Raleigh residents who for a year have been demanding more police accountability are also calling for the city to deny Shaw University’s request for a substation on campus.
Shaw University President Tashni-Ann Dubroy is asking Raleigh to open a police “substation” in one of its buildings just south of downtown. Dubroy said she thinks the move could improve public safety in the area and help students build relationships with police officers.
With homemade signs in hand, a handful of Shaw students on Tuesday night joined members of the Raleigh Police Accountability Community Task Force to ask that council members reject the idea of bringing more city officers around campus.
“For us, more police doesn’t equal more safety,” said Essence Shelton, a Shaw junior from Seattle. “It doesn’t secure our future, it doesn’t build leaders for Raleigh.”
Shelton was one of more than 30 people that leaders of the task force, known as PACT, rallied on the Hargett Street sidewalk before leading them inside City Hall for the council’s 7 p.m. meeting. Several of them spoke during the “public comment” portion of the meeting.
Shelton argued that a larger police presence would only serve to further strain student relationships with police. Officers treat young black people differently than other residents, Shelton said, illustrating her point by saying a patrol officer once turned on his car lights, interrogated and patted her down after she jaywalked on Person Street.
Niesha Lyons, a 22-year-old Shaw student from Durham, agreed that a substation is a bad idea. Shaw already has security guards and campus police, who she claimed are more familiar with students.
City police “are automatically going to assume there something negative going on if they see a black man with sagging pants,” Lyons said.
PACT started lobbying city leaders shortly after a police officer, D.C. Twiddy, shot and killed a Southeast Raleigh resident, Akiel Denkins, on Feb. 29. Raleigh police said Twiddy acted in self-defense, but some Southeast Raleigh residents believe Denkins was running away.
Denkins’ death, along with a wave of controversial officer-involved shootings, prompted PACT members to regularly attend council meetings and demand that Raleigh leaders push for, among other things, the creation of an independent board that can review controversial police actions.
PACT members expressed their frustrations to council members Tuesday night with poems, signs and, on occasion, raised voices.
Mayor Nancy McFarlane on Tuesday reiterated that the City Council doesn’t have authority to create an independent board like the one PACT is seeking. She noted that the council has, at PACT’s request, instructed police to obtain written permission from people before performing a search.
Akiba Byrd, a PACT leader, said the City Council should ask the legislature to change state law to pave the way for independent boards across the state. Council members expressed no interest in doing so.
Rolanda Byrd, Denkins’ mother, told council members that Raleigh residents will continue pushing for reforms until the city enacts more checks on police actions.
“It’s a problem that every time we demand action from this council, your response is to organize more meetings and dialogue sessions, that’s why we keep coming,” Byrd said, referencing events held by the mayor and police chief. “Dialogue is not enough.”
The consequences of inaction could be devastating, she said.
“Tomorrow, Feb. 8 is my son Akiel Denkins’ birthday,” Rolanda Byrd said. “And instead of celebrating his life, I have to mourn his death.”