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Sheriff, police chief say ‘enough’ to gun violence in Durham and the nation

State leaders speak out on National Gun Violence Awareness Day

Chiefs of Police from Durham, Fayetteville and Apex, the Durham County Sheriff, three legislators and Moms Demand Action gathered at the Durham Police Department on Friday for National Gun Violence Awareness Day to advocate for common sense gun laws.
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Chiefs of Police from Durham, Fayetteville and Apex, the Durham County Sheriff, three legislators and Moms Demand Action gathered at the Durham Police Department on Friday for National Gun Violence Awareness Day to advocate for common sense gun laws.

Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead stood in Durham police headquarters on Friday and told a story about kids and guns.

“I had a fourth grader tell me that it was no problem for him to get his hands on a weapon, and [that] sometimes it’s easier than getting a meal,” Birkhead said. “To me that is unacceptable.”

The room sat quiet and six orange balloons swayed on a wall next to orange and white signs that said, “WE CAN END GUN VIOLENCE.”

People wore orange buttons that said “Survivor” and “Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America.” Some passed out orange bracelets that said “Stop Gun Violence.”

Friday marked the fifth National Gun Violence Awareness Day. Across the country, over 900 events took place to raise awareness.

“Today, the leaders of the Triangle are taking a strong united stand on this issue,” said Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, Durham’s police chief. “Not just today but every day.”

Davis said her department is using a combination of enforcement activities and community outreach to fight violent crime, which is up 17 percent this year after dropping in 2018.

According to the Durham Police Department’s Crime Analysis Unit, there were 729 shooting incidents in 2017, 619 in 2018 and 275 through May of 2019.

“It’s important that we establish a database to vet weapons that might be bought for crimes or that are stolen,” Davis said. “We are working collaboratively with our legislators to help establish ways to track guns and laws that help regulate assault weapons, pawn shops.”

‘A public health issue’

Every day in America, 100 people lose their lives to gun violence and many more are injured.

According to the CDC’s Wonder database, there are over 38,000 deaths from gun violence in the U.S. An estimated 60 percent of those deaths are from suicides or accidental shootings.

The Guardian reported when adjusted for age fluctuations, that represents a total of 12 deaths per 100,000 people – up from 10.1 in 2010 and the highest rate since 1996.

“It is time for policymakers to acknowledge that gun violence is a public health issue,” state Sen. Mike Woodard said. “Not just because of the death and injury inflicted by gun violence, but also because of the harm, fear and trauma that communities experience.”

In the past 28 days, there have been 37 non-domestic assaults involving firearms in Durham, nine more than during the previous 28 days, according to the Police Department website

“Enough is enough,” Birkhead said. “We have to restrict access to our youth, increase background checks and make sure that weapons are not easily accessible to people who don’t need to have them, especially children.”

Removing guns

Davis said that last year over 800 illegal firearms were removed from the streets of Durham, the most seized in the past nine years.

Durham police officers have seized another 288 illegal guns through May of this year.

“Those were just the guns we were able to find,” Chief Davis said. “Imagine how many other weapons are out on our streets.”

According to a report by CBS17, Raleigh’s police chief, Cassandra Deck-Brown, says gun violence has increased by 37 percent in the city this year and just last weekend, there were more than 17 gun-related incidents. On Tuesday, at Raleigh’s City Council meeting, the chief and others wore orange in solidarity.

While in 2018, violent crime in Durham dropped 13.5 percent and gun violence dropped 20 percent, violent crime is up this year in all categories: aggravated assault, robbery, rape and homicide. At least 21 people in the city have been killed this year, as many as in all of 2017, according to the Police Department website.

This week, the Durham City Council rejected a request from Davis and City Manager Tom Bonfield for 18 more police officers, with the council voting to devote more funding in the coming budget to raising city workers’ minimum wage.

“We are committed, we continue to work with what we have,” Davis said. “We are unwavering and committed to curbing gun violence.”

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Jacquelyn Melinek covers metro news for the News & Observer, where she works to update readers about the latest in government, crime, schools and other local news stories. She is a Stembler Scholar, graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the School of Media and Journalism and grew up in Westchester, New York.
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