Several hundred protesters marched from the police department to the jail in downtown Durham on Friday evening, in a stand of solidarity with the city of Baltimore.
On the day when six Baltimore police officers were charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray, the Durham protest had an almost celebratory feel. But demonstrators were also angry at what they said was a justice system that has long waged war on the poor and on people of color.
Some called the event a “Black Lives Matter May Day.”
The Durham demonstration was loud but peaceful. Police on bikes were positioned across the street from the jail. Nearby, white vans were on standby, with gas-masked officers and riot gear inside.
In front of the police department, drivers honked horns, prompting cheers from the crowd. Protesters carried signs with slogans such as “Police are not above the law.” They shouted over and over: “Hey hey, ho ho, these racist cops have got to go!”
Later, outside the jail, prisoners tapped on the windows to signal their approval of the raucous crowd. The protesters waved or raised their fists in the air toward the windows. They walked around the block so that inmates from all sides of the building could see them. They yelled, “We love you.”
Desmera Gatewood of Durham whipped up the crowd with a speech in which she questioned why the looting and rioting this week had captured the nation’s attention. “Where were you when they looted our community with the war on drugs?” she asked.
Gatewood urged the protesters to keep up their pressure, even though Friday’s arrests in Baltimore might make them feel like claiming victory.
“Nothing positive has ever come from people staying quiet,” she said.
The crowd was diverse, including white college students and gray-haired couples, young black men and mothers pushing strollers. A blond-haired child spoke plainly into a microphone, saying everyone should have equal rights. A high school teacher grabbed a bullhorn and recited the now familiar names of people who have died in police custody.
Nadiah Porter, a paralegal student at Durham Technical Community College, brought her 3-year-old daughter, Aria Chappell, to the event.
“My father was in prison for 10 years of my life,” Porter said. “He was sentenced to 30 years for a nonviolent cocaine charge in Detroit, Mich. I’m here in solidarity with the families that have been destroyed as a result of police brutality.”
Now, Porter said, she wants to spend her career on the inside of the legal system, pushing for fairness.
Earlier in the day, Baltimore’s chief prosecutor charged six police officers involved in Gray’s arrest with a range of crimes including murder and manslaughter.