herndon said. “We must become champions for stopping the violence.”

Banners and signs supporting Carlos Riley Jr. were prominent in the march. Riley is accused of shooting a police officer during a traffic stop on Dec. 18, but his supporters claim police have withheld information on the case and that his $1.5 million bond is unreasonable.

Ashley Reeves, who identified herself as Riley’s girlfriend, said was collecting signatures for a petition demanding Riley’s release, dismissal of the charges against him, release of the evidence against him and an end to police brutality. Martin Luther King would be sympathetic, she said.

“He would be right here marching with us, too, if he was here,” she said.

Other marchers invoked King’s work on workers’ behalf.

“The last campaign he was working on, he died for garbage workers,” said Max Davis, a Durham city employee for 24 years.

Davis said he has worked for the city of Durham for 24 years, and, “One of our main issues I would like to see before I retire is collective bargaining for public service workers.”

Rabbi Leah Berkowitz also remarked on King’s final campaign before delivering the rally’s closing prayer. King had accomplished a great deal by the age of 39, she said, but kept on working.

“There’s a lesson to be learned in how Dr. King spent his last days,” Berkowitz said. “He could have moved on to more comfortable and safer pursuits (but) spent the last days of his life fighting so 1,300 sanitation workers could get a 10-cent raise.

“For Dr. King there was no resting on his laurels, the work was never finished,” she said, “until every human being in this great nation has the same rights and opportunities.”

Wise: 919-641-5895

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