Had I not been shaking in my wedge-heels, I’d probably be able to share more details of what I saw with mine own eyes after church March 6, a gorgeous Sunday.
Had I not been so doggone heart-thumping nervous and stunned, I would have counted exactly how many Raleigh police cars crept past as I interviewed people on Bragg Street in Southeast Raleigh.
They rode by in seemingly synchronized groups of three about five times from different directions within 15 minutes.
Folks chatting with my daughter and me said it happens consistently since Akiel Denkins was shot to death nearby by Senior Officer D.C. Twiddy, who tried to arrest the 24-year-old father of two for failing to appear in court on a felony drug charge.
They seemed relieved I – someone who doesn’t live there, but who isn’t afraid of there – saw it, too. Somebody else knows they aren’t fibbing about feeling like criminalized victims after watching one of their own shot down.
The Raleigh Police Accountability Community Taskforce wants to address such complaints and more.
On March 10, North Carolina Fair Share asked the city’s Human Relations Commission to join the nationwide movement toward police accountability and support its proposed policy changes, including establishing a community police oversight board and internship to better diversify recruits.
It’s all about police abuse and impunity, said Shirley Tang of uCANcomplain, an organization committed to empowering students and parents in an era of bullying, criminalization of youths, especially black youths, and school-to-prison pipelines.
“Laws are useless when those controlling the laws can act above the law,” Tang told the Human Relations Commission. “Complaints are also useless when those controlling the law can ignore facts and logic, fiercely protect their own and even go above the laws.
“No one deserves to be treated unfairly, and no one deserves to suffer in silence. We are all human beings, equally.”
The Raleigh PACT proposal is modeled after the Civilian Complaint Review Board established in April in Newark, N.J. It’s considered one of the strongest police oversight boards in the country.
The independent community oversight board would have power to investigate, subpoena and discipline officers in its review of complaints against the city police department, said Akiba Byrd, executive director of North Carolina Fair Share. The group is among a coalition of 15 organizations that comprise the Raleigh PACT, which is concerned clashes between police and the community are disproportionately shaped by race, age and ethnicity.
PACT’s solutions: accountability; equity to improve officer training, expand crisis intervention and end bias in stops and searches; community policing via an internship program to recruit and retain officers of color and increase opportunities for positive relationships between community and police; and development of a system and process for self-policing.
“Body cams are not enough,” Byrd said, noting city leaders could say footage from police body cameras is a personnel matter and unavailable for public review. “If they’re the only people who have access to the footage, then it’s just another tool for them to surveil us.”
A review board would seat elected representatives of neighborhoods, churches, community organizations, youth groups and businesses, as well as local law enforcement and government officials.
The charge: create, oversee and help implement strategies to address crime and disorder, and restore trust between police and residents, including providing spaces for community members to speak up and out, be heard and have their perspective considered.
Already, grassroots community leaders have opened doors for those voices to be heard.
In its call for #JusticeForAkiel, Byrd said, the community wants a full and transparent investigation, including the immediate release of the state medical examiner’s report and all details of the investigation. They also demand Twiddy’s “immediate termination, suspension of pay and his indictment for the murder of Akiel,” Byrd said.
“And they want the police to chill out in the community, to stop the occupation,” he said. “They’re in heavy rotation right now.”
When I inquired about what I’d experienced, Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue said, noting a shooting the night before unrelated to Denkins’ death, “The purpose of our patrol work was public safety, and we had no intention of being an intimidation.”
Byrd has a different perspective.
“It’s the aftermath,” he said. “They’ve occupied the ’hood, came in and killed someone, and now they’re terrorizing the victims, the survivors. That’s the script of what happens all around the country.