Durham County

Durham protesters make first court appearance

Durham Assistant DA Cindy Arevalo, left, holding papers, called the names of the defendants in the Dec. 5 shutdown of the Durham freeway as Durham District Court Judge Marcia Morey, center, addressed each defendant as to their status and when their court date in February, 2015 will be.
Durham Assistant DA Cindy Arevalo, left, holding papers, called the names of the defendants in the Dec. 5 shutdown of the Durham freeway as Durham District Court Judge Marcia Morey, center, addressed each defendant as to their status and when their court date in February, 2015 will be. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Protesters arrested during the Dec. 5 demonstrations in downtown Durham made their first court appearance on Thursday.

In the brief session, Judge Marcia Morey asked defendants if they understood their charges and ensured they had proper legal counsel.

The arrestees, ages 18 to 33, are charged with failure to disperse, impeding the flow of traffic and in one case delaying and obstructing officers.

Nineteen of the 31 arrested are from Durham and at least two-thirds are women.

Several of the defendants appeared at a City Council meeting earlier in the day to protest police handling of the recent demonstrations.

On Dec. 5, a group of about 100 protesters marched in Durham to protest police action in Ferguson and New York City. The group shut down various streets, including the Durham Freeway for approximately 30 minutes.

In a report, the Police Department wrote that it employed 120 officers during the event, costing the city $20,773.61 in overtime pay.

The report also noted that the protests caused the Durham Area Transit Authority to temporarily close its downtown station and reroute buses.

Demonstrators, including anarchist organizing group triANARCHY, counter that police reaction to the protests has been violent and overstepped civil rights.

“The police needed desperately to appear in control, even if it meant allowing low-level lawlessness and disruption so they could avoid the nighttime news cycle of arrests, streetfighting (sic), and smashed substations,” reads a triANARCHY blog post.

Advocacy groups are also circulating a petition to address the Police Department’s “militarized” response to the demonstrations, which it plans to deliver to Chief Jose Lopez.

After their appearance, a group of defendants delivered a statement to the media.

“The Durham Police report is a biased and inaccurate account which falsely portrays our protest and significantly omits accounts of the excessive use of force by police,” the statement reads. “We ask the media and the public to keep the focus where it belongs – on black lives.”

The defendants will next appear in court in early February.

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