Hundreds gathered outside the Durham Police Department on Thursday evening to speak out against police killings and protest the construction of a new police headquarters expected to cost $71 million.
“(Tonight) you see the solidarity of people around a common cause,” said Desmera Gatewood, one of the event’s organizers.
The rally was held by organizations including Black Lives Matter, Black Workers for Justice, and the Durham Beyond Policing Campaign. There were no confrontations with police.
As people gathered, protesters greeted one another, chatted, and held up posters. Police officers observed from across the street, while others watched from the roof of the headquarters building.
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Then, the sound of a drum signaled the crowd of more than 200 people to take to the street. Police and protesters in orange vests helped direct traffic away from the crowd.
The intersection of Duke Street and Chapel Hill Street became an auditorium, and the bed of a small truck was the stage.
Speakers condemned police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
“These killings confirm that there needs to be a rising of people to oppose this attack on black people,” Gatewood said. “Unfortunately, we’re becoming numb to these things.”
Soon after the crowd gathered in the intersection, Durham resident Nia Wilson led protesters in a “healing exercise.” She asked them to take a deep breath in, hold it, and then scream at the top of their lungs.
“Release your anger,” Wilson told the crowd. “You’ve just made room for love.”
Protesters also criticized the planned construction of the new police headquarters on East Main Street. The location was approved by the city council in 2014, and the design plan was approved in February.
“That money should be spent on poor people, better schools and affordable housing,” Wilson said.
Some protesters called for an end to policing altogether, termination of any cooperation with federal immigration officials and removal of school resource officers from Durham Public Schools. Some advocated for a socialist system to replace capitalism in the United States.
“This system was not set up for us,” Gatewood said.
Several people chained themselves to the safety railing outside of the department. Others lingered after the scheduled speakers were done. Organizers urged protesters to “continue the fight for liberation.”
Construction of the new headquarters is planned to begin this fall or winter and should be finished by summer 2018.