Since I saw “Raleigh Man Shot by Cop in South Park Neighborhood” come across my Twitter timeline Monday, I’ve felt a range of emotions from sick to my stomach to overwhelmed to hopeful. It’s one thing to watch events like this unfold from a distance. It’s entirely different when it takes place in your city.
It’s weighed heavily on my heart. I’ve thought about Akiel Denkins’ two children growing up without a father.
I’ve thought about justifiably hurting neighbors unjustifiably demonizing all cops.
I’ve thought about Lester, the gardener in the neighborhood who knew Denkins as a community leader. And I’ve thought about what this week must be like for Officer D.C. Twiddy’s family.
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But most importantly, I’ve prayed that this tragedy and the legacy of Denkins’ life will not be in vain. I’ve already seen pettiness rearing its head on social media.
I understand that the details of what happened matter for justice, but as for the response of our city, they don’t.
At the end of the day, a young man lost his life. And now our city has an opportunity to face this tragedy with grace. Our response can be one of unity in the face of divisiveness, an example to the rest of the country.
Imagine a Raleigh that was more committed to addressing the systems of poverty that prefaced the gunshots than about being “right.” And I’m not talking about the city council. I’m talking about us, the urban, suburban, black, white, rich, poor coming together around the belief that something is broken.
Rather than arguing over details in order to win an argument or further a political narrative, what would it look like if we were brokenhearted by the fact that people like Denkins resort to selling drugs for a living because it seems like the best opportunity to provide for their families?
How would things be different if the community actually looked to the residents of Southeast Raleigh for solutions on how to revitalize their neighborhoods? What if our committed nonprofits fighting poverty engaged in enhanced collaboration to create job opportunities for those in our city’s poorest neighborhoods?
What if instead of passively relying on the government to figure out these problems, our churches, private corporations and individuals decided to take matters into their own hands?
I call on my fellow Raleighites to demand more of ourselves and our neighbors, to tap into the creativity and ingenuity we use on a daily basis for our professions to reject what’s normal and expected of poverty, to imagine a better city and act to bring it about.
I recently received a text from a friend who lives in South Park and knew Denkins. His words struck me, and I conclude with them:
“I pray that Akiel’s life will mean more to our city than his drug misdemeanors and affiliation with a local gang. To this neighborhood those are the norms for survival ... it’s a different world when you’re poor, and I pray that the larger church of Raleigh will lean into grace when speaking about him and our community.
“I pray hearts break when they hear his occupation was selling drugs. People don’t understand how difficult it is to find work that pays a living wage, affordable housing, and access to higher education. These are huge mountains in this neighborhood, and we need the church to be the hands and feet of Jesus for systemic change.”
Seth Crawford of Raleigh is a strategist for Angel Oak Creative, a marketing agency that focuses on nonprofits.