Forty-three people died at others’ hands in Durham in 2016, at least a 36-year high for the Bull City.
That number could rise to 44 as police investigate the case of a man found dead Monday on the 900 block of Hale Street.
Three of the 43 killings – the total as of Wednesday when today’s issue went to press – were classified as self-defense and one was the fatal police shooting of Frank Nathaniel Clark in the McDougald Terrace housing complex.
Six of the deaths have been classified as domestic.
Thirty-six involved guns. In two of the 43 cases, the victim died from a shooting in a prior year: 2010 and 2014.
There were 42 homicides in 2015, with one officer-involved case and four cases that were cleared as self-defense.
State Bureau of Investigation statistics going back to 1993 show 41 homicides in 1996, which was Durham’s highest year. At that time, the Durham Police Department’s statistics going back to 1980 also showed 1996 was the highest year.
The 2016 tally shows Durham facing rising violent crime that became apparent last year, when homicides nearly doubled and those injured by gunshots increased by 108 percent. As of Dec. 19, 193 people had been hurt by gunfire, according to Project Safe Neighborhoods statistics, about the same as the 198 people in 2015.
Homicides rose elsewhere too.
Raleigh had 22 homicides as of Dec. 23, up from a total of 17 in 2015. Charlotte, which had a nearly 50 percent increase to 62 homicides in 2015, had 67 killings as of Tuesday.
In Winston-Salem there were 15 homicides in 2014, 17 in 2015 and 24 as of Wednesday. The Durham County Sheriff’s Office investigated five homicides in 2016, compared to three in 2015.
“Durham is dealing with issues that plague many cities with similar demographics,” Durham Police Department spokesman Wil Glenn said by email. “There are too many illegal guns in the city, and those guns are in the hands of individuals who choose to solve their issues and disagreements in a violent manner.”
Many of those involved have a gang background, Glenn said, but the driving factor seems to be drug sales and turf wars.
Michelle Young, project manager for Durham gang prevention and intervention program Project Build, linked some of the shootings and deaths to conflicts among several different groups and neighborhoods.
“Some of (the conflicts) go back decades and for whatever reason they just kind of popped up,” this year and last year, she said.
One violent act, she said, starts a retribution cycle.
Meanwhile, the year marked a significant shift at the Police Department. Atlanta Deputy Police Chief C. J. Davis started as chief in June, bringing with her a hope that she could help mend strained community relations and stem the surge in violent crime.
Davis’ top priority is addressing the violent crime, Glenn wrote.
“Officers are being reassigned to focus on high-crime hot spots and support calls for service in those areas,” Glenn said. Some officers who live in high-crime areas have been given take-home vehicles to increase visibility.
The department also formed a robbery task force to focus on robberies and individuals who have repeatedly been in the system and have been associated with gang activity.
In 2017 the department will continue to focus on individuals who are responsible for criminal activity, while reassigning officers to high-crime areas, Glenn said.
“I am disappointed,” Mayor Bill Bell said about the 2016 numbers.
The actions that the city is taking are appropriate Bell said, but the problem requires the entire community’s participation.
“We can’t put a police officer on every corner,” Bell said.
In addition, the killings don’t indicate a clear pattern for city officials to focus on, he said.
Bell said Durham needs to find a way to reach youth and continue to focus on community policing.
Community policing, however, is a controversial solution for some in the community.
Nia Wilson, executive director of community organizing nonprofit SpiritHouse, doesn’t support an emphasis on the community policing concept because it implies that “we need police to prevent violence,” she said, which takes the power away from the people who are living there.
“And it’s not working,” Wilson said.
Instead the city should look for deeper ways to support the people who live in struggling communities, such as promoting community-building events and encouraging local businesses to pay a living wage. The city should also consider hiring ambassadors, like the ones cleaning up downtown Durham, from within neighborhoods to patrol and clean up neighborhoods.
“We need an investment in each other,” Wilson said.
Almost every night
Ashley Canady’s current response to Durham’s violent crime is to just not go outside as much.
“It’s sad when you can’t let your kids come out and play because they have to duck and dodge bullets,” said Canady, 30, president of McDougald Terrace public housing complex’s resident council.
Canady said she hears gunshot almost every night. Over the past few weeks it been two or three times each day.
“It messes me up a little,” said Canady, especially since her 9-year-old daughter has post traumatic stress disorder.
“We have a safety plan in place,” Canady said. “We tell her where she can go find a safe space where she will feel safe.”
Canady said community policing has to be done the right way.
Officers can’t stop people just because they have dreadlocks or sagging pants. They also need to be respectful and not use words like “bro” and “cuz.”
“It’s the way they handle things,” she said. “And it is about how you speak to somebody.”
The city also needs to figure out how to curb gun sales on the street.
“People can go buy a gun from anywhere,” she said. “They just get these and start shooting them.”
Staff writer Mark Schultz contributed to this story.
Week of Peace
The first week of 2017 will start with Bull City United, Durham County’s implementation of the Cure Violence model, leading a Week of Peace.
Events will be held in eight Durham neighborhoods plagued by gun violence during 2016. Candlelight vigils will enable people to mourn the lives that have been lost and pledge as a community to do better during 2017.
Durham County is investing nearly $440,000, plus another $50,000 grant, to implement the Cure Violence model, which is being used in some of the most dangerous cities in the country and world. The model seeks to address violence by treating it as a disease and using data-driven practices that independent reviews indicate reduced shootings and homicides in some communities by 41 percent to 71 percent.
The model shifts the perception of looking at shooters as bad people, to looking at violence as an infection that spreads from one person to another in clusters and epidemic waves. Trained violence “interrupters” and “outreach workers” help identify and work with leaders of criminal groups to establish a relationship, change the way they handle conflict and ultimately make long-tern behavior changes that will influence others to change their behavior.
To learn more about the Week of Peace go to http://bit.ly/weekofpeace.