D’atra Jackson stood before the Durham City Council and boldly asked city leaders to halt plans to build a new police headquarters and dissociate from the Police Department.
“We really want the city of Durham to look into divesting from policing and instead funding black futures and investment in the black and brown communities,” Jackson said.
Jackson, 26, is an organizer with the Durham Beyond Policing campaign, which along with the UE 150 Durham City Workers Union, have been protesting since February the city’s plan to spend about $71 million on a new Police Department headquarters.
City officials have said the the department’s current 60-year-old building on West Chapel Hill Street doesn’t meet the needs of a modern police force, is expensive to maintain and all of its systems are near the end of their useful life.
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The city plans to build a new $71 million headquarters for the Police Department and Emergency Communications on East Main Street. The City Council plans to vote June 6 to authorize the city manager to negotiate and execute a contract of up to nearly $2.3 million for the East Main Street site’s demolition, abatement and soil remediation for the building that is expected to be completed in the summer of 2018.
Critics of the new headquarters say the city should use the money to address other issues.
For about two months, protesters with the Durham Beyond Policing campaign and the workers union have been picketing Durham City Hall every Monday night. Last week about a dozen interrupted a City Council meeting holding signs and chanting “Money for jobs and education not for cops and incarceration.”
The City Council waited.
“Have you finished?” Mayor Bill Bell asked. “Thank you.”
“We’ll be back. We’ll be back. We’ll be back,” they chanted as the left.
On Thursday, a handful of protesters attended the City Council work session.
Jackson said they have a petition with more than 500 signatures opposing the new headquarters. They’ve canvassed various areas raising awareness about the new building and gathering stories about police abuse, she said.
“We know police do not prevent crime, they respond to it,” she said.
Instead of spending money on policing, they want raises for city workers and community access to mental health services, sustainable food and water, she said.
Councilman Eddie Davis didn’t appreciate the suggestion that the city doesn’t need the police, he said.
“I think it is offensive to the men and women who put their lines on the line every day to serve and protect this community,” he said.
Daryl Brunson, an equipment operator in the city’s Solid Waste Department and a member of the UE 150 Durham City Workers Union, also said he opposed the project. He asked the City Council to delay approving the next step June 6 and seek community input. Brunson said the city should find an alternative to the new building and spread the savings around to other departments with actions that include raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and an across-the-board raise of $2,000.
“We don’t think that a huge building on East Main Street costing over $70 million for the police will help the residents of Durham feel safer,” Brunson said.
Bell said some of the protesters’ efforts are admirable.
“I was young once too; I am 75 now, so I have been there,” he said.
But Bell said protesters don’t have the votes on the council to overturn the decision on police headquarters, so maybe they should work together on other issues, such as raising wages and affordable housing.
“If you want to try to get something done, pick something that this council could focus on and together we can get it done,” he said, but don’t pit affordable housing and higher wages against building a new headquarters.
Jackson said she would continue to share information about the new building and rally supporters.
“That is your right to do that,” Bell said.
“I know,” Jackson said.
“Rally as many people as you think you need to rally,” Bell said. “I don’t have a problem with it at all. That’s what’s good about Durham. That is the openness that we have in the community. “
Regardless of Bell’s statement about council support, Brunson has hope that there will be a shift on the decision, he said. For now, he said, the protests will continue.
“It seems like every week more and more people are starting to come down to the Monday rally,” he said. “We have to keep things up front and not have them swept under the table.”
In other business:
The City Council on Thursday:
▪ Decided not to take action on a proposal to extend health insurance to outgoing council members who have served more than 10 years. The City Council Insurance Subcommittee explored the option, but members Charlie Reece and Steve Schewel said they didn’t support the options presented Thursday.
Mayor Bill Bell, who said he didn’t qualify for the proposed benefits, said at some point in time additional benefits should be allowed for people who serve in elected positions.
▪ Discussed a proposal to delay a downtown parking deck to incorporate affordable housing.
City staff indicated adding about 30 affordable housing units into a planned West Morgan Street parking deck would delay the the structure and escalate costs as downtown faces a parking crunch.
Developer Bob Chapman, however, pointed to other parking deck projects across the nation that incorporated affordable housing. Chapman said if the city used a a precast construction process, which involves concrete that is cast before its brought to the site, then it could use the cost savings to incorporate affordable housing. City officials said the precast construction wouldn’t last as long, would require more maintenance and wasn’t adequate for a structure that is also incorporating retail and office space. The council plans to vote on the issue June 6.
The Durham City Council will consider approving the next step with the Durham Police Department Headquarters at its 7 p.m. June 6 City Council meeting. The meetings are held in City Council Chambers at 101 City Hall Plaza.