Midtown Raleigh News

Midtown Muse: Community discussion focuses on race relations

There were only about 20 people in the room, but the Community Conversation on Racial Profiling at Crabtree was symbolic of what’s happening in other corners of Midtown Raleigh: Folks aren’t keeping quiet, or being still.

The April 9 town hall-style meeting at the North Carolina Justice Center was hosted by the Wake County-based Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African-American Children.

The gathering was called in response to a Feb. 28 incident that left LaVonda and Craig Bowden’s three sons and a friend standing in the cold, escorted by security out of Crabtree Valley Mall. The youths were accused of loitering in the food court.

Bobby Medlin, general manager of Crabtree, apologized to the Bowdens in an email response to Calla Wright, who heads the coalition.

He said a review of the incident with Crabtree Valley Special Police Department Chief Devlien Bullock, who is black, revealed the boys didn’t violate the mall’s loitering policy and shouldn’t have been kicked out.

The Bowdens believe their sons were racially profiled.

Medlin offered to meet with the Bowden family to apologize in person. But he declined Wright’s request to meet with a larger community group, including the Bowdens, the other teen’s family, city officials, and Lynne Moore, who said a security officer forced her to leave the area when she stopped to assist the ousted youths.

Rukiya Dillahunt, a coalition member and former educator who helped lead a 1989 boycott of Crabtree over the mall’s request that the city suspend Saturday bus service from Southeast Raleigh, opened the community conversation.

The aim: to eliminate racial profiling and targeting when shopping at area malls and other retailers.

“This is not going to be the last time we do this,” Dillahunt said of the town hall meeting. “It’s real important for us to look at and talk about and solve this issue. If it’s not racial discrimination, then what is it?

“We’re trying to get the word out to folks. We want to hear their stories.”

Anton Gist, a local artist known as B.L.E.S.S., is among a handful of millennials in Midtown and Southeast Raleigh who have come together as Driven By Change. The group wants to unite the community’s focus on racial profiling, the school-to-prison pipeline, fathers, and other issues of disparity and injustice.

Gist, 34, said it’s their response to the shooting of a back teen by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and many more happenings nationwide.

“We actually want to be the legs and power – the muscle – behind bringing this community together,” he said.

For now, they join others in keeping the conversation whet:

On April 25, Driven by Change will host the Southeast Raleigh Community Cookout and Teen Social at 4 p.m. at Biltmore Hills Park. The event is a platform for chats on various topics and unity.

At 7:30 p.m. April 27, Justice Served of North Carolina will host Coffee with a Cop at Revelation Missionary Baptist Church on Davie Street. Residents will have a chance to ask questions, voice concerns and interact with neighborhood police officers.

The Omega Psi Phi Fraternity hosted a Young Minority and Law Enforcement Interaction Forum at Shaw University to discuss interaction between young minorities and professionals, and law enforcement.

And like the Bowdens, Chris Hawkins is telling his story as he navigates the process of filing a civil rights violation complaint against Crabtree Valley Mall and its privately owned police department.

Hawkins, 32, is a former mall employee who spends his days as Mop Top the Hip Hop Scientist, a costume character who inspires children in reading, art and STEM subjects. He has twice been a special guest of the White House Easter Egg Roll.

Hawkins said he was falsely accused in December of assaulting with his car a Crabtree officer directing traffic. Charges from the incident were dropped, and Bullock, the Crabtree police chief, rescinded a trespass order issued him, Hawkins said.

But he said he lost wages, job opportunities and business with mall retailers for Mop Top. He used his one allowable record expunction.

“This has to stop,” Hawkins said.

During the town hall meeting, Raleigh City Councilman Eugene Weeks and community advocate Octavia Rainey suggested other ways to be heard.

Weeks, who LaVonda Bowden said helped open lines of communication with the mall when “we were totally ignored,” urged petitions to the City Council. He also encouraged residents to contact the state Human Relations Commission.

Rainey encouraged continued outreach to elected officials, especially those elected to represent their community.