Durham News: Opinion

A measured response amid questions on police-involved shooting

The editorial board

The scene that unfolded Feb. 15 in the Club Boulevard Community was distressingly similar to many others in Durham and across the country.

Police from the department’s Selective Enforcement Team attempted to serve a routine arrest order on Kenneth Lee Bailey Jr. in the 2500 block of Glenbrook Drive. Bailey was awaiting trial in charges of robbery with a dangerous weapon and felony conspiracy and had violated pre-trial release conditions.

Of course, no “routine” law enforcement encounter can be guaranteed to stay that way.

A “five-day report” released Wednesday corroborates much of what has already been reported: Bailey fled the house, officers pursued him, and at the end of this incident, Bailey lay dead.

The neighborhood was tense, but no violence ensued. Durham police moved quickly to do a preliminary probe, and new Chief C.J. Davis faced reporters that evening.

“A gun was found next to the man,” she said. “The gun did not belong to the Durham Police Department and had been reported stolen in December 2016 from North Driver Street.”

Questions persist, and will at least until the State Bureau of Investigation completes its initial investigation.

They include did Bailey pull a gun on police, as the initial police report said? Was Bailey running away from the officers when he was shot? We’ll have to wait for an autopsy to learn where he was shot and how many times, though even that may not be conclusive, as the autopsy in last fall’s police shooting of Frank Clark has shown.

Whatever the facts of this case, it happens in the shadow of the deep suspicion some communities harbor for law enforcemet, made more so by the still-unresolved Clark shooting and two other fatal law enforcement shootings in the Triangle this month.

That legacy was evident in reaction at the scene, such as by neighbor Chris Blalock who said, “police need to top killing our young black men.”

Police worked to lessen tensions. Deputy Chief Anthony Marsh spoke to many onlookers, and said he tried to answer what questions he could.

And one activist at the scene, at least, urged a response not in the streets but at the ballot box.

Umar Muhammad urged those around the scene Feb. 15 to attend municipal meetings – and to vote.

“It only takes 250 to 300 votes to swing an election in Durham,” he said. “We only have power in numbers.”

It is too early to draw firm conclusions about the shooting, but measured response on all sides is encouraging.