Many residents of a public housing community where police fatally shot a 34-year-old man last week say they are regularly harassed and intimidated by the officers who patrol their neighborhood.
Those assertions were echoed Wednesday afternoon by attorneys and community activists who criticized ongoing use of force by police officers they say target people of color, particularly African-American men.
Nia Wilson, executive director of Spirit House in Durham, said the shooting mirrored incidents across the country where black men are the focus of “race-based policing” and municipal leaders invest in police departments but refuse to invest in communities. Wilson summed up the residents’ unspoken rules during encounters with police as “Don’t speak, don’t run, don’t reach, lower your eyes, lower your voice, you have no choice.”
The news conference followed the release of a police department report that described how Master Officer Charles Barkley shot and killed Frank Nathaniel Clark near the corner of Dayton and Wabash streets in McDougald Terrace on Nov. 22.
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The report says Barkley and two other officers, Monte Southerland and Christopher Goss, stopped and questioned Clark around 12:30 p.m. The report said Clark reached for his waistband and that a struggle ensued. Officers say they heard a gunshot and that Southerland fell to the ground, prompting Barkley to fire his gun.
The report did not say how many times Clark was shot or where he was hit.
Dave Hall, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said the incident raised “larger questions,” starting with “the collective pain felt by the community.”
“We can do better by this community,” he said. “We have to do better.”
Mal Clairborne has lived in the community for a decade and says she fears the officers who have sworn to protect her neighborhood.
“Every time I see their blue lights, my heart drops. When they look at me, it scares me,” said Clairborne, 29, who attended a community meeting Monday night with Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis, the city’s police chief, and members of her command staff. “When I give you my license and registration, does that mean I’m going to get dropped? My son used to want to be a police officer. Now my son is terrified of them.”
A public test
City Council member Steve Schewel, who attended Monday’s meeting at the T.A. Grady Recreation Center, described McDougald Terrace as “a community that’s hurting.”
“There was a lot of hurt expressed and talk about the need for a different kind of policing in the community,” he said. “I thought Chief Davis did a good job of responding to their concerns, and really listening and taking in what people were saying.”
Davis worked with the Atlanta Police Department for 28 years before she was hired June 6, after City Manager Tom Bonfield asked Chief Jose Lopez to resign last year under mounting accusations of racial profiling and a rising violent crime rate. Lopez served as police chief for eight years.
Davis is six months into the job, and last week’s shooting is her first big public test in Durham. She said Monday’s meeting “went well,” and that the police department wanted to “give everybody an opportunity to vent their concerns” and help keep children in the community safe.
“We’re very open to listening,” Davis said.
Cynthia Hawley, 51, said she thinks Davis is sincere about the department’s desire to work with the community to make it safer. And Hawley said she thinks it’s a much-needed initiative, including the beefed-up patrols over the past three months in response to an uptick in violent crimes and gang activity.
Hawley, who has a daughter and grandchildren living in the neighborhood, said children can’t easily play outside during the day and are afraid to go out at night.
“We have drivebys all the time,” she said.
But other McDougald Terrace residents residents left Monday’s meeting frustrated that more wasn’t said about the shooting that left a man dead.
Latasha Daniel, 26, was in her bedroom when she heard the gunshots last week. She said police didn’t talk about the shooting at the meeting.
“They wanted to know what can we do now, to make the neighborhood safer,” Daniel said. “It’s a little too late for that.”
In addition to decrying “over-policing” in the community, Hall, the Clark family attorney, also demanded that city officials investigate the background of the three officers involved in the shooting.
In 2006, The News & Observer reported that a woman accused Barkley of using excessive force when he used a flashlight to break up a fight between two girls outside Jordan High School. Capricia Crennell, who was 15, suffered a skull fracture from the incident. Barkley was working an off-duty assignment for a basketball game at the school.
In 2015, The N&O reported that the police department’s internal affairs office had sustained a claim that Southerland had used excessive force by using a Taser stun gun on a 14-year-old boy while working with other officers to break up a family quarrel.
Ian Mance, another Southern Coalition for Social Justice attorney, said during Wednesday’s press conference that Barkley and Goss were also among the officers involved in that incident. Mance said the quarrel among family members did not require police intervention.
“These officers had no business being on the street,” Mance said.
The N.C. State Bureau of Investigation has placed fliers at the offices of the McDougald Terrace housing complex seeking residents who may have witnessed the incident or be in possession of any video footage of it. The SBI asked people to call the SBI’s Raleigh office at 919-779-8188 or after hours at 800-334-3000.