Durham police surround Huerta protesters; gas used to disperse group

akenney@newsobserver.comDecember 19, 2013 

— A month after Jesús “Chuy” Huerta died in police custody, dozens of armored police officers assembled as an alliance of about 150 friends, families and protesters marched for a second time on the Durham Police Department Thursday evening.

Police, some dressed in riot gear and equipped with rifles and shotguns, assembled in rows around the building, waiting, as the marchers streamed toward police property around 7:30 p.m., demanding answers for a family's pain.

Protest organizers and police alike had in prior days urged marchers to remain peaceful, hoping to avoid the window-breaking and small number of arrests that marked the first protest for Huerta.

Thursday’s march, however, ended with several more arrests. Firecrackers and at least one bottle was thrown by protesters. Then several canisters of gas discharged by police before the crowd finally dispersed around 9 p.m.

The uproar over Huerta's death has calmed little in the last few weeks, seeming only to intensify with Chief Jose Lopez's claim that the 17-year-old shot himself in the head while his hands were cuffed behind his back in a police cruiser.

Grief and anger coursed through the crowd Thursday as it ended its march from downtown to the police department, urged on by pounding drums. At the edge of the parking lot, the dozens of officers who had shadowed the march began to shout commands: “Exit the parking lot now!” Trespassers, they warned, would face arrest.

The crowd pushed into the lot. Huerta's family and friends gathered around a light pole at the lot's edge, while protesters with long black banners – “MURDERED BY POLICE,” one read – wrapped around the crowd's edge.

A few in the crowd banged drums, some wore bandanas over their faces, a few cursed the police, shouting over the long cloth banners, and others wept while officers on loudspeakers again threatened arrest. There was no easy uniform description of the multi-ethnic, multi-generation crowd.

Rafael Estrada Maya, a coordinator, shouted time after time for quiet, so the family could leave their respects.

“We are praying! Respect prayer! Respect the dead,” he pleaded over a loudspeaker. Eventually, the crowd listened, falling quiet at the edge of the parking lot.

Then Evelin Huerta, Jesus Huerta's sister, sometimes identified as Evelin Fernandez, took her turn to speak.

“Don't say bad words – respect, please, please respect,” said Huerta, who's been an emotional anchor and a public face for the protest movement. A drummer banged again. “Stop!” cried Huerta's mother, Sylvia Huerta, sometimes identified as Sylvia Fernandez.

An officer called out again over his loudspeaker: Five minutes until the arrests began, he said. Evelin Huerta began to play a song by a Christian Latin pop duo over Maya's bullhorn.

The circle of young women wept, then sobbed. Jesus Huerta's mother and sister began to mouth the song's words, and suddenly Evelin Huerta was singing them loud, above the other women's cries.

“I know that we're going to see you some day,” she said, kneeling with her mother to a fresh-laid shrine of candles and flowers. “We miss you. We miss you so much … But we will look for justice, Papi. But we will not leave your death … We love you, and we miss you to death. It wasn't supposed to be this way.”

The police gave their two minute warning, and Maya on his bullhorn asked the crowd to leave in peace. They left, but marched back downtown with police following.

Once downtown, there was a final confrontation where young people chanted and threw firecrackers at the ranks of riot police. The police advanced, herding the marchers along Main Street, away from downtown. Two men were arrested, but the crowd finally dispersed after police released canisters of gas.

Kenney: 919-829-4870

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