Commentary

Saunders: Violent protests in Durham overshadow grief, questions

bsaunders@newsobserver.comJanuary 20, 2014 

  • How to help

    Members of the Huerta family say they need help with burial expenses. El Centro Hispano is a nonprofit organization collecting the donations. Donations can be made directly or by mail at El Centro Hispano: 600 E. Main St. Durham, NC 27701, or through their website: elcentronc.org. In both cases designate “For Huerta Family.”

— Ornately inscribed on the wooden table from which the communion wine at Providence Baptist Church in Rockingham was served each first Sunday was the sentence “This do in remembrance of me.”

Being something of an idiot who thought the sentence construction odd, my childhood self would giggle that whoever wrote that line must’ve already been in the wine.

Only later did I realize that the line is from the Book of Luke in the New Testament and is indeed correct.

That line came to mind Sunday night as I drove around Durham and saw police on foot, in squad cars and on bikes in case people protesting Jesus Huerta’s death and the investigation of it got violent. Huerta’s grieving family members have to be encouraged that people are still demanding answers and clarity.

But they have to be discouraged at the violence that is overshadowing their grief.

On Sunday night, Huerta’s family held a peaceful vigil inside Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, where Jesus had his confirmation, and a family representative pre-emptively said it had nothing to do with the protest that preceded it. After the rock-throwing and graffiti-spraying that resulted in six arrests, you can forgive Jesus’ family members if they tell the vandals, “Do not do this in remembrance of Jesus.”

In a statement released after Sunday night’s march and violence, police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said rocks shattered windows at the police department’s District 5 substation, and several police vehicles were damaged.

City Councilman Steve Schewel told me Monday that the vigil, which he attended, “was a great event. The church was full, and his sister gave some moving remarks. That was a beautiful thing. I think the family appreciated it.”

The march that preceded the vigil, though, was not a beautiful thing, he said. “I fully support the right of people to march. I just left one today (honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.). But bursting windows and police cars is definitely counterproductive. It’s calculated to provoke a police response. Our police over-reacted Dec. 19” – during the first protest when tear gas was used to disperse protesters – “but last night, they responded very well.”

Is there a reason to be skeptical still of the official account of how Huerta died after being picked up on a second-degree trespassing warrant?

Darned right, there is. The SBI didn’t uncover evidence of a crime in the teen’s death, but I hope the feds look into it, too. The official account is that he shot himself in the head while his gloved hands were cuffed behind his back.

Yeah, I’m still tying to figure that out, too.

Chief Jose Lopez said soon after that account was offered that he has seen or heard of similarly handcuffed suspects doing all sorts of things, like lighting and smoking a cigarette. When I sought details, cop shop spokeswoman Michael said the incident happened while Lopez was working for the police department in Hartford, Conn.

Lopez also said, in response to another question, that at times suspects are handcuffed while wearing gloves.

That led invariably to the question, “Who the heck did Hartford cops arrest – Houdini?”

When a 17-year-old kid shoots himself in the back of a squad car, whether he’s handcuffed or not, somebody did something wrong – even it was only failing to search him properly.

The family deserves to hear someone at least acknowledge that.

It also deserves to have Huerta’s unnecessary death protested in a way that doesn’t compound the family’s anguish.

Do that in remembrance of the kid.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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